Grateful Crane Ensemble Mission

The Grateful Crane Ensemble, Inc. is a non-profit theater group whose mission is to present educational and theatrical programs in appreciation for the unique hardships and inspiring contributions of Japanese Americans in our country’s history.

Our group was founded in 2001, and in 2017, we will be celebrating our 15th Anniversary.

Grateful Crane Ensemble Board of Directors

Ashley Arikawa
Allen Goya
Jo Ann Hirose
Soji Kashiwagi
Michael Murata
Nancy Takayama
Cathy Tanaka

Historical Advisor
Lane Hirabayashi, Ph.D

Executive Producer/Writer
Soji Kashiwagi

Grateful Crane Ensemble: Entertainment for Our Community

Over the past ten years, we have provided live, musical entertainment for a wide variety of community events and groups. If you are interested in booking us for your event, email us at

The Grateful Crane Ensemble:
Serving Our Community, Honoring Our Elders
By Soji Kashiwagi, Executive Producer/Playwright

Since 2001, our mission has been to present educational and theatrical programs in appreciation for the unique hardships and inspiring contributions of Japanese Americans in our country’s history.

Over the past 16 years, we have honored our Issei and Nisei pioneers by telling their stories and singing their favorite American and Japanese songs. In our early years, our shows were primarily for the Nisei, but as time has passed, our programs have evolved and expanded to include entertainment, education and awareness for the Sansei, Yonsei, Shin-Issei and the general public as well.

Thanks to you and your support, we are able to serve our community throughout the year, in the following ways:


We are, first and foremost, a non-profit theater company, and theatrical productions about our Japanese American history have been at the forefront of what we do. Key elements of Grateful Crane shows usually include the singing of nostalgic and favorite Japanese and American songs, education about certain facets of Japanese American history and entertaining stories that have played a part in that history.

In “The Camp Dance: The Music & The Memories,” we took our Nisei back to the floor of the high school dances they used to have behind barbed wire in America’s concentration camps. In “Nihonmachi: The Place to Be,” an Issei “manju man” returned from the dead to take his Sansei grandson back to Japantown, the way it used to be 100 years ago. And in “The J-Town Jazz Club,” we told the little-known story of when Little Tokyo became “Bronzeville” where African Americans lived, worked and played jazz music in jazz clubs located throughout J-Town.

In all of our shows, our stories and music have brought back good memories for those who were there, and provided education and understanding for those who were not. In our production of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s play, “The Betrayed,” Sansei and non-JA audience members told us afterwards it was “eye-opening” to see and feel the enormous tension and conflict caused by two ill-conceived government-issued “loyalty questions” imposed upon JA’s behind barbed wires during WWII. After a reading and discussion at our “Growing up Sansei” event, a Sansei told us that “the play and discussion resonated strongly for me and made me think about the dynamics in my own family in a new light. I’ve known for a long time that my brothers and I were all damaged by my mother’s (camp) trauma, but to have it named and recognized in this way is very powerful and validating.”

More than just an entertaining show, this history and education has given Sansei, Yonsei and others a deeper understanding of what happened, how it happened and how that affects us to this day. And with education and understanding, our hope is it can lead to healing and an important awareness that what happened to our families during WWII is happening again today, and as Japanese Americans, it’s our responsibility to speak out against it.


Grateful Crane got our start singing for seniors at the Keiro Retirement Home in Los Angeles, and it’s something we still do to this day. Along with the former Keiro facilities in Boyle Heights, Lincoln Heights and South Bay, we have performed at venues such as the Nikkei Senior Gardens in Arleta, Hollenbeck Palms in Los Angeles, the Terraces at Park Marino in Pasadena as well as nursing/retirement homes in Fresno, San Francisco, Seattle and Tohoku and Hiroshima, Japan.

At the beginning, our concept was simple: Sing nostalgic and favorite songs to bring joy to our elders. But in so doing, we’ve noticed that music—more so than words—can evoke strong memories and a release of long-suppressed emotions. Through smiles, tears of joy, sadness and the singing of their favorite songs, we’ve seen for ourselves the healing power of music and song, and how this healing improves one’s mood, memory and overall health and well-being. Over the years, study after study has proven this to be true. We know it to be true every time we sing for seniors.


Brought from Japan by our Issei grandparents and passed on to us by our Nisei parents, we have continued their tradition of telling traditional Japanese stories to Japanese American children and others. As part of our effort to pass on traditional Japanese culture, stories and music, we have performed stories such as “Momotaro,” and “The Monkey and the Crab” for kids at the Gardena Buddhist Church, Zenshuji Soto Mission, Orange County Buddhist Church, Koyasan Buddhist Temple and the Huntington Library.

