Saving Japan at SXSW

Debilitating earthquakes. Aftershocks. Tsunamis that swept away entire towns and destroyed countless agricultural fields. Thousands of dead and missing. All of this occurred after musicians and organizers for South by Southwest's Japan Nite, an annual showcase of Japanese bands, boarded Austin-bound planes.

Now thousands of miles away from one of the greatest catastrophes to befall Japan since the second World War, these organizers and bands and fighting to raise money for their homeland right here in Austin, Texas.

On the fourth floor of the Austin Convention Center, a Japan booth that normally serves the purpose of informing SXSW attendees of the annual Japan Nite showcase, is home to a donation box overflowing with cash (find out more by visiting Here you can also buy $15 T-shirts with the Japanese flag and the word ganbare or "stay strong" printed on them. There's SXSW 4 Japan, an impromptu relief organization attempting to raise $80,000 by the Sunday close of SXSW. They're already over $74,000.

And then there are the artists themselves.

Each of the 13 bands performing at yesterday's Japan Preview Day Show took time to express thanks for the help their country has received from the U.S. New Times arrived at the show in time to catch the Sonoda Band; a seven-piece rock outfit with a heavy emphasis on violin and piano. The group performed in the same ganbare shirts available at the convention center. Lead member Ryo Sonoda declared the band's last song would be played for Japan after taking time out of the set to express his gratitude for the support and help he's witnessed thus far. His English was broken. His sentiment was not.

Artists like Takashi Kamide, Japan's premiere accordion player, donated all Japan Preview Day Show sales of his album to help the relief effort. Volunteers passed through the audience collecting cash as the Zukuna Sisters, an all-female soul group, performed.

Similar fundraising efforts and acknowledgement of the tragedy facing Japan after the earthquake on March 11 are expected at tonight's Japan Nite performance at The Elysium in Austin.

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Jonathan McNamara