‘Natsukashi Melodies’ — Grateful Crane’s Gift to the Nisei and Kibei

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On the surface, the Grateful Crane Ensemble’s “Natsukashi Melodies Sing-Along” delivers exactly what it promises: A community sing-along of nearly 30 nostalgic Japanese children’s songs and folk songs. But to members of Grateful Crane and its audience, it means much more than that.

The Grateful Crane Ensemble (Rafu Shimpo photo)

“This show is our gift to the Nisei and Kibei,” said Soji Kashiwagi, executive producer of the ensemble. “These are songs that the Issei brought over from Japan and sang to the Nisei when they were children. But more than the singing or the song, it’s the fond childhood memories of their parents singing these songs to them that has made this a special experience for members of our audience.”

Thus far, over 400 community members have enjoyed the show at Nishi Hongwanji Buddhist Church in August and Orange County Buddhist Church in September. The show will be performed again on Sunday, Oct. 28, at 2 p.m. at the Gardena Japanese Cultural Institute (JCI) Hall.

Kashiwagi explained that by doing this show they are also carrying on a tradition of singing that goes back to Japan, and was brought to America by the pioneering Issei generation.

“For centuries in Japan, way before karaoke, the people would gather together, they would start clapping their hands in unison and folks would get up and sing,” he said. “The Issei brought this tradition over, and were famous for getting up to sing at community events like the kenjinkai picnic. Singing is part of our culture, and our JA history.”

However, after World War II the Nisei were forced to start over from scratch and rebuild their lives. To do this, many decided to give up everything that was Japanese about them, and fully assimilate into American society.

“They were told to speak English only. They were told to be 200 percent Americans,” said Kashiwagi. “But lost in all this was our Japanese language and culture. Lost in all this was our community’s joy for singing these traditional Japanese songs.”

By doing this show, Kashiwagi said, the Sansei in his group want to bring back the songs and singing to honor and remember the Issei pioneers, and to continue its efforts to preserve Japanese American heritage, culture and history now and for future generations.

Some of the favorites from the show include “Akatombo,” “Furusato,” “Haru ga Kita,” “Momiji,” “Yuyake Koyake,” “Donguri Koro Koro,” “Momotaro,” “Hana” and many more.

Leading the sing-along will be long-time Grateful Crane members Haruye Ioka, Keiko Kawashima, Kurt Kuniyoshi and Helen Ota. Grateful Crane’s musical director, Scott Nagatani, will accompany everyone on piano.

The Gardena Valley JCI is located at 1964 W. 162nd St. in Gardena. Tickets are $25. To make a reservation, call the Grateful Crane ticket line at (310) 995-5841.

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