Teen violinist battles cerebral palsy as he lifts spirits in Tohoku

Mizuki Shikimachi practices the violin in Machida. (Yusuke Saito)
Mizuki Shikimachi practices the violin in Machida. (Yusuke Saito)

Teen violinist battles cerebral palsy as he lifts spirits in Tohoku

By YUSUKE SAITO/ Staff Writer

Mizuki Shikimachi knows all too well what it’s like to struggle with adversity. The Tokyo high school student has been battling cerebral palsy for all of his brief 17 years.

A violin player since he was 4, Shikimachi was moved when he saw the images on the TV news of the disasters of March 11, 2011.

Despite the vagaries of his condition and the constant struggle with paralysis in his limbs, he knew he wanted to do something to help the survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

After talking it over with his mother, he decided to play charity concerts to help raise money for recovery efforts in the Tohoku region.

“I will never forget the disaster-stricken area,” Shikimachi says. “I don’t know when I’ll go blind, but I want to devote my life to the violin.”

Mizuki was born prematurely with a condition called “cerebellar hypoplasia,” a rare embryonic disorder in which his cerebellum was only half the normal size. He began playing the violin at such a young age for rehabilitation purposes.

“We considered the piano, too, but he was too weak to press the keys,” says his mother, Keiko, 43. “He couldn’t maintain his balance while sitting.”

But little Mizuki soon took to the violin.

“The first time I played, I produced a note,” Shikimachi says, remembering. “Its sound resonated within me.”

Shikimachi, however, also suffers from poor vision, which makes the notes appear to shake when he tries to read them on the sheet music.

But he persevered, practicing and practicing as he glowered at musical scores.

Shikimachi appeared at his first concerts for earthquake relief efforts in Fukushima Prefecture in June 2011, and in Iwate Prefecture two months later.

He had to take a break last year due to his worsening physical condition, but in April he was well enough to perform at a charity concert in Machida in western Tokyo. Afterward, though, a doctor informed him that the paralysis in his hands would grow even worse.

Shikimachi wavered over what to do next, as he continuously worried about when his playing days would be over.

Then, a miracle of sorts, and from all places–Tohoku–came to him. Shikimachi found out about “driftwood violins.”

World-class instrument maker Muneyuki Nakazawa had constructed violins made from driftwood swept up by the tsunami and part of the “miracle pine” of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, the lone tree that remained standing on a beach. Violinists had been playing the driftwood instruments across Japan to raise money for reconstruction efforts.

Shikimachi got to play a concert with one of the driftwood violins in Machida in August. “It resounds straight to the heart,” Shikimachi said of the driftwood violin.

The concert raised 90,000 yen ($882), with the proceeds going to a music club at Shizugawa High School in Minamisanriku, Miyagi Prefecture. The money helped the club buy new speakers.

Finding new strength through the driftwood instrument, Shikimachi is now determined to keep playing as long as possible.

The Machida Cultural and International Exchange Foundation is organizing a concert scheduled for March 10, where Shikimachi will play a new driftwood violin Nakazawa is building just for him.