The Heal Japan EP is my love letter to Japan in the wake of the events of 3/11/11.
Strange almost, I felt compelled to the extent that I HAD to do this project. 3/11/11 broke my heart. BIG. And while the world, and maybe even the rest of Japan, seems to have moved on, there’s a piece of my heart that has remained with Tōhoku.
What is the day-to-day reality for those still residing there? Are their needs being met? What ARE their needs? Do they know - and more importantly - is it evident to them that they haven’t been forgotten?
About the songs on this EP:
Nihon Wo Aisu
As I mentioned in the About section of this site, my family and I lived in Japan - in Fuchu and later in Kamikitazawa - through my earliest formative years. My guess is that this is where and how I learned the majority of what Japanese I know, as we moved to Japan when I was just two years old. The years we lived in Japan were the best years of my childhood.
Back then, in the late 60's to early 70's, things weren't as developed there as they are now, so I have fond memories (natsukashi) of staying with relatives in my dad's furusato of Takasaki walking through and playing in the "tombo" (rice fields) with my brother, my cousins, and sometimes alone, finding tadpoles, frogs, and kabutomushi.
In the summer, my little brother and I loved participating in suikabashi and going to matsuris. To this day, I desperately miss matsuris. The Japanese-American communities here in the Los Angeles area produce a small handful of matsuri-esque events each year (for Oshogatsu, Obon, -the Japanese supermarket entity, Mitsuwa, produces a "Natsu Matsuri" in it's parking lot each year, and there is an event called Nisei Week which takes place in Little Tokyo just outside of Downtown Los Angeles each year), which my brother and I are ardent attendees of, yet these are bittersweet to attend for us because none of these come close to the real thing.
One of many things that my Dad did while we were growing up that I will be forever grateful for is that he saw to it that our family went back to Japan consistently at least every other year, ensuring a maintaining of familiarity and relationships with our extended family members there.
There are so many fond - and some not-so-fond - memories of those early years in Japan. At that time there were also few "gaijin" outside of Tokyo, so when my mom, brother and I went anywhere, we'd often get followed by kids and gawked at -which must be what it feels like to be a celebrity. lol (if you don't know "lol", you must be Japanese. It's English cyberspeak for "laughing out loud")
Periodically, there'd be a particularly boisterous kid in the bunch (always a boy) who would attempt to say some English phrase he knew loudly in our direction, seemingly for the comedic effect in the company of his friends. My favorite of these was a boy who yelled out, "I lub-u yoo!". My little brother and I had a secret weapon though, and we weren't afraid to use it. The looks on their faces when we said something back to them in Japanese was something right out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Priceless, priceless, treasured memories that I wouldn't trade for all the tea in China (that's an American expression that I'm not sure translates, so I'll just point out that based on the expression, Americans seem to think that there's a hell of a lot of tea in China ;).
Yet, what I'm telling you about here barely scratches the surface of where this song came from.
My Obachan passed away around 1980 and we came from America to attend her funeral, but unbeknownst to us at the time, her passing marked the end of our "regular" trips to Japan. Ken and I were growing up at the time, soon to transition into the responsibilities of adulthood which I expect you can relate, took on a life of it's own. In the 30+ years since, I've only had the rare opportunity to return to my second homeland of Japan on maybe 3 precious few occasions, the last-most-recent of these now 14 years ago, in 1999.
I miss Japan -my kazoku and friends there, your rich history, culture, and traditions, and all of YOU that make Japan what it is - all the time, but downright DESPERATELY sometimes, and in 2009 -March 9th, to be exact- came a wave of homesickness for Japan so painfully deep that "Nihon Wo Aisu" was born.
"Kimochi wakari masu ka?
Watashi no heart wa Nihonjin".
and for that, I am eternally grateful.
Because of my Dutch heritage on my mother's side, I might not look obviously Japanese on the outside, but I'm apparently so Japanese that a Japanese friend of mine who resides in Japan once said to me, "You're more Japanese than I am!".
I took that as a compliment ...and still do.
“All our lives in search of something true...”
As I’ve mentioned, my mother hails from the Netherlands (Holland).
On Mom’s side of the family, I have a cousin who I’m particularly close to who also writes music and collaborates with me musically on occasion.
In 2008, Debbie sent me an instrumental she’d written for me to have a crack at lyrically, and from that, “New” was born (That’s the original guitar track Debbie sent me featured in the song)
...and to me, it’s the perfect song to end this EP with: not the end, but an invitation to “come, fly away with me ...to something new” ...and true.
You can find Debbie (Rebaza)’s music here on cdbaby!
My Prayer For Japan (Pray For Japan) 日本への祈り
The evening of January 15th, 2009, I was at home putting away the last of some Christmas decorations I still had up when the phone rang. My dad picked up the phone to learn that my mom had been in an auto collision just one mile away from the house. Jumping into the car in my sweats, Dad and I rushed to get to her at the scene of the collision.
From at least a half mile away while still en route, my heart nearly stopped as we could already see the commotion and the flashing lights on the emergency vehicles at the scene of the collision ahead in the distance. As the visual forewarning awakened me to the realization that I might not be prepared for what we were about to discover, an old hymn I’d known from going to church earlier in life with my family each week began to play in my mind so vividly that it was almost eerie were it not for the palpable sense of peace that accompanied it.
