[From April Issue 2014]
In Japan, every New Year’s Eve, a program called “Kohaku Utagassen,” (Red and White Song Battle) is broadcast on NHK TV and radio. In the program, female singers perform for the red team and male singers perform for the white team. Through hit songs and memorable topics, listeners and viewers reflect on the past year.
Another “Kohaku Utagassen,” named “Kokusai Kohaku Utagassen,” is an international event that started in 2011. Aiming to promote international exchange and understanding, Japanese participants sing in foreign languages and non-Japanese sing in Japanese. Basically, regardless of gender, foreign students join the red team and Japanese students join the white team. It will be held again in November this year.
After the Great East Japan Earthquake, not only Japanese, but also people from other countries visited the disaster hit region as volunteer helpers. An executive committee was set up in the hopes of “bringing foreigners and Japanese together in order to cheer up the people living in the damaged area.” The editing staff of Global Community, which runs the website for this international and multi-lingual exchange, is at the center of the project.
They asked the Tourism Agency for support. As a result, MIZOHATA Hiroshi, then the secretary of the Tourism Agency, participated in the event as a singer in the white team. In this way, the first event was successfully completed. It was reported by the media in nine countries.
Since then, the event has been held annually and is now also held in Osaka. Last year about 600 people in Tokyo and 900 people in Osaka took part in the event. Many participants wear their national dress, creating an impressive ambience at both the Tokyo and Osaka events. At the event, there is singing and dancing, a furisode (long-sleeved kimono worn by unmarried women) and cosplay fashion show, a performance by the Austrian Ballet and more.
Some of guests are professional singers and some performers display incredible vocal ability. “Each time we have some people in the audience who were expecting nothing more than a ‘karaoke contest between overseas students who cannot speak Japanese well.’ They go home astonished at the high level of the performances given by the singers,” says executive committee member MIYAZAKI Kazumi, with a laugh. Prizes are given to performers who not only sing well, but who also get the audience fired up.
The event is staged in a way that brings the audience and performers together. The audience can participate as judges and are given time to interact with the performers by doing things like having their photos taken together with them. “On the actual day of the event, we sometimes ask people who came to see the show to work as stage hands or as interpreters. Everyone gladly contributes. We want to keep it as an event in which everyone plays a leading role, says Miyazaki.
Here, Japanese, alongside people of various nationalities, become one through singing. “Although there are more than two million foreigners living in Japan, there are not many opportunities for them to interact with those of different nationalities. For the finale, everyone, including the volunteers, joins the performers on stage and sings together. With all these people from around the world singing the same song, you really feel that the world is joining hands through song,” says Miyazaki.