Hiroko Ara in memoriam

WRITTEN BY Ying Hsien Chen
Hiroko Ara at Hokkaido University, July 1st 2018. Photo by Ying Hsien Chen.

For the past week, Hiroko Ara has been in our thoughts.

Hiroko Ara was supposed to be in Finland this March for our Women-Music-Futures symposium to share her music (with Haruhiko Saga, as Rauma duo) and her career as a kantele professional in Japan. Last week, we received heartbreaking news from Japan. She passed away on May 5th.

Hiroko Ara was a critical figure in the Japanese kantele community. Since the mid-1990s, she had been promoting and developing the kantele in Japan. As a musician, her music, featuring sophisticated tranquility inspired by (Finnish/Nordic) folk music, heals people’s hearts, especially those trapped with anxiety and frustration. As an instructor, her approach to teaching the kantele crafted an alternative space for students to express different voices.

Hiroko was fascinated by kantele’s simplicity, which is deep and powerful in her view. The foreign instrument also resonates with Japanese aesthetics, particularly in old poetry.

The kantele is easy to start because the sound is beautiful but quite deep and wide – – I love five-string kantele (which) resembles tanka or haiku poetry. Having the notes restricted to five sounds is definitely a limitation, but in the same way that often rather than being wordy, it strikes the heart deeper to use fewer words and a faltering tone, the unaffected, simple sound of the five-string kantele manages to seep deeply into the heart – – (Hiroko Ara, blog, 23 March 2005)

In many aspects, Hiroko Ara demonstrates women’s strength in society by crossing different borders and building hope for her audiences.

Hiroko will be very much missed and remembered by people who loved and respected her dearly in Japan and Finland. This includes the academic circle – doctoral researcher Ying Hsien Chen studied her importance for the Japanese kantele community in her dissertation, part of the WWW project.

We extend our heartfelt condolences to Hiroko Ara’s family.
May her soul rest in peace.