Well, Friday is the 5th anniversary of the earthquake /tsunami/nuclear disaster that killed and rendered so many homeless here in Japan. Many thousands still living in temporary homes and a large percentage of schools in the disaster zone have not been rebuilt.
When I was working in Ishi no Maki (the worst hit major town) a woman came up to me in tears and said, "We are so afraid. You are here now, but in a year everybody will have forgotten us." I made a promise to her that I would talk about what I saw and experienced every year without fail. I have kept that promise and have always been supported by schools and teachers who remember that awful time so well. Except for one teacher.... An elementary school upper grade teacher two years ago refused my polite request to talk for ten minutes in Japanese about the topic during a scheduled lesson because "The students have already studied it in their textbooks.:
"Really?" I thought. "Students don't want to hear about the German pilot I met carrying a blank check from Lufthansa's employees to buy trucks and tractors? They don't want to hear about the champion swimmer I met in a supermarket who survived being dragged five kilometers in the tsunami before being rescued, albeit half scalped? She`s very proud of the way her hair grew back, by the way. They don't want to hear about our volunteer group digging mud and excrement in what we thought was a ghost town of half broken down buildings, only have a door suddenly open and a young woman came out with refreshments? Living there on her own with no electricity because 'it is her beauty parlour and she was going to keep running it so that when people came back they could experience beauty again?' They don`t want to hear about the members of v.commie who sent gifts to the Sendai symphony orchestra as such a generous symbol of support and solidarity? Shows how much you know."
But I am polite so I nod and do it anyway. Love to hear how she would explain stopping me to the headmaster. But this woman is, through no fault of her own, emblematic of Japan as it stands now. A broken economy (yes it is bankrupt, but we aren't allowed to say that) struggling to find a way to deal with runaway nuclear pollution and the oldest population around. About to stage the Olympics yet none of us wants to pay the huge costs of the stadium and the prime minister lied (as usual) about the nuclear crisis being over by 2020 so yes everybody, bring your kids.
So, as I sit watching the hopeful and excited faces of the youngsters graduating from my junior high school this morning, the faces of kids who have no idea what a difficult world they are about to enter, I am struck by something incongruous. Not only incongruous but, as I think about it, awesome beyond belief. These are Japanese kids, who don`t speak English, have never been abroad, from in a little town in the middle of nowhere and they are graduating to the strains of Beethoven's 3rd symphony. And it is perfect. I know at least ten of those 120 kids will go out into the world and punch life in the face until it submits, and it is right and fitting that they should do it to Beethoven's music. It is music that today transcended time, space and culture. Absolutely the best of what the human race is capable of creating when we stop killing each other.
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Beethoven Symphony No. 3, "Eroica"
BBC Proms 2012
Daniel Barenboim with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.
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