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‘Peace On Your Wings’ Returns to LA’s Aratani Theatre

Inspired by the life of a young Japanese girl, and carrying a message of global peace, “Peace On Your Wings” (POYW) will make its musical return to the mainland.


The Honolulu youth theater company, Ohana Arts, will premier its revival production of its signature musical on Aug. 5-6 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center’s Aratani Theatre in Los Angeles. Aug. 6 marks the 78th anniversary of the atomic bombing in Hiroshima in 1945.


“We were planning to take the show on tour in 2020 during the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings, but the pandemic shut us down,” said Laurie Rubin, co-artistic director and lyricist for the musical.


“Peace On Your Wings” is set in post-World War II Japan in the 1950s, and is based on the courageous story of Sadako Sasaki, with the musical following the lives of junior high school students in Hiroshima.


At age 2, Sasaki fell victim to the horrific atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, in 1945. Ten years later, she was diagnosed with leukemia. When learning about Sasaki’s illness, the children’s lives and tenuous bonds with each other seemed to unravel. But Sasaki’s struggle and dreams for a better tomorrow taught her friends about courage, love and peace.


Following the Japanese tradition that if one folds 1,000 origami cranes, one’s wish could come true, Sasaki and her friends embarked on a mission to fold 1,000 cranes to bring her back to good health. Her efforts became an international symbol for peace, inspiring a youth movement to have a memorial built in Hiroshima honoring all child victims.


Although knowing that she would not survive, Sasaki, along with the help of her friends, folded over 1,000 paper cranes before she passed away on Oct. 25,1955, at the age of 12.

The original musical score, written by Ohana Arts’ Executive Director and Co-Artistic Director and composer Jennifer Taira, and Rubin, combines modern pop with Japanese influences to create an uplifting and unforgettable experience. New songs have been added in the 2023 version of the show, which originally premiered in 2014.


The musical is directed by Cari Chung, co-founder of Ohana Arts, along with Taira and Rubin, and choreographed by Danielle Hannah Bensky.


Most of the cast are students attending schools in Hawaii, including the Hongwanji Mission School, a preschool and K-8 institute based in Honolulu. Hongwanji Mission School is the only Shin Buddhist elementary and secondary school in the country.


“Many of our students in the cast have at some point been enrolled at the Hongwanji Mission School,” Rubin said. “Our two taiko leaders for the show are Pacific Buddhist Academy alums.”


The youngest cast member is 4 years old. Other performers range in age from 8 to 17.

Rubin said that while “Peace On Your Wings” features an all-youth cast, there is nothing childish about its message.


The premise for the play evolved when Rev. Eric Matsumoto, former Bishop of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, met with close friend Masahiro Sasaki, Sadako’s older brother, who keeps his sister’s memory alive.


“Masahiro was a peace advocate and activist and was very connected with Honpa (Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii) and has done a lot of peace services for them,” Rubin said.

The musical explores Sasaki’s life as an individual, student and friend, and addresses universal themes present in young people’s lives, powerfully told by the voices of youth touching intergenerational audiences, while sharing the concept of “Ichigo Ichie,” which means “Today is the first and last day of your life.”


While writing the script for the play, Rubin and Taira were introduced to the term by Jenny’s uncle, Warren Tamamoto, president of the Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii, who shared a video from a message presented by BCA Bishop Rev. Marvin Harada, when he was Resident Minister at the Orange County Buddhist Church.


“The message of ‘Ichigo Ichie’ was so inspiring to us,” Rubin said.


“I think Sadako knew that she was going to die, but she was all about living until the moment she died,” Rubin continued. “And so, her way of living was being about ‘Ichigo Ichie,’ which made it easy to use as a Buddhist message for the show.”


During the 850th and 800th Shinran Shonin and Jodo Shinshu joint celebration in Kyoto in May, Tamamoto reflected with a perspective on the meaning of the musical.


“Whenever you have war, children are going to suffer,” Tamamoto said. “Honpa Hongwanji Mission of Hawaii promotes peace in line with the play and the message from the Buddha’s words.”


Rubin added: “During these times, when nuclear weaponry is being used so freely as a threat in the international arena, Sadako’s story needs to be told more urgently than ever to raise global consciousness. Our cast are youth ambassadors giving voice to this movement through musical theatre.”


“Peace On Your Wings” premiered in November 2014 in Honolulu and played to sellout crowds in Hawaii in January and February 2015. Due to popular demand, the musical had encore performances in August 2015, and premiered in Los Angeles in September 2015. In 2016, the show made its East Coast debut at New York’s Lincoln Center. In 2017, the musical traveled to Northern California, and in 2018, took the stage in Sacramento.


Next month’s shows in Los Angeles commemorate the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. Performances are scheduled at 2 and 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 5 and at 2 p.m. on Aug. 6.

BCA temples and its members are eligible for a $10 discount off the $35 general admission price.


The $25 discounted ticket price will apply to group sales of 10 or more using the promo code 10OFF. Tickets can be purchased online at jaccc.org/events/peace-on-your-wings-2023/.


Tickets may also be purchased at $75 for VIP orchestra seating. A price of $20 is offered for student general admission.


Following the performances in Los Angeles, the musical will move to Aster Plaza in Hiroshima on Sept. 2-3. Hiroshima is Honolulu’s sister city.


Future plans for the musical to spread its message in the United States are in the works.


“In 2025, the National Endowment for the Arts, National Historic Parks and the Pacific Historic Park Service all have interest in making it possible for ‘Peace On Your Wings’ to tour every big city, which is relatively close to an internment camp site,” Rubin said.


“More cities may be added, but at the very least, the plans are to start the tour on Pearl Harbor day, Dec. 7, 2024, and to continue our tour into 2025,” Rubin said. The final stop would possibly be the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. on Aug. 6, 2025, which would be the 80th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.


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