Earlier this month, Grateful Crane’s Keiko Kawashima and Scott Nagatani taught five traditional Japanese songs to Japanese language school students at the East San Gabriel Valley Japanese American Community Center. The songs—such as “Haru ga Kita” and “Furusato—have been taught to generations of Japanese children, and we are passing on these songs to young Japanese Americans students of today.

We have also presented “Peace” programs for children through the telling of Sadako Sasaki’s “1,000 Origami Cranes” story. At a peace event a couple years ago, local children and seniors helped to fold 1,000 origami cranes which we delivered to Sadako Sasaki’s school in Hiroshima as a gesture of friendship and peace from Los Angeles to Japan.


In 2011, we developed and introduced the Grateful Crane Youth Singers, who sang for us at fundraisers and various community events. The group, made up of five Yonsei/Hapa young women, also went on to perform its own show called “Nisei Serenade,” a musical revue of songs that young Nisei women sang in camp during WWII. Through this process, the youth learned about our history, and how music and songs were used to lift the people’s spirits during some very dark days.

In 2016, in keeping with our efforts to mentor and develop members of the next generation, we formed a new acapella singing group called “The Grateful Four.” Made up of four Yonsei singers, The Grateful Four has performed 1960’s/70’s songs at our “Growing up Sansei” events in San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles and Orange County, as well as Christmas songs for seniors at Nikkei Senior Gardens and Sakura Gardens/Sakura ICF. Earlier this month, they also sang the U.S. and Japanese national anthems at the annual “Love to Nippon” event, in support of tsunami survivors in Tohoku, Japan.

Later this Fall, the “Grateful Four and Friends” will perform a special variety show at the Orange County Buddhist Church (OCBC) as a benefit for Grateful Crane and OCBC’s Building Fund.


After the devastating earthquake and tsunami hit Tohoku, Japan in March, 2011, the Japanese American community galvanized across the country to raise millions of dollars in support of the area’s relief, recovery and rebuilding efforts. Soon after the disaster, Grateful Crane performed a benefit concert for Tohoku relief at the Orange County Buddhist Church, and have been active in supporting the people of Tohoku ever since.

In 2014 and 2016, Grateful Crane went on goodwill tours to Tohoku to sing songs of hope and inspiration for seniors still living in temporary housing facilities and for school children in the tsunami-affected areas. Thanks to generous donations from our community, we were also able to build a brand new playground for children and families in Ishinomaki in 2014, and provided funds for a one-year supply of clean, non-contaminated drinking water for Fukushima-area school children in 2016. In 2017, we will continue to support the Fukushima water project through funds raised at our “Far East Feast” mini-fundraising dinners, hosted by Chef John Nishio and his wife, Susan Nishio.

Our tours in both 2014 and 2016 were deeply appreciated by the Tohoku people. The songs and music brought joy and laughter, as they clapped and sang along to every song. But even more than the songs, they were deeply touched by the fact that we came all the way from America to be there with them.


In January of this year, Grateful Crane participated in two theatrical collaborations between the U.S. and Japan, both of which came about because of our involvement with Tohoku relief and recovery.

Fukushima Honda Tomodachi Concert
On January 4, thanks to the generous sponsorship and support from American Honda Motor Company and the JACCC, we participated in the Fukushima Honda Tomodachi Concert at the Aratani Theatre in Little Tokyo.

Directed by the JACCC’s Alison De La Cruz, the concert featured 20 high school youth from Fukushima, who were in town to perform on Honda’s float at the Pasadena Rose Parade on January 2. At the concert, the youth talked about what happened in Fukushima in 2011, how they were affected, and shared their hopes and dreams for the future. Grateful Crane members performed songs from our tour, and sang with the youth and Grammy Award winning musician Daniel Ho during the finale. When it was over, the youth received a standing ovation from the over 400 people in attendance. Afterwards, they said the concert was “the highlight of their trip to America.”

Ten days after the Tomodachi concert, Grateful Crane collaborated with another group from Japan in a sold-out theatrical show called “A Seed: Ichiryu Manbai” at the James Armstrong Theatre in Torrance. For this show, we provided the English translation of an ancient Japanese tale about the beginning of the universe, and Keiko and Merv Maruyama served as the English-speaking storytellers who set the stage for what was about to happen.

We look forward to future opportunities where we can serve as a musical and theatrical bridge between America and Japan.


It’s been said that “music makes the party,” and Grateful Crane has performed music and songs at gala fundraising dinners for the Japanese American National Museum, Go For Broke National Education Center, Keiro Senior Healthcare, and the Japanese American Cultural & Community Center, to name just a few. We’ve also performed at numerous community luncheons, New Year parties, Nikkei senior events and milestone birthday celebrations.

Our unique musical ability to perform classic American favorites and nostalgic Japanese songs from before, during and after WWII allows us to sing “something for everyone” at events throughout our community.