“Music For Every Child”: A New Initiative in Toyonaka, Japan

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“Music For Every Child”: A New Initiative in Toyonaka, Japan

Yutaka Kikugawa, Founder/Director, El Sistema Japan


The mayor of Toyonaka tries his hand at the violin. Photo: El Sistema Japan.

Toyonaka, Japan is a city near Osaka in the Kansai metropolitan area, the second largest urban conurbation in Japan. Toyonaka’s population of about 400,000 people is on an up-curve trend. But in the Shonai district, an inner-city commercial area in the southern part of the city, population is half what it was in 1970; as families with small children moved out of the area, the number of children has decreased. A survey conducted by the Toyonaka City Council (TCC) showed that only about 40 percent of the younger generation (ages 18–39) in the Shonai area say they want to keep living in their community, while among all city residents in general, that number is 60 percent.

Therefore, city officials came up with an innovative idea to reinvigorate the area through the introduction of a comprehensive, inclusive after-school program that will appeal to young parents and their children. With active support and participation from dynamic local community and business actors, this program will include a wide range of activities, including sports and e-sports, computer programming, craft making, culinary classes—and a music program called “Music For Every Child (MFEC).” MFEC is a joint venture between El Sistema Japan (ESJ) and the Japan Century Symphony Orchestra (JCSO), which has its main office in Toyonaka and has a long-standing partnership with the city council through its division of arts and culture.

It’s particularly interesting to note that this program (officially called “Machigoto Kraschool: Living Through Lively Community-based Afterschool Program”) was the brainchild not of arts or education professionals but of city officials themselves—in this case, the Creative Reform Division of the City Management Department—as a strategy to combat urban disintegration and dysfunction.

Teaching and learning at MFEC opening session, Shonai Primary School, July 23, 2022. Photo: El Sistema Japan.

MFEC, the music education component of the program, will initially run strings classes once a week for students grades 1-6 in three local primary schools. Starting in April 2023, these schools and a local junior secondary school will be united as Shonai Sakura Junior School, and Machigoto Kraschool will be one of the core components of this new school’s extra-curriculum. The JCSO will send orchestra members as instructors and hire a part-time project coordinator who has experience in primary-level music education and partnership. El Sistema Japan will be responsible for musical instruments and for training opportunities for the JCSO musicians and other volunteer teachers, using a newly developed training module that covers issues from safeguarding to intrinsic motivation, reflecting ESJ’s ten years of experience in music education for social impact.

One of Toyonaka’s longtime traditions is its yearly Shonai World Music Festival, where musicians from various genres mix freely with community players, including child performers. The festival is hosted by the City Council in cooperation with JCSO and other local music and community organizations. In February 2023, children in the “Music for Every Child” program will be invited to participate in the festival.

Since MFEC is a multi-partnership initiative, its funding base is diverse. El Sistema Japan is continuously promoting its instrument donation program, and, thanks to this special campaign, it managed to provide violins for MFEC. The Japan Century Symphony Orchestra has secured a special central government grant from the National Agency for Cultural Affairs, which aims to strengthen community-led arts and music initiatives. As for the city of Toyonaka, it is considering using a corporate version of a hometown tax donation program, through which private companies operating outside Toyonaka could contribute to this project and receive tax deductions. (In the city of Soma, Japan, where the first El Sistema Japan program was launched in 2012, this scheme has been utilized for the ESJ Soma Children’s Orchestra and Chorus; over the years, it has generated substantial enough funds to make this project sustainable.)

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child ensures children’s right to play, including (in its Article 31) participation in cultural and artistic life. Toyonaka’s new initiative is a new opportunity to pursue this challenging mission to advance humanity.


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