The hymn is one that was penned in the mid-to-late 1800's that originated from a poem written by John Henry Newman later named "Lead Kindly Light" ("Torimaku Yami No Nakao") upon John Dykes setting the lyrics to music.
The automobile collision involving Mom was such a scene, complete with plenty of onlookers, that Dad had to pull over to the side of the road still some ways away unable to drive any closer, at which point I jumped out of the car to get to Mom more quickly, and there in the middle of the intersection was Mom’s now barely recognizable white Toyota Corolla -a truly horrific sight for an immediate family member to behold. Was I even going to find her alive...?!
“I’m her daughter.”, I announced to the attending officers, as I barreled toward Mom’s mangled car as they cleared a path pointing me towards her.
Mom was barely conscious when I reached her and I rode to the hospital in the ambulance with her, spending the night in the emergency room by her side with Dad.
I’m leaving much detail out about the events of that night, as well as the 3+ years at the time of this writing, of collective family effort to aid and support the rehabilitation she’s undergone since. But of these, there are two I cannot leave out:
An angel came and stayed with my mom in the moments right after she suffered the collision -in the form of a woman who rushed over to Mom, directing her to unlock her car door, then stayed with Mom coaxing her to stay alert (medically imperative under such circumstances), and ensuring that she would be continually talking to her until the emergency personnel arrived and took over. I never saw this woman. But Mom did. We owe her a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Seven broken ribs, a broken sternum, a broken ankle, a broken shoulder, and a bruised heart she suffered from that auto collision, so you can appreciate the long road we’ve been on through the years since of now countless appointments with various doctors and specialists and many rounds of physical therapy several times a week.
Having lived in Japan for four years as a child and spending most of the rest of my life to this point in the state of California, I am no stranger to earthquakes. So to learn of last year’s 9.0 of 3/11 alone was tremendously sobering. But adding to that the tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear plant threat, well, I trust that the world-wide outpouring of prayers, support, empathy, concern, and love for Japan at that time spoke for itself. But now, bring it home. We have family and friends that we are close to and care deeply about residing mostly in Yokohama and Central Japan.
Another miracle-? While there were rampant reports that others were finding it impossible to reach their loved ones residing in Japan, as Dad made calls to each family member, I nearly wept in relief as I heard the voice of each family member come on the line over the speakerphone. I imagine you can all relate to this, but I’d never been so happy to hear each of their voices! Every one was alive, well, and uninjured.
As grateful as I was to know that my family and friends in Japan were safe, my heart broke in a million pieces as I remained glued to every bit of news coverage I could find. -You, Japan, are at least as much my homeland as is the United States, and you made my heart soar with pride as the world watched you handle these tragedies with uncommon grace.
And as I rode the waves of grief and pride in the aftermath of 3/11/11, my heart ached to send you the tremendous sense of peace that came to me in the form of that hymn the terrible evening that my mom was hit by the driver who elected to run that red light.
This is that song. I hope it brings peace to you even now -and through whatever “tsurai toki” life may bring you.
--The second thing about Mom’s auto collision that I can’t leave out? Mom’s a musician- an incredible vocalist mostly, but she also taught piano for many, many years. And the single worst thing she lost as a result of the collision was a hearing loss so great and profound that she hasn’t been able to hear - and therefore participate in - music as it sounds to the fortunate most of us since it happened.
I really wish she could hear this.
addendum to My Prayer for Japan:: the shakuhachi
By far, the biggest challenge in the creation of this EP was tackling the shakuhachi, an instrument I'd never attempted to play before. I have a deep love for enka music and I have a rather severe tendency toward grandiosity (and probably idealism), so of course I "had" to pull off learning and playing the shakuhachi for this song myself.
The song "Edo Lullaby" captures and conveys beautifully the very core of everything I felt as the events of 3/11/11 unfolded and in my mind, enhances "My Prayer for Japan (Pray for Japan)" perfectly. To me, "Edo Lullaby" - particularly when played on the shakuhachi - "cries". It emotes depths of sadness, even despair while it, as a lullaby should, soothes. Maybe it's the Japanese in me, but I can think of no instrument more soulful.
In taking on the effort to incorporate the shakuhachi into the song "My Prayer for Japan (Pray for Japan)", I thought I had embarked on learning and delivering fourteen notes on the shakuhachi. Instead, I felt as if the shakuhachi taught and delivered me, for I came to learn that the shakuhachi can only be played through one's soul, by way of the very breath that sustains life.
I found that I could only deliver a decent rendition of these fourteen notes on the shakuhachi when I was able to go emotionally back to that place of reverence and sadness I felt on 3/11/11 and can only pray that my rendition begins to convey that adequately. My hope is, in fact, that it captured my Japanese soul in a way that resonates with your Japanese soul (if you're Japanese ;). If somehow I've failed to do this, I blame my Dutch side. ;)
For more on the Heal Japan effort:
...& coming to Facebook, too!
For more on michele's (notme) music:
Being notme blog: http://beingnotme.blogspot.com/
notme's SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/notme-music
-- Heal Japan is an interactive effort that you are an important part of through your interest and support, which we thank you for sincerely. --