Out of Tokyo

226: Quakes and Arts
Ozaki Tetsuya
Date: May 14, 2011

After returning from Mito to Tokyo, I went to Kyoto, where my family lives. Our house is one of two old but relatively big houses that share a plot of land, and after returning there, I offered several relatives and friends who fled from the Tokyo area to stay with us. Some families are still here. One night when we all had dinner together, two of them, saxophonist Shimizu Yasuaki and tap dancer Kumagai Kazunori, got quite enthusiastic about the idea of doing a live performance together now that they were both in Kyoto.


Shimizu Yasuaki and Kumagai Kazunori | REALTOKYO

I phoned an old friend, producer T. from P-hour, and he immediately agreed. That was on Friday afternoon, March 18. Before we knew it, we had worked out several details. A venue was booked; announcement and profile texts were written and put up on a website; friends and acquaintances helped promote the event via email, phone and Twitter; and then suddenly it was already the day of the event: Sunday, March 20. My thanks go to Mr. T. for organizing everything in a run-and-gun fashion, everybody who helped promote the event, the staff of Social Kitchen for providing the venue; and of course, all those who came to see the show. Thanks a lot!


Shimizu Yasuaki and Kumagai Kazunori | REALTOKYO

It was more or less the first meeting between Shimizu and Kumagai, which means of course that they performed together for the very first time. Even though there was only a short briefing prior to the event, they put together something incredibly dense. Both artists were on stage for about 75 minutes in total, performing solo and together, with Shimizu playing jazz standards such as ”Speak Low”, as well as some of his trademark pentatonic tunes. Someone had brought Japanese candles, and toward the end the lighting was switched off so that visitors could hardly see each other’s faces, and only the deep and melodic breathing of the saxophone, and the astounding tempo rubato tap sounds reverberated throughout the venue. The show’s stimulatingly thrilling effect was comparable to that of an action movie watched in fast-forward mode.


Shimizu Yasuaki and Kumagai Kazunori | REALTOKYO

Although carried out at such short notice, the event was witnessed by a total of 61 paying guests. Kumagai first extended his stage into the audience “in order to make [his] steps better visible”, but as some people ended up standing due to a lack of seats, one of the floor boards eventually had to be removed. As both artists had agreed that “work is work”, we decided to charge 1,000 yen per person. The revenue of 61,000 yen was split in halves, whereas Shimizu donated his share to Kumagai’s ”Tap The Future Charity Project”. At the event, a total amount of 124,970 yen was raised for the project.


Kumagai was born in Sendai, and offers tap dance workshops in his hometown. At the time of the earthquake he was in his Tokyo studio, and only managed to get in touch with his family in Sendai on the morning of the following day. The funds raised with events like this time’s performance are used for sending necessary goods to the disaster-stricken area, based on first-hand information from his workshop students.


Now there are various different views on charity. For example, some people consider it to be better to send monetary aids directly and individually without staging events. Kikuchi Naruyoshi wrote something along these lines in his blog, and basically I agree with him in this point. As a professional, I think it’s a legitimate attitude. In the case of our event, however, one of the performers was actually born in the afflicted area, and we knew exactly where the money would go. And what’s more, I think the show helped people in the audience recover from the shock of the disaster. As a matter of fact, a friend of mine who arrived frayed and depressed from Tokyo after a project he was involved in was massively affected by the earthquake and nuclear accident, instantly came back to life like a vegetable showered with water, fertilizer and sunlight all at once, thanks to the magnificent performance.


Shimizu Yasuaki | REALTOKYO
Shimizu Yasuaki

“Having Kumagai’s hometown as a specific target rather than collecting money for an abstract purpose was a good thing. It’s best to start in your direct environment, and spread out from there. It was an exciting event and I was happy to be part of it,” recaps Shimizu, while Kumagai remembers that he “initially just felt like performing as a dancer before even thinking about charity.” “But at the same time I thought I’d have to do something, and now I’m really grateful for being able to contribute in my own way.”


Kumagai has a one-year-old daughter with singer Kahimi Karie, and for the sake of his daughter in particular, he evacuated with his family to Kyoto. However at the same time, he explains that he has been feeling something like a sense of guilt for “fleeing” while his family and friends were stuck in the stricken area around Sendai, and the studio staff had to remain in Tokyo. He did of course travel to the capital region a few times for his own performances and meetings, but couldn’t quite get over the fact that he “wasn’t with friends and colleagues all the time.”


I think he’s taking it a bit too seriously though. In emergency situations like these, I believe that especially families with small children should assume the worst and act accordingly. There still is a possibility that “the worst” could happen, and in that case, escaping it is absolutely imperative. If we’re lucky and “the worst” does not happen, we can still return to Tokyo and joke about our “overanxious” reaction.


Kumagai Kazunori | REALTOKYO
Kumagai Kazunori

Many people must have ambivalent feelings regarding evacuating from places other than directly afflicted areas (such as Tokyo for example) now, while the Internet is full of messages accusing and insulting people for “fleeing”. Well I do understand the points of those who – for various reasons – couldn’t get away even if they wanted, but everybody has their own reasons after all, and in my view one must not accuse others without knowing a thing about their situations.


“I don’t feel anything particular about those who get away from the Tokyo metropolitan area right now, and I don’t feel anything particular about those who stay. I don’t want others to feel anything particular about myself, and I don’t want anybody to modify my own situation and judgment. Some of my friends and acquaintances left the city, others stayed, and I want to work again in peace with each of them once things have calmed down.”


This is a message Ameya Norimizu tweeted on March 19 via Twitter. Ameya doesn’t use words such as “fleeing” or “escaping”, and carefully but determinedly rules out notions of “abandoning those who stayed.” Such kind of thoughtfulness is exactly what is needed right now. I learned about Ameya’s tweet via an entry on Otomo Yoshihide’s blog on the same day, March 19. The entry was titled “Everybody from their own point of view”, and that title just sums it up perfectly.


(April 4, 2011)

Ozaki Tetsuya / Editor in chief / REALTOKYO