after the quake: working together for the future
When the earthquake and tsunami hit the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11, Kozue Matsumoto sat in front of the TV in her adopted hometown of Vancouver and watched in horror as the area where she grew up was battered by this unstoppable force of nature. “It was devastating to see my familiar places and sceneries just wiped out by the earthquake and tsunami and to hear people on the news speaking with the dialect that I grew up with,” she says. “Knowing that my situation is better than any of my family, relatives, friends and everybody, I wanted to do anything that I could do.”
Driven by her need to help, Matsumoto, a koto player now based in Vancouver, got involved with the BC Japan Earthquake Relief Fund (BC-JERF)—sitting on the organizing committee and helping out with various fundraising efforts.
Manning the desk at the BC-JERF headquarters at Tonari Gumi, she was able to witness first-hand the outpouring of support from Canadians as people dropped by, phoned, and emailed, offering their time, effort and money. “I guess being at the office as staff was a privileged position because I was able to receive many people’s warm good will every day. I am really thankful to all of those who helped Japan. There was so much support, encouragement and generosity from Vancouver towards my hometown.”
For his part, BC-JERF’s Joji Kumagai, was moved by the strength of Matsumoto and others with family in Japan. “Despite all that she was dealing with, from not being able to initially make contact with her parents to not knowing the status of friends and just hearing all the struggles the neighbourhoods she grew up in were dealing with, she continued to plug away every day and did a marvellous job organizing our volunteers as well as basically anything else that needed to be done at our office. She was moved by the generosity of Canadians, most of whom obviously had not been to Tohoku, and I know she realized how fortunate she was to be in Vancouver. She was certainly an inspiration to me.”
When the Ganbare Japan! benefit concert was announced for April 19 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Matsumoto, as volunteer coordinator, helped to pull together the huge team of volunteers needed to pull off this massive undertaking in such a short period of time. On the night of the concert, she was appreciative of the show of support from a diverse, all-volunteer line-up that included, among others, hometown hero Jon Kimura Parker with forty members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, three members of Vancouver Opera, Jay Hirabayashi and Takeo Yamashiro, 54-40, Jim Byrnes, The Sojourners and a taiko finale comprised of 60 members of Vancouver’s taiko community.
What really moved her, though, was when the last gong beat reverberated through the theatre and thousands of glittering, multi-coloured origami cranes began to fall from the ceiling, raining down on the stage and the audience. Each crane—there were over 14,000 in total—represented a victim of the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit the Tohoku region of Japan on March 11. “I think what made this concert special,” she says, “was the astounding number of origami cranes at the QE Theatre. Without them, Ganbare Japan! could have been just another fundraising concert. All the volunteers who made cranes all over Lower Mainland thought about Japan and prayed for Japan while they were making the cranes. We were able to achieve it because so many people contributed their time for this. This experience with the cranes are really amazing, and I really appreciate all the volunteers whose names may not even be found in the program guide or anywhere else.”
Giving is Receiving. I felt the meaning of this word everyday since I started volunteering at BC-JERF. Similar to many others, my intention was to support Japan Earthquake relief. Soon after, I started experiencing overwhelming support from the community, my friends, family members, and other volunteers. My heart felt warm every time I felt the passion of volunteers and meeting people from all walks of life who sincerely hoped for the well being of Japan. In our everyday busy lives, we often forget that there are many caring people in the world. It reminds me that we live in a global community and that although our lives are independent of one another, human compassion very quickly weaves us together as one, especially in the face of tragedy such as what happened in Japan. In the past, I often think of my friends and family when I hear the word compassion, however, through this experience, I now think of a community of people who sincerely care about and support each other.
I am humbled by the tireless efforts of all the BC-JERF volunteers and the organization as a whole. I was lucky to be able to play a small part in fundraising for the earthquake relief efforts. For that, I sincerely thank all the people who supported and gave me this opportunity to aid those in need in Japan.
Those concert volunteers were just the tip of the iceberg, as over a thousand people gave freely of their time and energy to raise both money and awareness about the ongoing situation in Japan. Whether organizing events or simply helping out, their collective efforts added up to many thousands of hours of hard work and dedication.
Concerts, poetry readings, bake sales, charity walks, raffles, art auctions, dances, fashion shows, film screenings, dinners—no event was too humble, and no donation was too small. As Matsumoto says, “A collection of small efforts made huge fundraising possible.”
The members of the BC Japanese Student Network, out on the streets with their Japan Love bokinbako donation boxes, epitomized the grassroots nature of the fundraising efforts that seems to spring fully-formed from Canadian soil as news spread about the earthquake and tsunami.
Asuka Endo was one of the organizers of the Japan Love Project which ran twice a week for a month after the earthquake, raising over $30,000 in the first week alone. Donation boxes were also placed in over 200 locations around the city and all the money collected was donated to the Canadian Red Cross through BC-JERF.
Endo says, “I started this project because there were so many students that wanted to help Japan but didn’t know what to do or where to start. Since they were students, they felt helpless, with no money for airfare even if they wanted to go back to see their family. They also knew that going back would not help the situation. When they found out about the Japan Love Project, they felt like there’s something you can do even when you’re far away.”
The Japan Love Project and BC-JERF provided different ways for people to get involved in fundraising for Japan, something that helped increase the total amount raised. As Endo says, “BC-JERF had more involvement with the large cooperate events such as the concert, and the Japan Love Project worked more at the grassroots level, where every penny helped the cause. It was great to see the involvement from different groups because they were equally important.”
