April 6, 2021 – Roger W. Lowther
A couple of weeks ago, Sawako-san, a woman in our church here in Tokyo, produced a musical comedy called Breast Wars. It’s a story about a woman in her 40s in her struggle with breast cancer. In one scene, she sits in the waiting room of the doctor’s office singing, with the clock ticking down, “Should I? Can I? Is there no other way?” while the nurses, while also singing, try to pull her into the other room to be operated on. The other patients join in as well, singing their differing opinions about whether they should go or not.
There’s nothing humorous about breast cancer, but this scene is certainly humorous. Sawako-san did a wonderful job of bringing life to a very difficult situation. In our art, life, faith discussion the other day, she shared her personal experiences with breast cancer and her inner struggles she had through it. She told us that she made the musical because she wanted to encourage others going through very difficult times, to tell them they are NOT ALONE, that there is hope and community and life even in very difficult situations. She told us how what really surprised her about the production is how it brought people together. Christians from many different churches and non-Christians as well, they all came together and enjoyed working together. She told us there was something life-giving, not just in the performance, but in the planning, rehearsals, and production as well.
Listening to Sawako-san talk and share her story, I thought about how this is exactly what I also have experienced. The reason I started Community Arts Tokyo was to build that kind of community, where people love one another, make something together, and bring hope and healing in really dark times.
I thought through the stories I’ve been sharing in this podcast over the weeks. I thought of Hiroko-san who took broken pieces of sea glass and made beautiful objects with them, and gave them as gifts to people, bringing beauty out of a time of devastation after the tsunami. I thought of Nozomi Project, that group of ladies who make beautiful jewelry out of broken shards of dishes and cups. I thought of the church in Kamaishi that didn’t throw out their piano, but rather rebuilt it, knowing full well how much time and money it was going to cost. There is story after story of people bringing hope and healing into their broken worlds through the arts.
There is a man name Nakazawa Sensei, who we showcased in our conference on March 13. He went up to the city of Rikuzentakata on the northeast coast of Japan after the tsunami to help with relief efforts. He saw all the wood and the debris covered in mud. He realized the trees were all that was left of the beautiful and famous forest that once sheltered and protected the people of the city from strong coastal winds. He realized the lumber was all that was left of the homes where people lived. It was not trash. Rather, it was memories. Because he is a violin maker, or a “violin doctor” as he calls himself, he decided to make the TSUNAMI VIOLIN, which is now traveling the country of Japan for concerts by 1,000 musicians. Nakazawa Sensei announced in our conference that we were the 749th concert! That’s pretty cool, isn’t it? The violin was played by our teammate Christina Davison, who will also be taking the violin to Seto, Japan next to play in a big traditional festival and share the story of the violin with the people there. Again, this is just one more example of how the arts can bring healing in really difficult times, bringing people together as they share a common story.
I’d like to share the story of my friend Ellen McGinty and her book The Water Child, which came out on March 2nd and is available on Amazon. She will be the guest speaker at our next Art, Life, Faith gathering here in Tokyo this month.
I love this book! It’s so well written. It’s the story of a Japanese teenager who has always been irresistibly drawn to the ocean. Her mother was a pearl diver, and there is nothing she’d rather do than become one herself. At the climax of the book, the main character travels back to her hometown just before the monstrous 3.11 tsunami hits, and it takes every ounce of her strength to survive in this world where the ocean she loves is now bent on destroying her and everything and everyone she loves.
Ellen McGinty lives in Japan, and her husband’s parents were leaders in the relief movement. As Ellen heard story after story of heartbreak, she wanted to remember and tell these stories to others. She wanted to honor their lives, so she wrote a novel, her very first one. It’s a work of fiction—every character is made up—but quite a few of the characters are based on real people and quite a few of the events are based on real events.
There’s one scene that is especially moving when, Ellen told me this is based on a true story, the driver of a yaki imo truck, a truck that sells hot fresh baked potatoes, decides to stay behind when his truck gets stuck in traffic on a bridge over a river, and he uses his loudspeaker to tell everyone to run, that the tsunami is coming. He continues to do this until both he and his truck are overcome by the wave.
This beautiful novel, The Water Child, is yet one more example of how tremendous pain and suffering can give birth to life and beauty. For reasons I am just beginning to understand, pain and suffering in this world are catalysts for creation, especially for creating beautiful things. In the mud, in the devastation, in the dark, we crave something with beauty and hope and light. And we will do anything we can to hold on to it. This is the unmistakable power of art. This is the tool in the Creator’s hands, which he has lovingly put into our hands. May we always have the strength and wisdom and love to use it.
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