I am currently writing this from the shinkansen, the Japanese bullet train. It runs roughly 200 mph and it’s only 2.5 hours back to Tokyo from Ishinomaki. I tried to do a panoramic shot on my iPhone and it freaked out, asking me to slow down. Ishinomaki is a fishing city that was severely damaged by the tsunami. The Juilliard team has been coming to here for the last three years, the first time being only a few months after the it hit. As we drove in, memories flooded out of them. “Didn’t there used to be a boat in that store?” “Oh! That’s the grocery store where 30 people died. They only just reopened it?” “Was that cemetery there before? It’s been over 2 years since 3.11 and there are still mangled fences, twisted, garage doors, and gutted buildings.
However, there is a ton of rebuilding happening. I saw dozens of houses being constructed and lots of stores draped in tarp and scaffolding, waiting to be renovated. But Virginia, our missionary liaison, pointed out details no one would notice unless they lived there. Apparently, Ishinomaki sunk 1-3 meters. It’s such that it floods terribly and they had to raise the roads. Pretty white guard rails, rather than removed and re installed, were simply half way buried. There were so many empty lots, full of weeds and waiting.
Don’t get me wrong. The government is moving as efficiently as they can, trying to get the large business back on their feet and thus, affecting more people. But what can anyone do when the damage is so wide spread and the majority of the victims are small family businesses? How can the government get to everyone? But more than that, how will everyone’s story be heard and their grief relieved?
What started as Grace Mission Tohoku, the relief organization, has now become the permanently established Ishinomaki Christian Center and Liberty Music Program. They’re goal is promote healing and encourage people to dream once again.
Juilliard’s first gig was to divide and go out to the temporary housing projects on Thursday. Yes, you read that right. There are still thousands people in temporary housing two years after the tsunami. The audiences were comprised mostly of the elderly. I’m guessing because everyone else is in school or at work during the day. I can also assume it’s because the young people moved away.
They played a wonderful selection of classical pieces: pieces from Saint-Saens, Brahms, Paganini. Doori, an amazing violinist plays 9 minutes of selections from Carmen completely memorized. I’m completely floored every time I hear it (I’m up to 3 performances). Grace, a stunning dancer, performs with some of the pieces. She is the loveliest creature I have ever met, inside and out. For a few women, it was their first time hearing cello live. But my favorite part of the the performances are when the musicians play traditional Japanese songs. The older women’s eyes light up and they’re transported back to their childhood. Some will sing the words with tears in their eyes, completely overcome with emotion and memories of the past.
On Friday morning we were able to sit with the interns from Mission to the World and share our stories and experiences from our time in Ishinomaki. It became with deep conversation about missions as community building and art as a tool for healing and ministry. Juilliard team members shared how they love coming to Japan and performing in the cramp temporary housing or hot, sticky restaurants. They love the “less-than-ideal” conditions because of the bigger picture of which they’re a part. We had a few keyboards with persnickety keys and open windows that blew pages of music about. But I asked what they meant by “less-than-ideal”. Christ calls us to be light to a dark world. Thus, the ideal condition for Christian musicians is to be in the muddy, black, hopeless night over the bright lights of Carnegie Hall. Just a Christ didn’t come to heal the healthy but the sick, so we are to go out to those who need us. And I think every one, in the very least, needs more live cello in his or her life.