Making music for home team

At one point, the only sound is the tap of sneakers hitting pavement as 131 Japanese students march across the parking lot at Angel Stadium.

The trombones, trumpets and saxophones are raised and then the jingle of the Super Mario theme song fills the air. Performers multi-task by dancing: Those with free hands gesture like robots, mimicking the famed Mario, and others jump to the sound of a bell, much like the video game’s chime when characters collect coins.

Since 2008, marching bands from Japan have come to the United States to shine at the Rose Parade as part of the Green Band Assn., a nonprofit established in 1998. The group’s aim is to foster confidence among Japanese youths -- especially boys, who rarely play instruments.


But the group’s other mission is to raise money for victims of natural disasters around the world. Now it hits close to home.

In the past, the group has raised money for American natural disasters by holding a benefit concert, but this time a portion of the proceeds will go to help victims of the magnitude 9 earthquake and the tsunami that devastated northern Japan in March. More than 20,000 people were killed or disappeared.

“I’m so honored to do the concert and help them out,” Yuka Takemura, a 16-year-old saxophone player from Kyoto, said through an interpreter.

The concert is scheduled for Kennedy High School in La Palma on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. and will include two songs composed as a tribute to the victims and will also feature a slide show with images from the disaster.

Yuzuru Kamagai, founder of the Green Band Assn., said the students’ Southland experience, which includes rooming with an American host family over the holiday weekend, teaches them altruism and makes them feel more connected to the disaster in their homeland.

The group works with high schools in southern Japan to send band members overseas for events such as Monday’s Rose Parade and Tuesday’s benefit concert. This year’s visiting students, of which nine are male, have put in many hours of practice, sometimes seven days a week, six hours a day, to prepare for the shows.

On a recent afternoon, Yuka met members of her host family, whom she and fellow students greeted with giggles and hugs.

“They are so funky,” she said. “I can feel that they are a nice family.”

Diane Seitz of Yorba Linda came clutching a handmade sign and brought her two sons, ages 13 and 18, to meet Yuka and several other girls.

This is Seitz’s third time hosting Green Band students. “You get attached very quickly,” she said while waiting for the girls to finish practice. “There’s just a neat bond.”

Kanako Sakamoto, 16, shyly greeted Seitz, who asked what instrument the girl plays. Kanako, visiting the U.S. for the first time, almost whispered, “Tuba,” as Seitz eyed the thin student. “Tuba?!” Seitz said.

Because last year’s visiting band was from northern Japan, the March disaster alarmed many host families. Thankfully for Annette Kelley of Anaheim, she was able to make contact with the students.

“We don’t know what it’s like to have a natural disaster like that,” she said.

Now, host families are enjoying showing the current batch of students American holiday traditions, including, in some cases, a belated Christmas.

This weekend, Lori Dinwiddie will be dressing up as Mrs. Claus, and her husband will be Santa. The two will hold a holiday dinner complete with turkey for six students who will be staying in their Buena Park home.

Dinwiddie said she loves seeing the students’ reactions to fresh fruit and whipped cream in a can -- she went through a case of it last year.

“They thought that was the coolest thing ever,” she said.