From the Heart of a Six-Year-Old


Emily Kinaga's desire to help kids in Japan grew into a benefit concert with Quest Crew and jazz pioneers Hiroshima headlining. Above, the kindergartener writes a message on a paper heart as her mother Patty looks on.


PASADENA –After witnessing the Japanese earthquake and tsunami tragedy unfold on live television March 11, six-year-old Emily Kinaga was among countless others around the world who wondered how they could help.

As a young child, she can best relate to her peers, and that thought became the nucleus for this Saturday night’s “Thousand Hearts” Japan Relief Benefit Concert at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium.

Emily’s mother, Patty Kinaga, is a past president of the Japanese American Bar Association and a former member of the Japanese American Leadership Delegation to Japan sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. She had her television tuned to Japanese broadcaster NHK to keep abreast of what was happening while emailing and contacting various people, including talking to the consul general of Japan in Los Angeles on what she could do.

Quest Crew, pictured above in a 2009 rehearsal, will bring their high-flying energy as one of the two headlining acts Saturday night. (MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS/Rafu Shimpo)

“Like every other family, we were glued to the TV, and I was on the phone and internet trying to figure out what we could do,” Kinaga explained. “That’s when Emily said, ‘Mommy, can’t we do something for the children in Japan? Can we make connecting paper hearts and write messages to send to the children of Japan?’ That’s when I thought, ‘Wow, that’s it!’ ”

Their concept was to combine the love and craft of paper dolls and folded paper cranes, to send their message to the young people in Japan whose lives have been devastated by the continuing disaster.

“The images were reminding me of Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Kinaga said, “and I thought about the Sadako and the thousand cranes.”

Emily, a kindergartener at Mayfield School in Pasadena, had first heard of the story about the thousand origami cranes from June Kuramoto, one of the founding members of the pioneering jazz fusion band Hiroshima. She is a longtime friend of the Kinaga family who has been teaching Emily to play the koto.

Auntie June co-wrote a song with Derek Nakamoto called “Thousand Cranes,” a stirring ballad inspired by Sadako Sasaki, the young girl in Japan who because of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima was dying from leukemia. Sadako started to fold origami cranes because the legend says anyone who folds a thousand cranes and holds them together with string will be granted a wish. Sadako wanted to get her health back, but eventually succumbed to her radiation-induced illness.

As a result of her death, Sadako’s classmates started a movement to raise money for a statue in memory of her and other children who died from the atomic bomb. A monument was erected at Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, inscribed with the words, “This Is Our Cry. This Is Our Prayer. Peace in the World.”  Since then, the thousand cranes have become a symbol of peace.

Emily had heard this story from her Auntie June and remembered it as she was listening to her mother’s telephone conversations.

Former Japan pop idol Mika Todd will return to the stage for the benefit at the Pasadena Civic.

Recounting her daughter’s ideas brings tears to Kinaga’s eyes, to realize the love and care that her daughter has for humanity. Upon more discussion, they decided to do something to help Japan and the children and would call their project a “Thousand Hearts.” Kinaga said she and Emily gave each other a big “high five” and she took the lead in creating the Japan Earthquake & Tsunami Relief Benefit Concert.

Kinaga set about contacting and organizing bar associations, which helped her to mobilize this event. She called upon her friend Pasadena City Councilmember Steve Madison for his help, the first member of the Thousand Heart Blue Ribbon Committee along with Mayor Bill Bogaard and as of this writing Councilmembers Jacque Robinson, Margaret McAustin and Steve Haderlein.

Rick Barr, general manager of the Pasadena Civic Auditorium, said “We are happy to be hosting this meaningful event for the people of Japan.”

The “Thousands Hearts” concert is aimed at creating a multi-cultural, multi-generational effort, reaching out to each other that we may reach out to the people of Japan, heart to heart. Presented by Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., the event will begin Saturday at 7 p.m. in Pasadena.

The concert will be headlined by the Grammy-winning Hiroshima, and Quest Crew, winner of MTV’s “America’s Best Dance Crew,” who bring a mix of humor, musicality, high-flying and eye-popping tricks and innovative choreography.

Also taking the stage will be the premier taiko group TaikoProject, along with a host of celebrities, including actor Lou Diamond Phillips, actress Julia Ling and Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. Included in the program is Janice-Marie Johnson, a former member of the R&B group A Taste of Honey, who had a 1980s hit with an English-language version of Kyu Sakamoto’s classic, “Sukiyaki.”

The evening will also mark a return to performing by Mika Todd, who reached stardom in Japan as a member of the teen-pop group Mini Moni. Todd said Wednesday that she feels a responsibility to help the people of Japan, and the best way she knows is through music.

“It’s so hard to put into words how I feel about the situation in Japan,” Todd wrote in an email to the Rafu. “It breaks my heart to hear the many stories of the victims losing everything. But yet, it’s so amazing to hear how the Japanese community and the international community coming together to help in any way that they can. It makes me feel very proud to be Japanese and I am confident that they will stand again stronger than ever.”

Grammy winners Hiroshima, from left: June Kuramoto, Dan Kuramoto, Danny Yamamoto, Dean Cortez, Shoji Kameda and Kimo Cornwell.

Hiroshima co-founding member Dan Kuramoto said his group’s participation in the concert was an easy choice to make.

“Everyone’s concerned. It’s tough because many people don’t understand the scale of what’s going on over there,” Kuramoto said. “They wanted to put something together and we’re absolutely happy to help, and Quest Crew are fantastic, so it’s good to have the younger guys involved.”

Hiroshima had already been donating large portions of all their album sales to the relief effort, and all proceeds from CD purchased at the show Saturday will be donated as well.

In the aftermath of Japan’s tragedy, this concert has been organized by a multi-cultural coalition of bar associations and community groups, including the Japanese American Bar Association, the Mexican American Bar Association, the Langston Bar Association, the national Hispanic, Asian and African American bar associations, the Pasadena Bar Association and a host of community organizations.

The Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami Aid Project, the concert host, is an informal coalition of members from ethnically diverse professional and community associations throughout California. Tickets to the concert are $20, $40, and $60. For more information, visit