Nagasaki girls’ choir brings message of peace to St. Paul

| Susan Klemond for The Catholic Spirit | August 15, 2013 | 0 Comments
A choir member from Japan shares a smile with a member of the Carondelet Village in St. Paul. After their performance, the girls gave handmade origami to each of the audience members. Caroline Rode/The Catholic Spirit

A choir member from Japan shares a smile with a member of the Carondelet Village in St. Paul. After their performance, the girls gave handmade origami to each of the audience members. Caroline Rode/The Catholic Spirit

On Aug. 9, just after 11 a.m., an unusual group marked a significant international anniversary together: Japanese school girls sang a special song to remember the atomic bomb that was dropped on Nagasaki, Japan, on that date in 1945.

Dressed in navy blue school jumpers, the 13 high school girls from Nagasaki Junshin Catholic University and Girls’ Senior High School choir performed songs in Japanese and English for residents of Carondelet Village in St. Paul as part of their St. Paul-Nagasaki sister city tour.

The school’s third visit to the city in seven years featured ceremonies and events of remembrance related to the Hiroshima/Nagasaki atomic bomb anniversaries. Along with participating in and performing at the events, which included a tea ceremony with Archbishop John Nienstedt and meeting with the St. Paul City Council, the girls performed at Mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul on Aug. 11.

With a message of peace, the girls and their leader, Sister Yoko Hamada, ICM, shared their school’s history and, through their performances, gave a view of Japanese culture.

“It is very important for us to know what happened in Nagasaki or Hiroshima,” she said. “The younger people should learn what happened there and . . . what to do — how to build peace.”

Remembering history

Nagasaki Junshin Catholic University, (Junshin means “Immaculate Heart” of Mary in Japanese) founded in 1934, was strongly impacted by the atomic bomb. When it was dropped on the city in 1945, 214 of the university’s students and teachers lost their lives, and the school was badly damaged.

In 1982, Junshin established a relationship with St. Catherine University. Jun-shin now has a graduate school, and its congregation of sisters has an outreach in Brazil.

The visit gave Minnesotans the chance to experience Japanese culture and learn about important events in history, said JoAnn Blatchley, president of the St. Paul-Nagasaki Sister City Committee. The sister-city relationship was established in 1955 and was Japan’s first sister-city connection.

“The girls bring in a very real world connection,” she said. “As children of God [regardless of] the color of our skin and the language we speak we’re all together loving each other and working for peace, not war.”

Karin Yamamoto, a 16-year-old Junshin high school student, said she was enjoying the chance to sing and spend time with her host family on her first trip to Minnesota. When asked how she felt about commemorating the bomb being dropped on her city she said, “I don’t want war again.”

The song commemorating the anniversary was familiar to both groups, “A Thousand Paper Cranes,” based on the true story of a young girl, who after contracting leukemia from the bomb’s radiation made origami cranes in hopes of getting well, has become a memorial song for the anniversaries.

Kairos dancing heart participants at Carondelet Village sometimes dance to the song using their arms. Kairos dancing heart is a Twin Cities based program that regularly engages Carondelet Village residents in dance and storytelling.

This was the second time the residents have done the dance with the Junshin choir, and dancer and Carondelet Village resident Pat Palmer said she was glad for the chance to share with the girls.

Reciprocal observance

“I was very impressed at such reverence and remembrance,” she said. “They weren’t there [at Nagasaki during the bombing] but they know what happened to them.”

As the Junshin choir traveled to Minnesota, a member of the St. Paul sister-city committee commemorated the anniversaries in Nagasaki, Blatchley said. Continuing the exchange, a choir group from St. Agnes is considering going to the Japanese city in 2015, she said.

The friendship between St. Paul and Nagasaki is important in the efforts for peace, Sister Hamada said.

“We cannot build peace by ourselves,” she said. “We have to make friends. We have to [nurture] understanding ourselves or talk to each other directly.”

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Category: Local News