It is commonly said in Japan that when one dies, that person becomes a star. It was reported that the night of the Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, the clear skies were filled with beautiful bright stars. Inspired by the courage of the communities rebuilding after this natural disaster, Otonowa pays tribute through the musical traditions of Japan and the expressions of jazz. This second recording for Otonowa builds on a catalog of original compositions and new arrangements of traditional Japanese melodies.


01_Down Town (05:06)
02_Temujin (05:33)
03_Hamachidori (04:34)
04_Tōryanse (03:51)
05_Stars Across The Ocean (6:14)
06_Hope For Now (06:24)
07_Kurodabushi (04:35)
08_Jōgashima No Ame (06:10)
09_Tetsuwan Atomu (“Astro Boy” Theme) (05:04)
10_Nine Gates 05:21
11_Machibōke (05:11)
12_Donguri Koro Koro (04:35)
13_Nembutsu (03:45)


Akira TANA, drums
Masaru KOGA, tenor, alto and soprano saxophones, flute, shakuhachi, percussion
Art HIRAHARA, piano
Noriyuki Ken OKADA, bass


Otonowa is more than a Japanese and Japanese American ensemble recording jazz arrangements of enduring melodies. It is a group with strong emotional connection to the Japanese impacted by the Great Eastern Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011. Otonowa, which means “Sound Circle,” has recorded and performed in the US to raise money for communities rebuilding after this natural disaster claimed close to 50,000 lives and displaced thousands of others. The group has also made multiple good will tours to Northern Japan. Each trip has deepened our relationships with those still rebuilding their lives and lets them know that many people around the world care about them.

Building on its 2012 predecessor, this recording includes deft arrangements of Japanese songs contributed by Ken Okada, Masaru Koga, and Art Hirahara. Vocalist Saki Kono who has been a tireless supporter of Otonowa’s Japan tours contributes an arrangement of the theme from the classic cartoon show, “Astro Boy”. “Donguri Koro Koro” is a children’s song set to Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” and provides a platform for some spirited collective improvisation. Down Town, written by the pop star Tatsuro Yamashita is the theme from a popular TV game show. “Jōgashima No Ame”, “Kurodabushi”, “Tōryanse”, “Hamachidori”, and “Machibōke” are also storied songs that are part of the rich melodic tradition of Japanese folk and pop music. “Nembutsu” is an arrangement of a hymn heard in my youth in the Buddhist Temple, growing up in Northern California.

This second recording for Otonowa also includes original compositions by the group members, one of which is this recording’s title. It is commonly said in Japan that when one dies, that person becomes a star. It has been reported that the night of the earthquake/tsunami, the clear skies were filled with beautiful bright stars in the heavens. Masaru Koga’s evocative “Stars Across The Ocean” is a dedication to the people of Tohoku who perished in the disaster, and those who continue to endure and persevere through the impact of tremendous loss. My composition, “Hope For Now”, originally recorded on a King Records of Japan release entitled "Sound Circle", invokes the hope and challenges facing the future for Tohoku. Ken Okada’s “Temujin” is the birth name of the Mongolian emperor, Genghis Khan. Okada’s other composition, “Nine Gates”, describes the ultimate hand for players in a game of Mahjong, similar to the “royal flush” in poker.

Many musical styles are part of this comprehensive offering. More importantly, this recording represents the ongoing, collective commitment by its members and supporters never to forget the communities of Tohoku still experiencing difficulty years following the disaster in 2011. While the material is part of the process of self-discovery of cultural and musical histories, Otonowa also serves as a reminder of how important music is to the spirit that is indeed cross-generational, timeless and without borders.

Akira Tana, May 2016