Tohoku Earthquake & Tsunami: raising funds & hope for survivors
Like the rest of the world, I watched incredible footage of the tsunami that devastated so much of Japan’s coastal communities. The force of nature was horrifyingly awesome, from the earthquake to the tsunami. Like the rest of the world, I watched the horrific aftermath of earthquakes in Haiti, then Christchurch. But Japan is familiar with earthquakes, is technologically advanced and wealthy and I feel confident the country will recover. I am sure the devastation would have been even worse had there not been the preparedness, and the discipline and strength of the survivors are inspiring to the world.
I had dinner with Michaëlle Jean, our former Governor General and now special agent for Haiti and the first thing she said to me was that a headline in Haitian newspaper said “We Are All Japanese Now” and it is so uplifting to see the response of people around the world to Japan’s agony.
If there is a lesson to be drawn for the future, it is that even with the most meticulous planning, we could not anticipate the consequences of natural forces on nuclear technology. The horrorific events at the Fukushima reactors, like Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, remind us the only “foolproof” technology is a system free of fools, and who among us has never been a fool at some time in our lives.
When a 9.0 earthquake hit northern Japan on March 11, 2011, triggering a series of destructive tsunamis and a nuclear emergency, the aftershocks were felt especially keenly throughout Nikkei communities around the world.
In Canada, the reaction was swift and heartfelt as people, glued to their televisions, radios and the internet watched in disbelief the horrific events unfolding before their eyes.
Filmmaker Linda Ohama, who splits her time between Vancouver and Onomichi in Hiroshima prefecture, was in Vancouver preparing to return to Onomichi when the earthquake struck. Like many others, she was galvanised by the images she saw of the awful destruction being wreaked on the countryside. As she wrote to friends in the community the day the news broke, “I cannot stand looking at all the images and hearing from so many friends about the earthquake victims and families. We need to do something.”
In the days that followed, that “something” began to manifest itself in numerous ways. Within a very short period of time, members of the BC Japanese Student Network—working under the name Japan Love—had taken to the streets of Vancouver soliciting funds for earthquake relief. The youth, some with friends and family in the affected areas, shared information with the public about the Japan Love movement and collected donations in their Japan Love bokinbako donation boxes.
At the same time that Japan Love was mobilizing, a group of concerned, people, most with links to the various Japanese Canadian community organizations, were meeting at Tonari Gumi on East Broadway to form the BC Japan Earthquake Relief Fund (BC-JERF). BC-JERF was created to serve as an organizational hub for BC communities’ fundraising efforts and to facilitate the delivery of this financial aid to the affected people in Japan.
In a move that is symbolic of how the disaster in Japan has brought disparate people together, Japan Love and BC-JERF joined forces to create a common website: bc-jerf.ca. The website contains information on the various initiatives underway across BC and includes a calendar of events as well as different ways to help. The website also contains a form for registering events and another for volunteers. For those in need of counselling, there is a listing of available community services, counsellors and therapists.
On a local level the response has been both swift and heartfelt. From individuals to large organizations and everyone in between, it seems that everybody wants to help in whatever way they can.
Some, like Lily Shinde, who lived through the Kobe Earthquake in 1995, have been so shaken by the events unfolding in the news that they have turned to volunteering for the relief efforts as a way to deal with their feelings. As she wrote in an e-mail, “At times like this the community needs to weep, I can feel the tension around Tonari Gumi and the Nikkei Centre when I go there—people are putting there emotions on hold, nerves are frayed.”
Anne Itagaki Harris, a local Nikkei, recognized that amidst the ongoing humanitarian tragedy in Japan, compounded by the fears of a nuclear disaster, sometimes the need for small necessities are forgotten, especially in the smaller, remote shelters. Putting a call out for used clothing, diapers and feminine hygiene products, she has received a flood of donations and is in the process of getting the donated supplies to those in need with the help of friends in Japan. For information on how you can help get the supplies to Japan, contact the Nikkei Place Foundation at 604.777.2122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On a larger scale, two BC towns—Steveston and Nelson—have adopted the town of Onagawa as the focus of their fundraising efforts. Onagawa, a small fishing village, was hit especially hard by the tsunami, its steep hills funnelling the force of the wave into the main business and residential district, pushing the wave to more than three times the height seen elsewhere on the coast. Approximately 5,700 people, half the town’s population—mostly fishermen and cannery workers—were killed by the giant wall of water.
