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Northeast Japan group donates last piano to quake-hit area ahead of 10th anniversary

Moe Miura, left, is seen playing the piano donated to her, alongside her teacher Yoshie Takahashi, in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, on Feb. 11, 2021. (Mainichi/Hinako Kikuchi)

A citizens group based in northeastern Japan has wrapped up its activities donating pianos to areas affected by the March 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, after making its 520th and last delivery to a day care center in Higashi Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 5.

    Piano Donations for Japan Disaster Affected Public Schools, based in the Miyagi Prefecture capital of Sendai, brought its donation activities to an end ahead of the 10th anniversary of the 2011 disasters. A girl's comment at a piano concert shortly after the earthquake had led to the group's formation.

    Michiko Shoji, the committee head of the group, said, "We put in all of our effort so that children could keep playing pianos. Support from those across Japan as well as around the world helped keep the ball rolling. I'm very grateful."

    About 1 1/2 months after the earthquake, Shoji held a concert session in a guesthouse in the town of Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture. Around 60% of houses in the town had been completely destroyed in the tsunami, and fisheries -- a core industry of the area -- also suffered serious damage.

    The venue was enveloped in a gloomy atmosphere, and among the residents gathered at the reception room there were also those who had their faces turned downward with blankets pulled over their heads. Shoji, who had received a request to play a song associated with the ocean, began her performance hesitantly.

    As she played the piano, some elderly women began to cry and sing along to the music. Shoji said that she cannot forget this very scene. When the concert ended, a girl rushed to her side and said, "My piano was swept away (by the tsunami). I wish I could play again."

    In June 2011, the group was formed by assembling musicians from across Japan. Four to five members central to the group, including Shoji, continuously held meetings late into the night after wrapping up their respective work for the day, and ran the group as volunteers. Piano donations came pouring in from across the country several months later.

    Letters accompanied some of the donations, and described memories with family contained in the pianos, such as one that was used to practice playing together with a daughter when she was still young, and another that is a keepsake of their mother. There was also a piano gifted from across the sea by a musician in Vienna.

    The central members of Piano Donations for Japan Disaster Affected Public Schools, including from left, professional piano tuner Takashi Abe, committee head Michiko Shoji, and composer Kazuo Kikkawa, are seen in the city of Higashi Matsushima, Miyagi Prefecture, on March 5, 2021. (Mainichi/Hinako Kikuchi)

    The donations group also includes members who themselves were in the areas hit by the 2011 disasters at the time. Takashi Abe, 66, a professional piano tuner in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, had his house located in a coastal area swept away by the tsunami. He borrowed an employees' lounge on the second floor of a warehouse with the cooperation of a piano shipping company that worked with the group, and lived there for one year. After finishing work, he toiled away at repairing donated pianos in the warehouse day after day. He smiled and said, "I was happy when I saw the faces of people who were pleased and told me that it's as if the instrument were brand-new."

    The group wrapped up its activities ahead of the 10th anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, as there were no more donations or requests from those affected by the disasters.

    Moe Miura, the girl who rushed to Shoji's side after the concert, is now 16 and a second-year student in high school. She was a first-grader at the time of the disasters, and received a secondhand upright piano when she was in the fifth grade. "If I didn't have the piano, I don't know what else I would have thrown myself into, and it's so precious for me. I was able to practice thanks to the piano that was given to me," said Miura.

    In May, Miura plans to perform at a concert in Sendai and play "Fantasia Sakura Sakura," a piece she practiced continually with the piano she received. With a smile, she said, "I'd like Ms. Shoji to listen to my performance one day too." Beautiful sounds resonate now in each area the pianos were sent to.

    (Japanese original by Hinako Kikuchi, Maebashi Bureau)

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