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The Herald

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

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Two mbira schools opened in Japan

From Teckshaw Tom in TOKYO, Japan

A JAPANESE national, who visited Zimbabwe last year on a cultural exchange programme, has opened two mbira schools in Japan.

Erika Hayashi (33), a nurse by profession, first visited Zimbabwe in 2002 and then in 2006 during which she got a broader understanding of various cultural aspects of the country.

During the second visit, Hayashi met Luken Pasipamire, a renowned mbira player who was married to a spirit medium.

"What I saw on my first visit to the country invoked in me the wish to explore the terrain of the Zimbabwean history. I met Pasipamire who was then staying in Jerusalem, Highfield, when he came to our lodge for a mbira performance.

"I briefed him on the purpose of my stay in Zimbabwe and he offered to teach me how to play mbira," Hayashi said.

Pasipamire, from Mhondoro in Mashonaland West, Hayashi said, later introduced her to Garikai Tirikoti, another mbira player and maker from Chitungwiza who is also a spirit medium.

"Tirikoti invited me for an all-night mbira ceremony in Chitungwiza where many players assembled to showcase their prowess in the traditional instrument.

"That night transformed my understanding of African music, particularly mbira, instantly breeding a passion within me to learn even how to make the instrument," Hayashi added.

She said mbira music to her pierces the barriers of language and culture that exists between Zimbabwe and Japan.

Hayashi said different cultures, ordinarily riven by hatred, through music and however the genre, can help reveal the startling insight of the other.

Hayashi also made reference to glaring cultural similarities that exist in both the Japanese and the Zimbabwean culture but seemingly oblivious to nationals of both countries.

"The traditional ceremony that I attended in Chitungwiza was an event held every August in Zimbabwe by the Shona people to commemorate the dead (kurova guva). Ironically, in Japan, we also observe a more or less similar commemoration called the eObonf in August," Hayashi said.

During Obon, the Japanese visit their respective family graveyards where they lay wreaths of flowers and packets of sweets for the dead.

The flowers which are picked in the mountains, together with the sweets, are placed on the family alter as offerings to the dead but also serve as guideposts to the ancestral spirits who will be coming to visit during the Obon.

"I acquired vast knowledge about the Zimbabwean culture triggering an immense appreciation of mbira music. I have so far opened two mbira schools in Japan, one in Yokohama and the other in Tokyo. I am also currently mobilising resources for the establishment of a mbira academy here in Japan which is my ultimate goal," Hayashi added.

She named the school in Tokyo "Mbira Hari" and has so far enrolled 21 Japanese students. eMbira Zvakanaka" is her latest school in Yokohama, which has 25 students.

Hayashi periodically plays mbira for tourists who visit the famous Tokyo tower, a 333-metre broadcasting tower built in 1958 in the Japanese capital. Tourists converge at the tower to look across the entire city of Tokyo at a glance from the two observatories.

"I have since quit nursing to concentrate fully at the mbira schools. I used to admire Florence Nightingale when I was growing up hence I became a nurse, but certainly mbira has become an integral part of me," she added.

Hayashi, always clad in traditional costumes and beards, has also published a book called Ngoma in the Japanese language used by students for the five-month mbira playing lessons. Students are also taught to play hosho at both schools.