David Iwaasa, Executive Director of Tonari Gumi and member of BC-JERF, echoed the feelings of many who witnessed the spontaneous outpouring of concern and empathy for Japan on the part of the Canadian public, never imagining that so many people were genuinely concerned about Japan’s well-being: “Since we are the ‘Japanese Community Volunteers Association’, assuming that we somehow represented Japan, people came off of the street, of all ethnic backgrounds, to express their condolences and sympathy for the victims of this disaster. One lady said that she felt a special closeness to Japan because a Japanese student had home-stayed with them. An individual of Chinese ancestry e-mailed to say that he had a home in Vancouver and that they would provide it for free to a family evacuated from the disaster area. When I asked him for his motivation, he said that he had worked briefly in Japan and wanted to ‘return’ something to the people who had helped him.”
Iwaasa thinks there may be another positive side-effect of the disaster: “One of the great laments prior to the earthquake was that the Japanese Canadian community was dying—that there was little interest in preserving the community. The enormity of this tragedy and the horrific scenes of destruction in Japan galvanized the community into action in an unprecedented way. Nikkei who had not had anything to do with the community suddenly wanted to do something. Sansei and hapa realized for perhaps the first time, that they did feel something for the Japanese who were suffering in Japan and, in so doing, began to recognize that they were a part of the greater Nikkei community. Part of this realization that we were also ‘Japanese’ was prompted by the general public (and the media) who simply ‘assumed’ that because we were of Japanese ancestry, we should be concerned and would be doing something. So there was both an internal resurrection of our ‘Japanese-ness’ and an external pressure to respond in an ‘appropriate manner’ to this tragedy.”
Joji Kumagai echoes Iwaasa’s sentiments in his own assessment of the situation: “I think as diverse as the Japanese Canadian community is, it was evident that there is the potential for tremendous synergy to bring it together when needed. This was symbolised in the Ganbare Japan! benefit concert when the nine taiko groups performed together, something I was told just never happens. There is a certain level of respect that permeates the community and I think this translates into the well-regarded perception it has outside the JC community. I hope this experience will develop new or stronger relationships as it’s quite apparent what can be done when collaboration takes place.”
Kozue Matsumoto also notes that the earthquake relief efforts helped bridge language and cultural gaps within the community. “BC-JERF was one of few occasions in Vancouver that Japanese-speaking Nikkei people and English-speaking Nikkei people worked together for the same purpose. I experienced great dynamics as well as a bit of confusions between the two cultures. I met a lot of people and learned a lot from both sides. Sure there are a lot of things to work on to communicate comfortably between two languages, but I believe we can collaborate and create something really cool from now on.”
With the BC-JERF office at Tonari Gumi set to close on April 30, the fundraising activities are winding down. Two final events, an art auction and a raffle, mark the end of BC-JERF’s role as a sponsoring organization. Over the past month and a half, an unprecedented amount of money has been handed over either through the Canadian Red Cross or directly to the Japanese Red Cross for earthquake relief and reconstruction. As Iwaasa says, “An amazing number of talented and dedicated individuals have given thousands of hours in order to gather the funds and put on the Ganbare Japan! benefit concert and the many other events that have taken place. Many individuals literally put their lives on hold in order to volunteer, but now they need to get back to what they were doing.”
Looking at what has been accomplished in such a short amount of time, Iwaasa is hopeful for the future but cautions that care must be taken to nurture further development. “The challenge for the future is whether or not the Japanese Canadian organizations can retain some of the individuals who have rediscovered some of their Japanese links. The earthquake and our response to it, brought together new immigrants, the young and the old within the community, in an unprecedented way. We now need a vision and the leadership necessary to keep all of these individuals involved within the Nikkei community.”
Upcoming on May 5th at the Waterfall Events Centre is a special silent art auction for Japan earthquake relief with items donated by artists throughout the Lower Mainland. The event, at #205-1540 West 2nd Ave., Vancouver will take place from 4pm – 9pm.
Launched at the Ganbare Japan! benefit concert on April 19th, BC-JERF Raffle Tickets are now on sale at Tonari Gumi and from various member organizations within the BC Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. The line-up of prizes is outstanding and the ticket prices are very affordable.
Any enquiries or contact regarding BC-JERF after April 30th should be done via bc-jerf.ca or directly to the individuals involved. People wishing to contribute to Japanese earthquake & tsunami relief should do so directly via the Canadian Red Cross or other recognized charities.
It started with the earthquake on March 11.
Then a dream on March 12.
And by April 19, many talented performers, organizers, technical crews, sponsors, artists and over 14,000 origami cranes joined together for 2 ½ hours. All these people came together as one energy made from many hearts for the sake of helping the people of Tohoku region of Japan.
The concert was designed to go from the pain and destruction of this disaster to the rise of the human spirit to continue with hope for the future: for the children of the next generation.
Ganbare Japan! included more than 167 incredible performers who all volunteered their talents and time.
Ganbare Japan! came together with help of over 70 people on the various committees from media to sponsorship, production to hospitality, and the BC-JERF Nikkei community executive to the special “think tanks” made up of Vancouver’s entertainment professionals offering their advice.
Ganbare Japan! was supported by over 50 businesses and sponsors who generously donated funds, or in-kind services to produce this benefit concert, plus another 27 businesses who took out ads in the program.
With everyone’s help, Ganbare Japan! raised close to $250,000 to help support the people of Tohoku.
And most importantly, Ganbare Japan! brought together the hearts of so many different people in the Vancouver Lower Mainland and Canada to send a unified message of love, care and hope to the many people in Japan coping with their massive loss and recovery.
My personal thank you to everyone who joined together to make Ganbare Japan! a moving and successful experience.
Linda Ohama, coordinator, Ganbare Japan!