This past Sunday, a charity walk in Steveston attracted an astounding 7,000 people and raised over $80,000. Jim Kojima, president of the Steveston Community Society and organizer of the charitable walk, is planning to make a trip to Japan to deliver the money personally to the townspeople of Onagawa.
Various concerts and other fundraising events are taking place across the Greater Vancouver area, offering numerous ways to support the fundraising efforts while enjoying some of Vancouver finest musicians, poets, writers and dancers.
At press time, a collection of Vancouver writers, including Hiromi Goto, Daphne Marlatt, Roy Miki and Lydia Kwa, were preparing to present Friends Across the Pacific at the VIVO Media Arts Centre on Main Street.
Upcoming over the next few weeks are two major concerts. The first, to be held Sunday April 10 at 2pm at the Koerner Recital Hall, Vancouver Academy of Music, features some of Vancouver’s top classical musicians including Sara Davis Buechner, Akira Nagai, Seri Nagai, Keiko Alexander, Kayoko Segawa, Kaori Otake, Miya Otake, The Vancouver Academy of Music Cello Ensemble, Dale Barltrop and Joseph Elworthy in a program featuring works by Bach, Brahms, Casals, Conway Baker, Glinka, Haydn, Mozart, Nakada, Saint-Saëns, Villa Lobos and Yamada. They will be joined by local dancer and actor Yayoi Hirano. For tickets, visit www.vancouversymphony.ca or call VSO Customer Service at 604.876.3434.
Just over a week later on Tuesday, April 19, BC-JERF will present a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre featuring, among others, Jon Kimura Parker and over forty members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, along with a host of other Vancouver-based performers, including many of the city’s taiko players. More information on this major fundraising initiative can be found on page 7.
These are just a few of the many events being held at venues, large and small, across the city and across the province. From the Penticton-Ikeda Sister City Society and the Salvation Army Penticton Japan Disaster Relief Fundraiser, to Hugs for Japan Club Night at Pop Opera Nightclub, to Godzilla, King of the Monsters at the Hollywood Theatre, there are numerous efforts underway to not only raise badly-needed funds, but to show the people of Japan that the whole world is behind them. For up-to-date information on upcoming events or to find out how you can help, visit bc-jerf.ca.
On a national level, the National Association of Japanese Canadians has updated their website to enable local NAJC chapters across the country to share their earthquake relied initiatives. Visit www.najc.ca for information.
Almost two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami, Linda Ohama is running on adrenaline. Between spearheading the Queen Elizabeth Theatre concert and organizing the Kids for Kids Quilt Project with her three daughters (see page 10) there is not much gas left in the tank. What keeps her going, she says, is the love and support for the people of Japan that she is seeing all around her. “I for one, cannot express my grief and my love for Japan in any other way, than to try and help them as much as possible from this side of the Pacific. Every single day, this is what drives me. I know what is driving the Japanese all over Japan . . . their incredible determination, hope and their love for their country, people and families.
“Sometimes I think I’m crazy and that none of this is possible,” she says, “and then I get a phone call or e-mail from someone else offering time or money or expertise and I realize that we can do this. Mountains have been moved.”
The Canadian Red Cross posted the following message from the Japanese Red Cross on their website, following media reports suggesting that international donations were not needed in Japan (such as one published in March 18th’s Globe and Mail). In fact, the day after the Globe and Mail article was published, the Japanese Red Cross issued an official thank you for the donations received to date and welcomed continued support:
“The compassion the Canadian people have demonstrated over the past week through their generous support to the Canadian Red Cross is incredibly uplifting at a time when we are dealing with a such an immense humanitarian tragedy. This financial support is very much needed and continues to be welcomed to help the hundreds of thousands of lives that will forever be changed by this disaster.”
Satoshi Sugai, Director International Relief Division
Japanese Red Cross Society