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Japan in a time of need 3/11


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Japan in a time of need 3/11

Ty Burhoe

My dear friends,
I have just spent an amazing and moving several weeks in Japan. 10 days after the March 11th earthquake and tsunami in north eastern Japan, I was on a plane headed for Osaka.  Many friends and fans emailed me when they found out I was headed for Japan, and asked me not to go. "Why go now? It is a very unpredictable situation with after shocks and the growing threat of nuclear radiation poisoning." Very considerate of them to be concerned for my safety. However, my response to the crisis was an overwhelming sense of compassion which compelled me to get over there as soon as possible. As I discovered, practically all of the music, yoga and workshop events were canceled either do to artists leaving or canceling their trips, or producers who didn't feel like a fearful audience would come out to events. Which is a real shame since it is in times of struggle when the arts play a huge roll in bringing hope and comfort to those in fear and suffering.
I happen to be of the opinion that the roots of music and art are in fact Shamanistic. The very act of creating art often involves taking risk and opening to un-charted mysteries. There is always risk in expressing ones true feelings. There is risk in breaking through boundaries which limit our expression and freedoms. There is risk in reaching out to help others open their hearts and let what is inside find equilibrium with the Universe. So I would say that taking risk is actually part of the job description as an artist. And that risk can manifest as a simple artistic expression or as a movement towards a dangerous situation where people are suffering. For me, in this case, it was both.
Very few people were flying to Japan in the first couple of weeks following the earthquake and I found I had my choice of seats on the flight. As a matter of fact, it was said that 80% of non-Japanese & wealthy Japanese, actually left Japan in that 2 week period.  I believe it, because the number of non-Japanese I actually saw during my entire trip was in the single digits.

This video I put together to show some of the events of this tour


Many people have asked me how they can effectively donate and help in bringing relief to our Japanese family, so I have set up a page and donation link on my website:
100% of these funds will go directly to the people in need and be managed by my dedicated friends who are working day and night with the suffering people in the effected areas. It is important to realize that each one of us can make a difference.

When I arrived in Japan, I flew into Osaka and spent the first week in Nagoya area which is about 160 miles west of Tokyo. All in all, I had about 7 collaborative events and several workshops scheduled for my trip and most of them were benefit events for the disaster relief. I could feel the tension in the people around Nagoya and in many of my friends as well. Of course, this uneasiness was nation wide as the question mark appeared in everyone's mind about the effect this disaster might have upon their future.
My first event was with sitarist Koki Yoshida. A fine musician living in the Nagoya area. This event was produced by my student and dear friends Jun Haraguchi and her partner Shinya Ando (santoor player). They hosted me at their home for several days around my trip to Japan. Wonderful souls!!!

Staff for the Pal Cafe venue - Koki-san and I in the center - great folks

The following day I had a Musical Universe workshop with a wonderful group from various areas of Japan. Our focus for these workshop was on developing an inner anchor, a tangible relationship to the life giving energy within us. During any point in our lives, developing this relationship is critical, but even more so when our safty and livelihood is in question. I love this topic like no other and am so honored that others take time from their lives to come explore and dig into this topic with me.

Our workshop was held in a very beautiful Shinto Temple - great energy in there.

Then the "Buddha's Birthday Festival" began and the rest of the day was a wonderful series of events varying from folk music, to world groove, to dance from India, to modern dance, to classical music of India. I was so honored to be a special guest for several collaborations during the evening. Odissi dancer Yukie Satoh produced the event and was a featured artist as well. She and her team did a wonderful job creating a meaningful and inspirational day for everyone.

This is the after concert dinner with many of the artists. It is very common for a meal and celebration to happen after any and all events in Japan - always a wonderful time.

The following day Jun-san set up a tabla workshop at Nagoya's Tribal Arts, for the many Indian music students who live in the area. Some very talented and passionate students are there which is of course very inspiring and rewarding for me as a teacher - amazing!

Staff of the wonderful Tribal Arts cafe & organic clothing shop.

Then it was time to head up to Tokyo. I took the Shinkansen bullet train which is always a treat, but this time the mood was quite a bit different than usual. There were very few people going towards Tokyo and as with my flight to Japan, there were many empty seats.

