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Inspiration from the Elderly

Sep. 27, 2016

In Japan's aging society, caring for the elderly has become a major issue. It can be very demanding task, but a young caregiver is using her experiences to make music.

The city of Takamatsu in Kagawa prefecture faces the Seto Inland Sea. It flourished as a hub for maritime traffic and is called the "Capital of Seto."

Megumi Kannoh, 25, is a licensed nursing care worker who works at a seniors home that sits along the harbor and houses 80 residents. Kannoh helps the residents at mealtimes, cleans their rooms and does their washing.

In the evening, she can be found at a bar offering live music in the city.

Kannoh is also a singer-songwriter who sings about what she has learned while taking care of the elderly residents.

One of her songs is entitled "Fuhfu no Uta," meaning "A Married Couple's Song." It was inspired by a woman Kannoh looked after.

Part of the lyrics, "Choina choina hoi," is a phrase from an old song that the woman used to sing to herself every time she had a bath at the facility. The same woman would tell Kannoh about her late husband over and over again.

"I can tell she really cares for the people she sings about and I can really identify with what she says in her songs," says a woman in the audience at a recent performance.

Kannoh's songs appeal to many people and that may be due to the values she upholds in her work as a caregiver.

"As I started working with elderly people, I was very intrigued by their words and wanted to create songs about them," Kannoh says.

Eiko Yamaguchi, 89, worked nearly her entire life at sea.

"My husband was the captain and I was the engineer," she says.

Yamaguchi and her husband used to operate a small wooden boat, ferrying scrap iron. Kannoh is fascinated to hear about her way of life, deeply rooted in the region.

The woman has lived a bold, fearless life at sea and Kannoh wants to write a song about that.

"She has the ability to take charge. I want the song to convey her unwavering strength," Kannoh says.

Kannoh began writing these songs a year and half ago. She received positive feedback after posting her songs on the Internet. These days, she gets invited to perform at live concerts outside the prefecture and her songs now have many fans.

"The deep lines running from your nose to your mouth, they appear as you laugh," she sings in one song about the smiles of the elderly.

Her work is demanding, but seeing the residents' faces light up makes it worthwhile. The song reminds people about their aging parents -- something everyone can relate to.

Kannoh has been thinking a lot about Yamaguchi's seafaring life. She carefully chooses words that best describe the struggles the woman and her family overcame.

"Yamaguchi is always confident. She never loses her way. She kept moving forward bravely, facing the forces of nature," Kannoh says. "She always believed that if she kept going, she might discover something on the other side."

Kannoh recently showed up at the nursing home on her day off with her guitar. She had just completed the song and couldn't wait to sing it to Yamaguchi.

"The billowing sea is vast if you feel like you're about to be engulfed by your emotions," Kannoh sings to her.

Yamaguchi is happy, and says the song made her feel "really good."

"I can make music because of my work as a caregiver, and I can work as a caregiver thanks to my music," Kannoh says. "I want to continue both singing and caring for the elderly."