Members of the UCLA Yukai Daiko Japanese taiko-drumming group perform at the Japan Earthquake Relief Benefit Concert at Saint Monica Catholic High School on Tuesday afternoon. (photo by Brandon Wise)

ST. MONICA — Students and outside performers jammed during the lunch period at St. Monica’s Catholic High School in an effort to raise money for relief efforts in Japan as three Japanese students who were present for the earthquake and tsunami looked on in appreciation.

The concert featured four very different acts, including a choir, solo ukulele, interpretive acoustic guitar performance and a band of taiko drummers from UCLA.

Watching the performance were three high school students and one teacher from the Gunma Prefecture, which sits north of Tokyo in the center of the country.

Miho Kobayashi, Saki Maehara, Ayana Tamura and their teacher Natsuki Saito were present when the earthquake rocked the country, followed by the devastating tsunami that left over 10,000 dead and more missing.

“In my opinion, it was the first time I thought I would die,” Kobayashi said.

The women came to the United States four days ago as part of a prize for winning the English Speech Contest put on by the Gunma Prefectural Women’s University in Tamamura, Gunma, Japan.

St. Monica wasn’t sure they were coming until about two days before they arrived, Landin said.

The girls said that it was difficult to be away from home at such a critical time, but it was moving to see the St. Monica students trying to raise money to help their countrymen.

First up, a group of students sang “Peace of Christ” in Japanese. They’d learned it for a mass over a week before the earthquake struck.

Next came two acoustic acts, with St. Monica football standout Mau Lauaki playing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” on the ukulele as onlookers backed him up with vocals.

Donovan Gomez gave arguably the most unexpected performance — a reenactment of the viral video “Double Rainbow” set to strummed guitar chords.

“This one’s dedicated to all the rainbows … and the ladies. But mostly to the people in Japan, because that’s why I’m doing this,” Gomez said.

A presentation by the UCLA Yukai Daiko taiko drummers rounded out the meal break. The group performed three pieces, coordinating drums, dance, shakers and vocals to enthusiastic applause by the crowd of high school students.

The last, called Yukaina, is the signature song of the group, said co-director Marty Fong.

“There will be times of great sorrow, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, like we see in Japan right now,” Fong said as he introduced the piece.

As the performers took the stage, students sold Thai iced tea, snacks and bracelets and passed around cans for donations. All of the proceeds will go to Japan.

It was part of a larger, coordinated effort going all week between different clubs on campus, said Vicky Landin, a spokesperson for St. Monica’s.

Students also raised money through the sale of Wetzel’s Pretzels. Proceeds of a Denim Day fundraiser, where students pay $5 for the ability to wear jeans on the uniform campus, will also go to benefit Japan.


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