After the March 11th, 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, I knew my skills as a family entertainer and experience providing “clown care” in hospitals and with underprivileged youth could be an effective part of the complex relief effort. It is no secret that Japanese culture tends to internalize personal emotions. As someone who has suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorders, I know the importance of dealing with traumatic issues as soon as possible to avoid debilitating and possibly life-long effects.
On April 21st, 2011 I set out on the first of what turned out to be many trips to the Tohoku region. I had never been to the lush mountainous north eastern part of Japan and the scenic beauty magnified the extent of the devastation. At first I joined a group of volunteer students from Meiji Gakuin University for a few days at an elementary school and then I toured northern Iwate-ken with a Ōtsuchi-chō resident and a Tokyo based Rotary Club representative. Both groups introduced me to displaced and affected kids in shelters and daycare centers where my silly shows and circus workshops were very well received. The smiles and laughter from young and old alike confirmed to me that I had to return. That said, I knew that I couldn’t do it alone and that I’d need some serious support to make a broad and sustainable impact.
Not long after returning to Tokyo, I was contacted by the Tyler Foundation – a wonderful NPO that provides support for pediatric cancer patients and their families. Over the previous four years I had done a number of hospital shows and events with them. They were looking for a way to help the children of Tohoku and had read about my efforts on Facebook. We joined forces and collaborated to create the “Shine On! Smile Ambassador Program”. The Tyler Foundation provided the logistical and financial support and my company GAETANO Co KK created and facilitated the program content. Over the course of 11 months, I visited over 80 unique locations and interacted with almost 8,000 children. At the end of March 2012, The Tyler Foundation returned to their primary focus and support of my program ended. Their commitment to the needs of children is exceptional and without their help I could have never reached as many people as I did.
There is still a strong need for PTSD relief work and I’ve decided to continue the Tohoku tours. Private donations have allowed me to return twice on since April (raising the numbers to 90 locations and well over 8,000 kids) and I am planing to make one tour each month. I’m working to establish a new NPO called “The Smile Ambassadors”. I’ve kept the name “Niko Niko Taishi” but, am now using the plural tense “Ambassadors” – the idea being that we can ALL do something to make others happy – we can ALL be “Smile Ambassadors”.