Both ways, going to Tokyo and leaving Tokyo, I was blessed by an unusually clear view of Mount Fuji. I always feel that this great mountain looks over the well being of every soul in Japan. In the face of any disaster or hardship, it brings a sense of hope, comfort and power.

When I arrived in Tokyo, I could feel the fear and tension in the air. It actually felt like a different place altogether. However, immediately upon exiting the JR train line gates, a man stopped me and said, "Why are you here? Why would you risk your self coming into Tokyo when everyone else is leaving?" So we talked a while and his thankfulness made me feel very welcome. Then he disappeared as if he were a spirit put there simply to acknowledge my journey.
I was met by my assistant Kaori-san at the station and she helped me get to my "weekly Mansion" apartment, which is a cheaper way to stay in Tokyo than hotels. I noticed immediately that there were only a fraction of the usual swarms of people all across Tokyo. The large central  centers such as Shinjuku, Shibuya and Ebisu were actually dark and empty. In all honesty, the much smaller city of Nagoya had more activity than massive Tokyo.

The shelves at many of the stores were all but empty. Because of the uncertainty of the radiation poisoning in the air, the water and food, many people had stocked up on all supplies in case they had to survive indoors for a long period.
Even the play grounds were empty

The thousands of escalators across Tokyo also were motionless.
Hundreds and hundreds of taxis were lined up with no work because of the mass exodus out of Japan and the people who were there in Tokyo were avoiding going outside.

The emptiness of Tokyo was indeed a shocking reality which seemed to ease over the days I was there. I noticed that by the time I left, many more people were coming out and eating in the restaurants and even the playgrounds were beginning to fill up with children. I suppose people can only sit inside and wait for an unknown threat to unfold for only so long. My sense is that people longed for some kind of normal life even though the threat level was, and still is, an unknown question mark...


I was lucky enough to have been in Tokyo for the beginning of cherry blossom season which I had never seen before. It was a mixed bag of emotions regarding this particular season in peoples minds because cherry blossom season is suppose to be a time of happiness, love and celebration. And yet, the recent disaster and suffering of the people north of Tokyo cast a shadow during this time. Many people feel that during such a time of suffering, one should respectfully put aside their outward display of happiness and celebration. Yet, it is difficult to keep ones joy of being alive shut away for very long. And indeed, showing and sharing love and hope are important ingredients which help others find a way through hard times. So I witnessed this dynamic struggle which took place within my friends as well as within the businesses and companies who needed to get lights on and business flowing, while not wanting to look selfish in the face of other companies choosing to keep power consumption low.
One of my dear musician friends Yukihiro Atsumi (amazing jazz guitarist) and I spent an evening rehearsing for some shows we have planned for this coming September. He is a deep thinker and very compassionate soul. So an important part of playing music together is sharing stories and visions. I hope to be able to share the music we create together with you one day.
One of his insights about the people of Japan, was how much power and spirituality is within what we call "normal". The blossoming and releasing of tension that happens for people when they feel a sense of normality within their lives is profound, and when that is taken away, it creates a particular type of stress and something creative closes down. It is perhaps what governments hope for when they put a country on threat alerts.

Yukihiro-san and Ty

Joined by our friend Ryu-san who is a talented photographer and film maker.

Another great reunion while I was in Tokyo was with Japan's premier tabla player U-Zhaan and sitarist Daikitiji. We performed two shows around Tokyo and had "over sold" concerts both times. It is very strange to think that during a time when people need to feel some sense of security and expression, the arts, which are the core source for this, are actually not available. Like I said earlier, most non-Japanese artists cancelled and many producers in Japan cancelled shows for fear of lack of audience. We certainly did not find that to be true.

