Two Cirque du Soleil shows were playing in Japan when the earthquake hit on March 11, 2011: ZED, a resident show at Tokyo Disney, and KOOZA, a big top touring show at Tokyo’s Fuji Dome. The company quickly set up a Crisis Committee, to see to it that the safety of Cirque du Soleil employees was not jeopardized. In the weeks that followed, the Crisis Committee kept in close contact with Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the World Health Organization and Cirque du Soleil partners in Japan for the most recent and accurate information possible.
Less than a week later, in light of the unstable situation at the Fukushima nuclear plant, Cirque du Soleil preventively evacuated ZED and KOOZA employees and their families to Macau, chosen because Cirque already had operations there with ZAIA. The three shows’ teams were thus together during these difficult times, and were able to take advantage of ZAIA facilities for this period.
In all, close to 300 Cirque du Soleil employees were evacuated to Macau, while other groups were sent to Hong Kong and Fukoka in south-west Japan—a safe zone—for immigration reasons. Cirque du Soleil also allowed Japanese technicians working on its shows to be evacuated if they so wished, although most of them chose to stay in Japan to be with their families. The ZED and KOOZA teams were finally sent home for their annual leave, while awaiting the resumption of the two shows’ operations.
KOOZA took up its operations in Tokyo on April 9, 2011, and ZED followed suite on April 23. The quality and source of food on the site were closely monitored when operations resumed, so that teams could be assured of working in an environment that met Cirque du Soleil safety standards.
From the very outset, at the same time as the work ensuring the on-site safety of employees, the Global Citizenship Department – Asia kept all Cirque du Soleil employees apprised of the most relevant information on the aid agencies lending a hand. Although the focus is often put on short-term action in cases of natural and humanitarian disaster, Cirque du Soleil recognizes the need to plan for the long term in regions that will have to work very hard on rebuilding, once the global media’s cameras are no longer there. In this light, the company long ago adopted a very specific approach to humanitarian aid, favouring the expertise of local partners and the use of our on-site resources to intervene in the medium and long terms via promising projects.
The expressions of solidarity by Cirque du Soleil employees did not take long to manifest themselves. To support artists on the show whose families were in Japan, the KÀ team gathered to make a wonderful Senbazuru—a traditional garland of one thousand origami cranes to grant wishes for healing and prosperity. And thanks to the support of regional organization 5ive Planets, the ZED and KOOZA teams received Koi Nobori (carp-shaped wind socks) that staff decorated and inscribed with messages of encouragement and hope for the thousands of children affected by the earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. These Koi Nobori were presented by 5ive Planets to representatives of the Tohoku region during the Yokohama Port Festival, to be given to the children of Tohoku upon their return.
The KOOZA team organized a cabaret in a Tokyo bar to raise funds for the Tohoku region. Furthermore, musical group 5 Minutes to Clowns, made up of Varekai team members, took part in a benefit show in Seoul, with all proceeds going to an aid group for Japan. Finally, the KOOZA school, in collaboration with other Cirque schools and touring teams, worked tirelessly to raise funds for people in need. The KOOZA school also organized a “half-half” draw, set up a donation box in the kitchen and sold t-shirts made by the students. The other touring schools and teams also did their part by organizing a silent auction and bake sale.
A group composed of eight members of the ZED team, working with a local organization called JEN, drove four hours from Tokyo to Ishinomaki, in the Miyagi prefecture, to give circus workshops to 43 students from Ishinomaki Kita middle school and 14 students from Funakoshi primary school. Group members also had the opportunity to visit the disaster areas and see the extent of the tsunami’s devastation for themselves.
Members of the ZED troupe made a second trip to the Tohoku region, this time to the town of Kesennuma, also in the Miyagi prefecture. Some 30 artists, technicians and administrative staff gave workshops to 67 students of Kesennuma junior high school. Troupe members also took part in a special meeting and gave their opinion on the best way to work with students in after-school activities. These activities were made possible with the cooperation of Peace Winds Japan, the teachers and the school board.
The events that affected Japan had a significant impact on its tourist industry, and accordingly, on the activities of Cirque du Soleil there. That is why Cirque du Soleil and its partner Oriental Land Company took the mutual decision that ZED would cease its activities for good on December 31, 2011.