Still shocked at the natural disasters that hit Japan in March 2011, Taro Hakase is determined that the people of the region not be forgotten. He will bring that message to Cologne during his three-month world tour.
DW: How did you first hear of the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011?
Taro Hakase: It started just as a normal morning. I opened my laptop at home in London - and then I saw the news. I could not believe it. It was more than shocking. For the next two days, I tried to share information through my Twitter account, trying to help. I didn't sleep for those first two days. After that, I said to my wife that I had to do something - anything - to help. I should play.
What were you able to do?
By the end of the first week, we had done a series of seven concerts in five days across London. I played in Fortnum & Mason, I played at the Eurostar station, at the Japanese Embassy, at department stores and St George's Church in Hanover Square. It was crazy, but the entire Japanese community in London wanted to do something to help. I only stopped performing in London because I was coming on tour to Japan, which I was determined to go ahead with. Lots of artists cancelled their Japan concerts, but I had to go ahead. I had to show the people of Tohoku that we care about them.
Beyond music, how can you do that?
We decided to give packets of sunflower seeds to everyone who came to those concerts and it's just something that we have continued to do at events ever since. I see the sunflower as my symbol, but when people plant those seeds, it is a symbol of hope.
What can you do to ensure the people of Tohoku are not forgotten?
I'm continuing to tell people to help, to provide support. At my concert last night, I played "Smile," which was written to raise awareness about Tohoku. There is not much discussion about the disasters any more, but I feel that as a musician, it is my duty to make sure these people are not forgotten. "Himawari" [Japanese for sunflower] was the theme song to a morning drama program that was postponed because of the earthquake, but now it has become a symbol of Tohoku trying to return to normal. I've had letters from people who lost their homes in the disaster and they say hearing it makes them feel stronger. That is the power of music.
What was the reaction of the crowd to last night's performance in Ibaraki City?
It was an emotional and exciting evening. It was a smaller venue, maybe 1,200 people, so the audience was quite close and that gave it more intimacy. It was the 11th concert of this autumn's tour, which will continue to the end of this year. We're doing a total of 45 dates in Japan, Seoul, Taipei, London, New York and Cologne.
What will you be performing?
I've just released the new album, "Japonism," and I don't think I could have made this music 10 years ago. Japonism was the 19th century French term for Japanese art and culture, which was so popular then. But to me, it was simply my culture and it was not fashionable. Also, I grew up with Western culture in Japan. But now I feel differently; when I listen to taiko drums, when I see kabuki or other traditional culture, I can feel more deeply that it is in my heart and DNA. Before, I did not want to make traditional Japanese music, but now I feel a more emotional attachment to my country's culture. And maybe living in London and being away from Japan for a while has encouraged that.
If you had to choose a favorite piece of music, what would it be and why?
I would have to say a clarinet quintet by [Johannes] Brahms. He has been my idol since I was 15 years old and there are plenty of people who say this is his best work.
Then you must be looking forward to returning to perform in Germany.
I played in Dusseldorf two years ago and it was a wonderful occasion. I'm really looking forward to going back again in November.
Born in Osaka, Japan, 45-year-old Hakase is married with two children and divides his time between Tokyo and London. His three-month world tour will take him to Cologne in November.
Interview was conducted by Julian Ryall in Tokyo