For many years now, the bridge between Japan and Lithuania is kept intact by the Japan-Lithuania Friendship Association (JLFA). The association was founded in January 2001 to celebrate the 10th anniversary of diplomatic reconstruction of the Republic of Lithuania and Japan. JLFA promotes the cultural exchange between the two countries as well as the commemoration of Righteous Among the Nations Chiune Sugihara, a former Japanese diplomat in Kaunas, Lithuania.
As 2018 is the year of Centennial of the Restored State of Lithuania, JLFA is inviting the citizens of Kaunas and Lithuania to a special charity concert on May 27th. In the event held at Kaunas State Philarhmonic, musicians from Kaunas and Japan, including Kaunas City Symphony Orchestra, Kaunas State Choir and Gifu-Vienna choir from Japan, will perform Symphony No. 9 by Ludwig van Beethoven and a selection of pieces by Japanese composers.
Just before May 27th, we had the privilege to be introduced to the General Secretary of Japan-Lithuania Friendship Association Hisayuki Sakamizu. Last year, the Japanese friend of Kaunas was awarded Lithuanian Diplomacy Star for his vast contribution to strengthening Japan-Lithuania ties and promoting Lithuanian art – M. K. Čiurlionis in particular, but not only – in Japan. Sakamizu-San is responsible for the previous JLFA concerts in Kaunas, as well as the one scheduled for Sunday. In fact, he used to conduct the concerts in Kaunas, but this year he transferred the honour to Tamotsu Hiramitsu.
How is the concept of charity close to you personally? Where do you find the strength and passion for working in charity for so many years?
Generally, I am a firm believer in world peace and wellbeing of humankind. My grandmother was Catholic, and I received very strong influence from her on the idea of charity from the time I was a little child. That simply continues to today.
I worked for Nissan Motor for almost 28 years, in the company’s overseas operations as an engineer, then the manager and finally the top of foreign operations. Just before my retirement from Nissan, I was invited to join JALFA at their time of reformation as General Secretary.
Lina Žukauskaitė, at the time Deputy Head of the Department of Lithuanians Abroad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was the person that connected our organisation and me to Rugutė foundation. I borrowed my strength from her! I am very thankful to all the people who gave me the power to continue.
How did you choose the musicians for this particular concert? Is it the people you have already worked with in the past, or is it a new collective of talents?
As a conductor of 65-year old Tokyo Male Choir, I know almost all of the Japanese choirs. Selection of visiting artists was made exceptionally carefully. The priority, in my case, was not necessarily their level of music perfection but their charity-oriented mindset. Many art groups in Japan want to come to Lithuania, so it is indeed a complicated process involving telling the people to wait for their chance.
This year, Vienna-Gifu Mixed Choir will be coming to Kaunas to perform Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9. I knew these people already, and I have sung with them in their annual concerts and Chiune Opera.
What does the Symphony No. 9, which also is the anthem for European Union, symbolise in the context of the friendship of Japan and Lithuania?
We want to join you in celebrating your important year with the “Ode to Joy”. It is the way we show our support and friendship in our approach to all of our Lithuanian Friends.
What feelings do you have about Kaunas as a city? Which objects in Kaunas would you recommend for Japanese people that visit us for the first time?
I know the history of Lithuania and the history of the city Kaunas from books. Fortunately, I have many very close friends in Kaunas, so I feel this city is my second home. Of course, the story of Chiune Sugihara strengthened my attachment to this city.
Let’s talk about Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis, as you have connections with the artist and his presentation in Japan! Which pieces by Čiurlionis are your favourites?
If you ask me to talk about Čiurlionis, it will take a very long time to finish the talk! I was involved in the team holding the very first exhibition of his paintings in Tokyo, Japan, back in the 1990s. The poster of the exhibition is kept in the M. K. Čiurlionis National Museum of Art in Kaunas today.
As a music fan, I listened to piano concerts played by Vytautas Landsbergis on two occasions in Tokyo. I was also able to invite him to dinner, and we became very close friends.
I like the symphonic poems “Miške” and “Jūra” (listen to both here), choral pieces “Kyrie” and “Sanctus” and the many Lithuanian melodies harmonised by him. As the organisation, we published an album of piano pieces by Čiurlionis a few years ago. A copy was donated to his memorial museum when I visited his birthplace in Druskininkai 5 years ago.