A song for quake survivors in Tokyo, Japan

January 12, 2016 3:00 pm

Five years after tragedy hit , chart-topping band reunite for one final fundraiser.

A
mannequin sticks out from the rubble in Kesennuma, Miyagi prefecture,
after the earthquake and tsunami devastated much of north-eastern Japan
on March 11, 2011. Photo / AP

On the day of the disaster, she raced through Tokyo relying on
her daughter’s GPS signal. Princess Princess lead vocalist Kaori
Kishitani, 48, can never forget the terror she felt.
On March 11, 2011, her daughter, then a first-grade primary school student, was taking the train home when the earthquake hit.
Frantically
searching among the stopped trains, Kishitani pushed against the tide
of evacuating passengers to get inside a carriage, where she finally
found her daughter. Kishitani’s throat was completely dry from
repeatedly calling out her daughter’s name.
Upon returning home,
the two watched of the tsunami on television. “There are lots of
parents and children who couldn’t be reunited,” she thought. Kishitani
could not get the disaster areas out of her head.
Princess
Princess drummer Kyoko Tomita, 50, sent a text message to the other
members of the group shortly after the disaster, asking if they were
okay.

Spurred by this, the once-inseparable five gathered about one week later to discuss what they could do for the Tohoku region.
Each
had their own families and jobs, but all of them tacitly understood
they had taken a step toward what they had previously considered
impossible: getting the band back together. In the summer, the five made
their decision.
Debuting in 1986, Princess Princess hit it big
after selling 1 million CD singles of the band’s now signature tune,
Diamonds. Japan’s most successful all-female rock band was back in
action 15 years after breaking up in 1996.
“The most an
individual could donate was tens of thousands yen, or a few hundred
thousand. But if it’s Pri Pri,” Kishitani said, referring to the band,
“I thought, we can give a whole lot more than five times that.”
Their
first charity concert practice sessions were dismal. Keyboardist Tomoko
Konno, 50, “automatically covered her ears” upon hearing Tomita’s
drumming.
Konno was able to devote herself to practising thanks
to other mothers who helped look after her oldest daughter who had just
started primary school.
Bassist Atsuko Watanabe, 51, at the time
was vice principal of a music academy but was “able to give my all,
thinking of the young students at our campus in disaster-stricken
Sendai”.
In March 2012, Princess Princess finally held its first
concert after regrouping. In a total of eight solo shows in Sendai and
at Tokyo Dome, the band brought out 130,000 fans. Their earnings,
including CD sales, were donated to the disaster areas.
“Perhaps Pri Pri was made for these [relief] efforts,” thought lead guitarist Kanako Nakayama, 51.


The last of the concerts was held at the end of 2012. All total they generated 500 million ($6.5 million).

“I could be of help to a lot of children thanks to their donations,” says Yuji Hirano, 22, a graduate student at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai.

Pri Pri allocated about 300 million of its earnings to the construction of Sendai PIT, a live music club with a capacity for about 1200 people that will serve as a musical hub for the disaster areas.

The band also gave 50 million each to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, and donated 30 million to the university for such purposes as improving the academic abilities of children in disaster areas.

Teachers and student volunteers held study groups in various locations across the disaster-hit areas. Between 2014 and 2015, Hirano himself joined English lessons five times, where many students told stories of their evacuation on March 11, 2011.

Many of the parents who accompanied them at the lessons, he says, told him with surprise that it was the first time they had heard about their child’s experience.

On March 11 this year, the five members of Princess Princess will formally open Sendai PIT with their first performance since the end of 2012. This is scheduled to bring the curtain down on their regrouping.

On a Sunday at the end of last year, the members gathered in a Tokyo studio to practise. They were worried that coverage of the disaster had faded.

Kishitani said she wants to give hope to the many people who have continually supported the band’s efforts. And their next concert is sure to be their last.

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