A benefit concert marking the one year anniversary of the horrific earthquake and tsunami  in Tohoku Japan was held at the San Jose Mission on March 10, 2012.  The even not only rekindled awareness of the continuing tragedies in Tohoku but also raised over $12,000 for the benefit of children of Tohoku.

Steve Yamaguma, benefit’s producer, provides a behind-the-scenes description of the event.

As with most disasters, there is an immediate outpour of support and concern for the victims of a tragedy. Such was the case after the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku area, the North East region of Japan on March 11, 2011. Unreal images of buildings collapsing, homes being swept away and lives lost, plastered the media 24/7. I felt compelled to do something besides just donating money to the Red Cross and other organizations. I wanted to let the people of Japan know that “we cared”. That is why I started the blog, “aBillionVoices.wordpress.com”, to create a platform for people to share their concerns and support.

Months after the media frenzy died and the world moved on to another crisis, aBillionVoices served to keep the stories alive about the struggles and hope for the people of Tohoku.

At the close of 2011, the images of the disaster all but disappeared from mainstream media. Those closer to Japan continued to share their stories and updates on the progress of rebuilding and recovery. It was then that I got together with my friend, Aileen Chanco, co-artistic director of Music at the Mission, a classical chamber music organization and talked about the ongoing relief efforts and how many people were still suffering and struggling to put their lives back together. We decided we had to do something, especially since the 1 year anniversary of the event was approaching.

As Aileen was a part of a classical chamber ensemble, and I had connections to taiko groups, the idea to combine the two came together. We decided to do a fundraising concert at the historic Mission San Jose in Fremont, California, bringing together Japanese taiko drumming and classical chamber music.

Our goal was to recognize the one year passing of the tragedy in Japan, honor the lives lost, and keep the awareness of the recovery efforts alive. We wanted to show solidarity from our community and let the people of Japan know that we still care.

I contacted Give2Asia, an agency that helps connect funders to nonprofits and they introduced us to Living Dreams, a Japanese nonprofit supporting orphans and children. Their program, “Smiles and Dreams: A Tohoku Kids Support Project” will help fund a summer camp for the orphans who were displaced by the disaster.

It was important to get the business community involved with sponsorships as well as donated goods and services. We ran through our rolodex to recruit volunteers and prospective sponsors. The idea struck a chord with the community and we announce the event “One Year After: A Benefit Concert for the Children of Tohoku, Japan” to be held on March 10, 2012. As it was the afternoon of March 11th in Japan, it was still the evening before, March 10th in California. We felt that would be an important part of the discussion as well. It was evident that Silicon Valley and the Japanese businesses were so intertwined. (We normally have our conference calls with our Japanese clients after 5 pm as they are just arriving at work to start their day).

I called my friends, Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble to see if they would help us out and they enthusiastically supported the idea. They began their collaborative process with the Music at the Mission Chamber Ensemble. I reached out to my media contacts and set up interviews and pushed it out via social media. Mike Inouye of NBC Bay Area stepped up as our MC for the evening and the Counsel General of Japan Hiroshi Inomata graciously accepted our invitation to say a few words at our event. Henry Tenebaum of KRON and Janice Edwards of Bay Area Vista and Signature Silicon Valley helped promote it through mainstream media.

The local business community including the Mission San Jose Chamber of Commerce and the Fremont Chamber of Commerce stepped up to help out. Key business supporters included Mission Coffee, ground central for all of our planning meetings as well as host for the after concert reception.

Friends, families and the community at large gathered together to help make thousands of origami cranes (traditional symbol of hope) that would be part of the decoration of the venue as well as become a gift of support to be given to Soma High School in Fukushima. We felt that this was an important gesture of goodwill for the overall U.S./Japan relations.

With the efforts of all the dedicated volunteers, our event was sold out. The day of the event, dozens of volunteers worked together to set up the stage, directional signs, table displays, and hang the cranes.

A pre-event reception for the major sponsors including Union Bank and Elysium as well as local politicians was held in the adjacent Mission San Jose Museum while the audience in the main chapel hall got an introduction to the history of a thousand cranes. Then each audience member was invited to make a crane that would be a part of the gift to the high school in Fukushima.

Andy Galvan, a local historian gave a brief history of the Mission and noted that an earthquake destroyed a major part of the Mission as it had to be then rebuilt.

The opening ceremony began with a pounding of the taiko drum echoed with the ringing of the Mission bells. Then with a procession into the chapel Mike welcomed the audience and introduced Counsel General Hinomata to say a few words. Monsignor Manuel Simas, pastor of St. Joseph Parish, and Reverend Ronald Y. Nakasone, professor, Buddhist Studies, Graduate Theological Union together offered up a moment of silence to remember those who were lost in the tragedy.

The concert started (literally) with a bang as Somei Yoshino Taiko mesmerized the audience with an assault of alternating pounding rhythmic passages, delicate sensitive melodies and hypnotic dance and choreography.

The second half of the program brought piano, violin, flute, and cello together with taiko and percussion in moving, emotional pieces that reflected the sensitivities of the moment. Photos from Sendai City, one of the most devastated areas hit by the tsunami, formed an emotional backdrop for the chamber ensemble. These images taken immediately after the tsunami by Michael Tonge, a British school teacher in Sendai, reminded us of the horror that devastated the people in the Tohoku region.

The magic of the event, in this beautiful, amazing venue brought the audience to their feet in the final movement.

A delightful spread greeted the audience at the reception at Mission Coffee, which showcased the art of Kathy Fujii-Oka, mixed media artist who’s work was chosen as it reflected the mood and feeling of the concert and fundraiser.

The entire evening was amazing. The support and enthusiasm from everyone showed that we cared. And that together we can make a difference.

The monies raised, over $12,000, will help the Smiles and Dreams: Tohoku Kids Support Project with their summer camp program. And the “1000 Cranes” will be sent to show our support and to give our best wishes for the children and their future.

Steve Yamaguma

President, Design2Market