The after concert party with U-Zhaan, Emi-san, Daikitiji, Yuka-san & Takeda-san
Ty & U-Zhaan (all it takes is a little sake :)


My days there were spent either in meetings, performing or walking around feeling out what Tokyo was like under these conditions. I also found myself wondering, each and every day, whether the air had radiation in it as well as the water. I love taking baths in Japan, the tubs are made for bath lovers (deep and hot). Yet, some reports of radiation in the city water were putting everyone on edge for washing cloths, taking baths, brushing teeth let alone cooking. And as if that were not enough, everyday brought after shock earthquakes, some of which were up to 7.0 magnitude. I was knocked out of bed one morning by a 6.5 earthquake which lasted a good 10 seconds. It is an incredible feeling of instability when the very ground we build our cities on jerks back and forth. I can not imagine the enormity of the 9.0 earthquake that hit Sendai, it is beyond what our mind can fathom.
An important meeting which I had, in part, planned my trip around was with Indonesian dancer and producer Hiromi Kubota. We had been in touch about creating some unique collaborations with tabla and traditional Japanese instruments. So we met up at a lovely venue/restaurant called CAY in central Tokyo with a wonderful shakuhachi player named Akihisa Kominato. We had a great time together and all felt that our connection was "go en" which means a meeting with another that has a special, possibly spiritual feeling to the connection. This "go en" feeling I tend to follow when considering long term collaborations with musicians. It makes a difference in the friendship, trust and ultimately the depth of musical expression.

Akihisa-san, Ty, Hiromi-san & Junpei (CAY manager)

Next, I met with another producer, Reiko Watahiki, who specializes in Classical Indian music. She is the founder of the Indian Music Circle which is found today in Niigata and has recently moved to Tokyo. So she has honored me by deciding to begin producing shows in Tokyo with me this coming Sept. Yeaaaa!! She brought her friends and producing partners along for the meeting and again, we all had such a lovely time together. I know it seems like everyone I mention there is amazing, but somehow, when your walking a path dictated by your heart, the steering mechanism naturally gravitates towards these types of connections. When we follow our heart, I would go so far as to say that "thankfulness" becomes the oxygen we breath, and "grace" becomes the very air that fills the landscape.

Mayumi-san, Ty, Reiko-san & Nadi-san


My Tokyo based assistant Kaori Mizuno put together a "Musical Universe" workshop while I was in Tokyo. This was the other main reason I was scheduled to come to Japan during this time. I have a growing number of people who come to my workshops that really feel like family. The fact that they were in a dangerous position and feeling stressed, made me want to come all the more. So the main focus of this workshop was less on music and more on meditation. I wanted to begin the process of showing them the ground within themselves which is un-shakeable. The process of discovering and falling in love with the very energy which creates their bodies. The clearly "musical" presence which holds together all matter. As you know (if you have been reading my diary over time) this topic has, and will always appear as being my default button or more accurately put, my anchor. It is this inner relationship which I always refer to during wondrous times as well as terrible times. And it is this most important personal relationship that I ultimately want to share with others.

The photo below is the family of folks following our "Musical Universe" workshop  at Nirmal Yoga in Tokyo. We actually experienced a 6.2 earthquake right in the middle of  the workshop when we were talking about grounding - it was a chance to dig into our inner un-shakeable connection while the entire outside world rocked away.

I also met with the Studio Yoggy team for a new guided meditation CD with Kimi Imazu. It will be available this summer through Studio Yoggy. And then, a day later, I traveled back down to Nagoya for a last visit with my friends there and a look at the cherry blossom season in "Full Bloom". WOW - it was perfect weather and all the trees were over flowing with color. It is beyond what I could have imagined and I saw why this is such an important season for the Japanese. The air is filled with fragrance and I believe that the air molecules themselves carry a calming, loving vibration which intoxicates not only humans, but all creatures.


It was this feeling that I left Japan with. The feeling of hope and power that is impossible to stop. The sense from my friends there, that they will continue to grow and awaken to what life has to offer no matter what. I had the feeling that something even stronger is being born out of this difficult time. Something that cannot be bought with money, nor manipulated by governments. In my Native American ceremonies, it is the same as the energy of the bear which is the digger of medicine and is the will to survive within the wounded Samurai.
We all have these qualities within us and discovering how to activate them and become truly alive is a worthy focus. The people of Japan are true role models for the world in the way they collaborate and cooperate under extreme trauma. It is a strength and beauty we all can pay attention to and learn from. Their journey through these hard times is still at a critical point today and will be that way for many months to come. If you are moved to help in any way, feel free to send aid to Japan or email me for more information. I can even forward caring emails directly to my many friends in Japan - feel free to write to them through me.
So, now I am getting ready for many concerts and adventure across the US including a small tour with Shivkumar Sharma and Zakir Hussain. I'll write more soon.
Much love as always and we'll be in touch,