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Turning Japanese

The kids at Sunrise Angkor Children’s Village in Siem Reap are certainly looking forward to the next visit of amiable Japanese musician and philanthropist Tomoyo Tashiro, as he could be the ticket to a trip to Japan for some lucky youngsters.

Tashiro, 57, started the Thousands of Smiles Music Charity Project for Asia in 2002. The project raises money by performing live concerts and helps with volunteer activities in Asia.

He was in Siem Reap two weeks ago to perform and to catch up with some of the 13 talented Sunrise orphans that he recently treated to a whirlwind visit to Japan.

The trip, from August 1 to 10, included visits to Tokyo and Nagoya. The kids saw the Tokyo Tower and theme parks, and performed at venues such as schools, community centres and a nursing home.

Tashiro says the reason he took the Cambodian kids to Japan to perform was to help their Japanese counterparts understand the difficulties they face in their daily lives.

“Japanese children don’t understand the importance of life,” he said. He added too that many of the children from the orphanage he has seen perform, especially those he took to Japan, would be good enough to have careers as successful musicians.

Tashiro said another of the reasons he took the kids to Japan was because he saw ability. He says he likes to recognise artistic talent in children.

Sunrise Children’s Villages operations manager Robert Madsen, delighted at the opportunity given to he kids, said the trip to Japan was great for the children’s development and confidence levels.

“The kids love the dancing and music. They are actively involved and were completely excited with the opportunity. It keeps them strongly connected to their own rich cultural heritage,” he said.

Tashiro made his first trip to Cambodia in November 2008, and quickly realised that many children needed help.

“At the markets I could see children selling and so knew that they couldn’t go to school,” he remembered.

He then began making regular charitable visits to Cambodia and first saw the kids from Sunshine performing at a function in Siem Reap.

“They gave a very heartfelt showing,” he says. “I saw ability and wanted to help.”

And help he did. As Madsen explains: “Out of the blue, Mr Tashiro made an invitation to the children.”

The invite was to take 13 of the orphans to Japan, along with four other staff members.

“We were very surprised, but excited,” Madsen said.

He added that the orphanage may be given another opportunity by Mr Tashiro to take more children to Japan, to give other children a similar exhilarating and cultural experience.

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