Fine Work for Students (Japan)
"The Things I Can Do"
Yuuki Fujinawa (15, male, high school student) Toyama Prefecture

Once a year since I was in the fifth grade of elementary school, I have been visiting a special nursing home for the elderly near my school. The first time I went, I brought a planter with a tulip bulb and I played my favorite tune on the piano there. When I became a junior high school student, I had classmates for the first time. I went to the nursing home with a classmate and played the tune we had played in “Parkins”, a musical group comprising five students from junior high school and high school. When I was in the second grade, we performed “The Story of Chopin”, on which I played the piano (we’d also performed it at a school event). I also performed “Momotaro”, a rakugo story that I had worked on since I entered junior high school.
 
On the day of that performance, so many people were there to see us that we ran out of the handmade gifts we had prepared. I was disappointed that my first ever rakugo performance didn’t raise many laughs, but I was very glad to receive generous applause and praise for my piano playing. As for my rakugo performance, my teacher told me later that the story was probably a bit too long to follow easily. That wasn’t surprising to hear, given that my story was so long that I’d really struggled to memorize it.
 
When I was in third grade, I was due to visit the nursing home by myself. Having decided to play a piece on the piano and perform rakugo, I started preparing in December for the visit in February. Up until then, I had chosen rakugo stories in a self-centered way. But remembering what had happened the previous year, I chose a short and easily understood story called “Miso Beans”. I made sure each sentence was easy to follow, so that the audience would be sure to laugh. For my piano recital (which they always seem to look forward to) I followed my teacher’s advice and chose the following crowd-pleasing pieces: “As the River Flows”, “A Thousand Winds”, and “Sakura” by Naotaro Moriyama, along with “Flowering Dogwood”. The day of our visit arrived. I went to the nursing home wondering whether they would laugh at my rakugo and be pleased with my piano recital. Thirty elderly people and staff were waiting for us in the hall.
 
The rakugo performance came first. In the hall, I was surprised to find a well prepared stage with nice cushions—rather different from last year’s stage, which our teacher had built by hand. I performed wearing a haori (a half-coat) like a true rakugo performer. Although I managed to tell the story without making any mistakes, I didn’t get a lot of laughs. Even at what I thought were the funniest moments, I didn't hear much laughter. As I was fervently expecting them to laugh, I was really disappointed. But then my teacher told me that it was because quite a few people in this nursing home had trouble understanding what was being said. That explained why they didn’t laugh much.
 
Finally, I played the piano. As always, the elderly folk listened intently to my playing, so I did my best to play well. “Flowering Dogwood” was one piece in particular that I had rehearsed many times for an upcoming contest. I played it as if I were rehearsing for a real contest. I was delighted to hear from my teacher that everyone had been listening from the heart. I was a bit disappointed that the piano was out of tune, so the sound was off-key. Nevertheless they gave me a good round of applause and I heard that some of them were even weeping. I was so glad when my teacher told me that my piano playing had worked its way smoothly into people’s hearts. When I was in front of the elevator on the way back, some people came up to me saying things such as, “You played very well”, “That was great”, and “I was touched”. Others shook my hand with both of their hands, which felt smooth and warm.
 
It was a little odd when someone asked me where I’d been so far and where I was going to go now. They mistakenly thought that I’d been visiting many different places and performing there. I hoped that one day I would do so for real. Although I couldn’t see the elderly folks’ smiles or tears, by hearing their laughs, applause, and comments to me, I knew they were pleased. To tell the truth, I wanted to make them laugh much more. But it moved me deeply that they shed tears while listening to my piano recital. Imagining my piano reaching into their hearts, I felt happy that I’d come again this year. I was so pleased when the elderly folks and staff told me they were looking forward to my next visit.
 
I’ve been visiting there once a year up to now, but I’d like to go there more often. I’m always being helped by a lot of other people, so I want to do something in return for others, using the abilities I have now. If I could touch people’s hearts with my beloved piano, and if I could amuse them with my rakugo, how wonderful it would be. As long as there is an appreciative audience, I want to visit more places and share my performances. Hopefully I’ll keep finding new things that I can do.


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