By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts and Entertainment Editor
ANAHEIM. — The welcome for the Kyoto Tachibana High School Green Band was a blustery one on Dec. 21, as gale-force winds whipped through their rehearsal at the Anaheim Stadium parking lot.
Gusts of up to 70 miles per hour buffeted the young musicians, who were forced to confine their marching to a smaller area of the lot after the wind peeled a few sections off of the towering Big A marquee.
For drum major Hinaka Asada, the conditions were powerless to curb her excitement over performing in the upcoming 2012 Rose Parade in Pasadena on Jan. 2.
“I want to tell everyone how much fun this really is,” the 18-year-old said as her hair blew across her face.
The 142-member marching unit will be the fourth straight representative of Japan’s Green Band Association in the Rose Parade. With their impeccable musicianship and high-energy choreography, the group has become a fan favorite of spectators who brave the early New Year’s chill to take in the spectacle of the annual parade.
Green Band founder Yuzuru Kumagai first had the inspiration for the organization during a visit to Disneyland while on his honeymoon 12 years ago. He was impressed with the joy displayed by an American high school band marching in a parade at the park, and he envisioned helping a band from Japan to come and have the same opportunity and experience.
His initial strategy, however, almost got him ejected from the Magic Kingdom.
“My wife and I followed the end of that parade into the backstage gate,” Kumagai recalled. “One of the band directors asked, ‘Who are you?’ I told him, ‘I’m from Japan.’ He got a little angry and told me we weren’t allowed past the gate, but when I told him I’d like to bring a band from Japan, he suggested I put together a proposal package about a group and submit it to the Disneyland officials.”
Kumagai did just that, and two years later, he had an all-star group of high school students on stage at Disneyland, performing with the same verve and excitement he had witness on his honeymoon.
The goals of the Green Band Association extended far beyond Disneyland, however. Kumagai had long been concerned with environmental causes, and his band is a way to make an impact. Most of the group’s concerts are performed in the United States, with proceeds being used to used for a variety of green issues, as well as to assists victims of natural disasters.
Emiko Christensen, the U.S. senior program administrator for the Green Band Association, first met Kumagai six years ago when he brought a band to perform at a high school near her home in Victorville.
“He asked me to help coordinate trips in the U.S., and I was impressed how he was specially focused on all things safe and environmentally conscious,” Christensen said. “We want to support and help things and people all over the world.”
The Green Band’s charity performances included a firefighters’ benefit following the Station Fire in 2009. Donations from that appearance were passed along to the Los Angeles County Fire Department, with special recognition for two firefighters who lost their lives battling the massive blaze.
Following two appearances at Disneyland this week and at the Rose Parade, the band will perform Jan. 3 at Kennedy High School in La Palma to generate donations for the victims of the March 2011 Northern Japan earthquake and tsunami, and for the victims of tornados that pummeled areas of the midwestern United States the following May.
This year’s Green Band from Tachibana High School in Kyoto is one of Japan’s oldest and most celebrated female marching bands. Formed in 1961, the school is now coed, but the band remains predominantly female. They have been ranked as the top unit in the nation 13 times, including their win over more than 500 other groups at the All-Japan marching Contest last October.
Some sparkle is added to the experience as 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the program. Band director Hiroyuki Tanaka said the 10 hours of rehearsal daily – including during vacations and holidays – pays tangible dividends for his group of talented musicians.
“This is the only band of its kind in all of Japan,” he beamed. “I don’t think most Americans have ever seen anything like it. They’ll be surprised.”
While they have green in their name, the band from Kyoto are expected to be wearing their trademark orange uniforms as they march the five-plus miles of the Rose Parade on Monday. They are 59th in the parade order, and Asada said it will be an unspeakably proud moment when she raises her baton to lead her group down Colorado Boulevard.
“Through song, we hope to help spread hope and happiness,” she said. “That’s the best gift we have to give.”