Shinobue from Ofunato
Hi guys! I've been wanting to share this story on my website and here it is at last!
So, one of the things I do is visit Northeast Japan once a year with Otonowa, a band led by the great jazz drummer Akira Tana, to visit communities out there that are recovering from the Great Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. We don't hear about them on the news anymore, but life there is still far from being back to normal. So we go there to connect with people, playing concerts and doing workshops for local musicians and school kids.
Why? I think at first, for me personally, I wanted to do something. Help somehow. At the very least, to show them that we haven't forgotten about them. Luckily for us, music proved to be a truly magical vehicle in bringing us together with the folks there. The first trip we took in 2013 - it was life changing for me. It changed my life perspective to say the least. We’ve been there five times so far and each trip has been a deep and humbling experience. We’ve seen some unimaginable stuff, heard some unforgettable stories, and the people we met - they are some of the most spirited and kindest people you’ll ever meet.
It was on our fourth trip that we visited Mr. Kasai’s home in Ofunato. We met Kasai-san several years prior, and he has been helping us plan our concert and workshop locally. He is a bassist and a baritone saxophonist himself, and also an instrument repairman.
We were there to interview him about his personal accounts of the disaster, which is something we’ve been doing with local folks we meet there, thanks to our amazing photographer/videographer/film maker, Sara Pettinella.
We went inside the shed where he does his repair work, and as Sara was setting up for the interview, Kasai-san showed me a shinobue, (typically called “fue” here in the US) which is a transverse bamboo flute. It looked pretty worn. In fact, you could see it had been cracked before. It had been glued, wrapped with wires and tape.
He went on to tell me that the flute was found in the rubble after the tsunami. Apparently his friend who was a firefighter found it when he was searching for victims and it eventually ended up in Kasai-san's hands. It had been completely crushed, but Kasai-san somehow brought it back to life over time. With much care and respect, I blew into it - and it made a sound. I played some more, and to my surprise it was in fair playing condition. And the sound - wow. There was a certain depth and weight to the sound.
Kasai-san then said, “It’s just sitting here. I want you to have it.”
This was truly a special gift. I humbly accepted, feeling the depth of it all. He then went on to tell us about the disaster, his experience, and what he started to do for the community. It was so moving and humbling to hear his story. (You can check out Kasai-san's interview here) As for the flute, I made sure to play it at all of the remaining concerts that trip, and I still play it whenever it's appropriate, so that the sound - the spirit of Tohoku can be heard by people all around the world.
For those of you who’s heard my album “Flower Fire”, Track 9 “Perseverance” is dedicated to Tohoku and features this shinobue (which is why I list it as “Shinobue from Ofunato”) Now, I play many wind instruments, but I'm not a trained shinobue player. Nonetheless I composed the song using this very flute, with what little I know about shinobue and Japanese folk music. Although it’s unauthentic, this song is my humble offering to the beautiful people of Tohoku. The world has so much to learn from them.
We're planning to go back to Tohoku this fall for our sixth visit. Why? Well, for me personally, it's sort of become my other "furusato" or "home town". I just love it there and I want to see my friends!