Despite the natural and nuclear disasters in Japan, dozens of Japanese attended South by Southwest last week. KERA’s Stephen Becker reports that they found an outpouring of support from those who went to the music, film and interactive conference:
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Friday night is traditionally Japan Nite at the SXSW music conference. The event is usually just a package tour of Japanese bands that stops through Austin before heading off to the coasts and back to Japan. The audience stops by to check out a cultural curiosity and to see how the Japanese are putting their spin on American rock music. But this year, the night served as a cross-cultural love-in.
An hour before the 8 o’clock start time, a line had already formed at Elysium, the club hosting the concert. When the doors opened at 7:45, the black and red split-level club was almost instantly full. The night’s opening band was called Zukunasisters. And when they hit the stage, it was clear that despite the tragedy in Japan, this wasn’t going to be a pity party.
EMI: “Many people is hanging there, and helping each other. We don’t give up. We don’t give up! So, please give me your power. Please give me your power! [crowd cheers]”
The all-female four-piece got the crowd worked up early. Emi, the band’s singer, stalked the stage wearing a red sequined dress straight out of Tina Turner’s closet.
As the Zukunasisters played, other bands hung out at the T-shirt stand signing CDs and shaking hands. Photographers snapped pictures of a Japanese girl wearing a white surgical mask, a common sight on Japanese streets. On the mask was written “Pray for Japan.”
Kick, the guitarist for the all-girl punk band Lolita No. 18, was one of the musicians killing time before her set. She was in a shopping mall in Sendai, Japan – one of the closest major cities to the earthquake’s epicenter – when the disaster struck. She says she considered not making the trip until her parents told her, “You must go.”
Through an interpreter, she was asked about her interactions with people she’s met this week. Before answering, she looked as if she might cry before quickly finding a stiff upper lip.
KICK: “People are very kind. Just walking down the street, people just give me money for the donation. She feel warm and loved.”
All week at SXSW, people’s minds were on Japan.
Aika Nakashima is a native of Yokohama, Japan, in town from New York to attend the Interactive trade show.
NAKASHIMA: “The first few days, I was just really, really shocked and I couldn’t believe what was happening. I still can’t explain how I feel. I don’t know … I’m speechless about this.”
By Tuesday, Nakashima and other Japanese trade show participants had erected a booth on the fourth floor of the conference headquarters in the Austin Convention Center seeking donations. On Wednesday, the start of Music conference, T-shirts that read “Help Save Japan” in English and Japanese were available for a $15 donation. And by Thursday, when the T-shirts were sold out, green-tea cookies were offered as thank-you gifts.
By yesterday afternoon, close to $100,000 had been donated by South by Southwest participants. Nakashima anticipates that that spirit of charity will rub off on her homeland.
NAKASHIMA: “Japanese people don’t really have a donation culture. So, I think for the Japanese entrepreneurs who came here, they learned a lot about American culture – how they are willing to give when people are in trouble. … And I think they will bring it back to Japan and this culture of giving will start in Japan, too.”
Back on stage at Japan Nite, the Zukunasisters were wrapping up their set. A thrilling electro-rock duo called White White Sisters followed. But before Emi left the stage, she had a few words of hope and thanks and an uplifting song.
EMI: “We’ll see you soon. Arigato! … Louis Armstrong … ‘What a Wonderful World’.”
You can check out the rest of Art&Seek’s SXSW coverage here.
If you’d like to help with the relief efforts in Japan, here are a few organizations you can contact:
- Japan-America Society of Dallas Fort Worth
- American Red Cross
- Doctors Without Borders
- Salvation Army