Concert by Guitarist Jan Depreter at Residence of Ambassador Shiojiri

On 21st May, the residence of Ambassador Shiojiri held a concert featuring renowned Belgian guitarist Mr. Jan Depreter.

Mr. Depreter is an extraordinary talent in the guitar world and shares a strong connection with Japan.

Before his performance he spoke about his experiences in Japan, where he has visited 7 times, most recently in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake to provide encouragement to those in the affected regions.

Mr Depreter remarked “My love for Japan is without question. I have – in previous interviews – expressed many times my special connection with this extraordinary country and my admiration for its wonderful people”.

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Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

In March 2011 the world stopped.

After the greatest disaster in its history, the eyes of the world turned to Japan. Four days after the earthquake and the tsunami that followed, the people of Fukushima were still cut off from the rest of the world, without food, water, electricity, medical supplies or any information – while television images in Europe struck us all with disbelief and horror.
Immediately after, an equally powerful wave of sympathy for the people of Tohoku arose throughout the world. Fundraising events & charity concerts were organized everywhere, while the media’s attention shifted very quickly from the great human sorrow and need in the stricken areas to the more “sensational” danger of much more potential harm linked to the leakage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Free anti-radiation medicine was distributed, every government’s own disaster plans were under heavy scrutiny, and before long, the suffering people of Tohoku suddenly had become… old news.

While local governments were advising their citizens not to visit Japan, be it for business or tourism, the country suffered a second blow and bled empty. Meanwhile the EU-Japan fest under the direction of Mr. Shuji KOGI coordinated emergency food and medicine convoys through the mountains of Aizu-Wakamatsu and fired up their long-term awareness campaign “Ganbaré Tohoku” to remind the surviving victims of the tsunami disaster that they had not been forgotten; to strengthen their resolve and their hearts; and to assist & help them in any which way they possibly could; be it in coordinating, assembling, transporting and distributing vast quantities of life support and supplies; simply raising money; a moral-boosting campaign featuring hundreds of thousands of photographs expressing support, or by – inevitably – dialing my phone number somewhere in May 2011.

As we discussed our plans over the phone it quickly became clear how great the need was for continued support and even more importantly perhaps: the need for acknowledgement & personal attention to those who had lost so much and so many.

My love for Japan is without question. I have – in previous interviews – expressed many times my special connection with this extraordinary country and my admiration for its wonderful people. But I will not lie. A father of two children, my youngest barely six months old at the time, I –too – had some reservations to come to an environment that was proclaimed such a high risk by our local news on a daily basis. My management, my friends, my family and even my own doctors all advised against coming to Japan.

But how poorly would I be repaying those innumerable signs of loyal and unwavering friendship I have received from my Japanese friends since my very first visit in 2001 – by  remaining absent in their hour of need?

So it was, I sent my unconditional acceptance of the project 24 hours later and Mr. Bernard CATRYSSE, as director of the Flanders Center Osaka responsible for 25 years of cultural collaboration, exchange, support and growing friendship between the peoples of Japan & Belgium, started the preparations…
The program, we knew, had to be special this time. With 3500 kilometers to cover in 11 days, it would be the biggest tour we’d ever done. One day we would be playing in victim shelters and children’s hospitals, the next in some of Japan’s largest concert halls. The concert program had to be designed to comfort & soothe those who had suffered and raise awareness for the other.

The tour coincided with the release of my new CD “Legend” presenting the 25 most beautiful melodies of Flemish composer Armand Coeck, a present for his 70th birthday and half a century of compositions for the guitar. By coincidence, in many of his works, Armand Coeck tells the story of the much persecuted native people of Paraguay, the Guarani Indians, and the courage and bravery with which they have faced their adversity throughout the centuries. Somehow I felt this was a message the Japanese people could – now perhaps more than ever – understand. The rest of the program with better-known guitar classics was littered with references to Japan and Japanese culture & philosophy, which is that life ends, and that – because it ends – it is the more beautiful.

We were also facing a practical problem. Because our tour was so big, we would travel a lot:
from Brussels to Tokyo to Sendai to Matsushima to Ogawara to Nishitaga to Wakamatsu to Aizu, from Miyagi Ken to Fukushima Ken, back to Tokyo and then through to Kyushu, Kagoshima and Miyazaki, back to Tokyo and Brussels. Nowadays, air companies throughout the world are making it increasingly difficult if almost IMPOSSIBLE for musicians to travel with their instruments. This is becoming a very serious problem worldwide that also deserves our attention. Luckily, thanks to my very good relationship with the Guitar Department of Yamaha Japan, we found them willing to sponsor our project by making a specially designed, top-quality instrument available in every prefecture I played, thus allowing me to travel stress-free, without guitar.

So it was, I left Brussels airport on a misty Monday morning, the 31st of October, and I met Mr. Shuji KOGI of the E.U. Japan Fest in Tokyo next day for debriefing. Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of thousands, hundreds of thousands, having lost their homes and in many cases their family and friends, now, forced by Fate to live in temporary shelters for many years to come. There, in one of those Matsushima Victim Communities I played my very first concert. I was particularly moved by the strength and the brave resilience, sometimes even optimism, of some of the leaders who had organized and taken care of as many as sometimes 200 other victims at the time immediately after disaster struck and when Fukushima was cut off from the world for five days. I remember Mr. SUGAWARA in particular; on of the leaders who had lost his wife and only son; when I shook his hand after the concert, he smiled, pointed at the about one hundred refugees around him and he said: “Now, they are my family.”

I also remember the tremendous force and resolve of Mrs. ENDO who runs the Sae-ryu-Ji Temple, high up in the Aizu Mountains, an important channel through which food and supplies were sent when the roads were broken. There she now coordinates still many hundreds of families that had to leave their flooded homes behind and now – somehow – have to start a new life in and around Aizu-Wakamatsu.

The concerts held in SAERYU-JI Temple itself and at the Sakaemachi Church next day were very emotional. Many people cried in silence and so did I. With my music and with my heart, I have endeavored to give back some small measure of peace and comfort to those who were – and are still – most in need of it. Thank you for your attention and consideration.

Jan Depreter