I just finished a delightful reunion Skype call with my friend, Gart Westerhout, an American from the Baltimore area, who has been living many years in Komatsu, Japan. He and his family were spared in the current catastrophe.
Gart writes plays that he then produces and directs with residents of the small town of Komatsu. His plays are about peace. Five times they have been invited to perform outside of Japan. For the 2nd invitation, in 1999, he brought the troupe to perform in Washington, DC. He and I had already met online (it was only the third year of the Internet) and discovered our shared interests in peace and laughter. Following a beautiful performance of his play “Birds of Peace” (all in Japanese), and a pizza party for cast and crew, Pam and I met Gart and about two dozen of the actors from Komatsu, for a memorable laughter session on the National Mall between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.
We started with my yo-yo tricks. Gart was the translator. We ended up with the cast spontaneously inventing a form of peace laughter, which entails standing on one leg like a crane, while laughing and gracefully flapping our arms like large wings. You see, in Japan, the crane is known as the bird of peace, commemorating the story of a young girl made fatally sick from the atomic bombings. There is a belief that if you fold 1,000 origami cranes, you will be granted a wish. Ill with a leukemic condition, the young girl started folding cranes. Her wish was to be for peace. Gart wrote the play to tell her story. The cast brought 50,000 origami cranes, made by the townspeople of Komatsu, to distribute during their tour. Hence, the crane pose became a form of peace laughter. Pam and I we were very encouraged that (1) we were able to communicate and connect friendship and laughter, and (2) we witnessed the close connection between laughter and creativity.
In today’s e-mail, Gart writes, “Leaving Saturday for the UK and the continent – see http://osugimusicaltheatre.com We bring a message of peace and much-needed laughter through our show which catapults characters from Japanese history into the present. No one-meter laughs in the show, but plenty of giggles and guffaws, and what you taught us back on the National Mall (with official permit to hold a gathering, I recall!) has stuck with me all through the years. One of my favorite memories of that workshop was that my parents and several of their good friends started as onlookers (they had attended the show) but by halfway through they were all full participants!”
Subject: laughter kanji
“Here is the kanji for the word warau, or laughter, suitable for color printing and framing! It was done by a good friend here who did the art for our poster this year (see http://osugimusicaltheatre.com for poster and trip schedule), and he is coming on the trip and will do giant calligraphy onstage (link to photos on the main page right under the March 13 show info in the left column).”
[The laughter character is done by the calligrapher Kazu Mori of Akaze, Komatsu, Japan. He did the poster you can see at http://osugimusicaltheatre.com/, and below the poster is a photo of him at work.]
And, now, dear reader, I share the beautiful laughter kanji with you to print or frame or pass along or just to look at. You can get it at https://www.worldlaughtertour.com/images/kanji.jpg. In the midst of a catastrophic event, some who survive continue their work –even re-double their efforts– for peace and laughter. I am happy to have this friendship.