From atop a bell-filled monument to the fallen, Minako Uchino hopes to fill the chasm between her current life in Canada and her past in Japan with a musical prayer for peace.
Dr. Uchino, a 37-year-old physician, will pound out her Remembrance Day plea on the carillon in Soldiers’ Tower at the University of Toronto. The tower is a memorial to 628 university members lost to the First World War, and 557 more killed in the Second, when Canada and Japan fought as enemies.
She won’t be able to see the crowd gathered for the university’s Remembrance Day ceremonies as her fists and feet command the bars and pedals that ring the instrument’s 51 bells, but Dr. Uchino will feel a connection to the people below, and the solemn honour of playing for them despite a fractured and bloody past.
“I am originally from the country of the enemy at that time, yet Canadian people accept me to play the carillon,” Dr. Uchino, humbled and awed at the thought, said at Massey College, where she is a resident fellow. The Tokyo-trained radiation oncologist is in Canada to study medical education and conduct research at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Hospital, a top-tier cancer facility.
Busy as she is, Dr. Uchino’s first love is music, a passion she wanted to pursue academically in Japan but relegated to a hobby, via the pipe organ and percussion instruments, at her parents’ urging.
Over time, though, she has come to appreciate the healing power of both medicine and music.
“I was suffering from the gap in the idea between Japanese and English,” said Dr. Uchino, a lifelong Tokyo resident who has struggled linguistically since she arrived in Toronto last year. “I really needed something to express my feelings, and the musical instrument was the best way.”
Weeks into her Canadian stint, she heard about an outreach effort by Roy Lee, carillonneur at U of T, to lure new students with free lessons on the carillon, one of only 11 in Canada. She jumped at the chance, and after proving an unusually quick study on a practice instrument in Soldiers’ Tower, sent her first notes wafting down from the real thing.
“I didn’t expect I would play the real one so fast,” said Dr. Uchino, whose dedication paid off in July with an invitation to play the Peace Tower carillon on Parliament Hill in Ottawa.
After a childhood in Japan, where education about war focused more on its future prevention than on its disquieting past, Dr. Uchino only recently learned of the 1941 battle of Hong Kong, where Canadian troops saw their first action of the Second World War in an ill-fated bid to repel a Japanese attack. Many Canadians were subsequently starved and tortured as Japanese prisoners of war. She also learned of the wartime internment of Japanese-Canadians, stripped of their homes and civil rights as objects of suspicion because of their race.
In filling silence with music, Dr. Uchino, bolstered by a doctor’s sensibility, hopes to continue the healing.
“I hope the people are thinking about what we should do in the future,” she said, “by learning about the past.”