Michiko “Grace” Saito
by Kirk R. Patterson
Michiko Saito (74), better known as Grace in the international community, was born and raised in Kamakura. She is actively engaged in various charitable activities, using music as a means both to raise money and to draw attention to those in need.
Please tell me a bit about your background.
Shortly after graduating from university, majoring in the arts, I married and then gave birth to my daughter. My husband was very old-fashioned and was not comfortable with me working outside of the home, so I just focused on taking care of my daughter and being kind to others. It was a very different life from that which I had known in my parents’ home, which was a place for people to regularly gather and socialize.
When I was 40, I was diagnosed with intestinal cancer, which, at the time, had only a five percent cure rate. I fought back and, fortunately, survived. That experience forced me to think about my mission in life. Having always had a special passion for music, I decided to use music to help others.
The first thing I did was to form a choral group. We would go to terminal-care hospices and sing to the patients, all of whom knew that they would soon die. We would also go to homes for disabled children and, playing with them, we would get great pleasure in seeing them become happier, more animated.
At the same time, my husband and I grew apart. He was a rather self-centered person and not so interested in helping others. We divorced 25 years ago.
What led to your interest in using music to help others?
My daughter started taking piano lessons at the age of four. While other children were playing, she persevered in her lessons and studied hard, eventually becoming a concert pianist. Seeing the dedication and devotion required to become a musician and knowing that to become a truly successful musician, especially a classical musician, is very tough and expensive, I decided that I wanted to help young musicians achieve their goals. As a result, 15 years ago, I established the Grace Kai (society).
The Grace Kai has four main, interconnected goals. First, we support aspiring classical musicians, providing modest support to one or two musicians every year to support their studies in Europe. Second, we hold charity concerts twice a year, with these concerts not only raising money for worthy organizations and causes, but also providing performance opportunities for young musicians. Third, we use music therapy to console and encourage people at hospitals and nursing homes. And fourth, we strive to use music to foster international communication and understanding.
What charities and causes do you support?
We support various organizations. For example, we have donated concert proceeds to support the Rotary Club’s efforts to eliminate polio around the world. The incidence of polio has been reduced by 99 percent, but achieving total elimination is proving to be very difficult, so the Rotary Club’s involvement in the fight against polio is very important.
We have donated funds to support the Infant Home of the Red Cross Medical Center, where 70 percent of the residents are abused children. We have also worked with the YMCA Foreign Community Supporting Committee to raise funds for programs for physically and mentally handicapped children.
In addition, we held concerts to raise funds to support the victims of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant disaster.
In addition to the Grace Kai, what other groups are you involved with?
Fourteen years ago, I joined with some friends to help establish the “Kusa no Kai.” This is a group of wives of corporate executives that, every year, holds a lecture, a concert, and a bazaar to raise monies for charity. The specific organization that receives the funds is selected by a committee of eight people and changes every year.
I am also very active in the Rotary Club of Tokyo Hiroo, which I joined seven years ago. Since joining, I have held various positions, such as Chairman of the Hiroo Club, the Community Service Chairman, and the Yoneyama Chairman. I have recently assumed the position of Assistant Governor of the Yamanote Higashi group, and in that capacity I hope to be able to find new ways to help others less fortunate than ourselves.