Helping Survivors of 2011 Earthquake
One Nikkei Vancouverite’s Unique Contribution
As you know, Vancouver, with its convivial multi-racial culture and splendid natural surroundings is regularly rated near the top of the “world’s best cities to live in” type of rankings. On the other hand, being a provincial city at the in a northern corner of the West Coast with a population of only around four million, it is dwarfed by megalopolises like NY, Toronto and Los Angeles, not to mention Tokyo. Osaka, Hong Kong and Shanghai, so it is rarely the focus of international attention except during major events like the Winter Olympics or the NHL playoffs. Of the many racial minorities that make up that small population, we Nikkei and ijusha people are but one, numbering only somewhere around 20,000. So it is quite remarkable that one Nikkei Vancouverite has recently been featured in the Japanese media for the hands-on help he has been giving organic farmers in areas devastated by the 2011 Eastern Japan earthquake and tsunami disaster. Doesn’t the news lift up your spirits?
I would imagine many of our readers, in deep sympathy with the victims and survivors of the terrible disaster, have been doing as much as they can in the way of volunteer activities, contributions and such to help and support them. Each one can only contribute as much as he or she is capable, but regardless of this gentleman’s personal circumstances, what he’s been doing is at least worthy of the attention he’s been getting from the Japanese media.
According to Tokyo Shimbun (evening ed., 8/6/2013), he is Mr Thomas Yoshiyuki Kamiya, a 68-year-old Japanese Canadian, originally from Okinawa Prefecture and now resident of Vancouver Having worked for many years in heavy machinery maintenance in Japan and Canada, he told the newspaper: “I want to make a contribution to my country of birth using my technical skills.” He plans to continue touring in his small van, stopping off at organic farms in particular, giving hands-on training in farm equipment maintenance free of charge until October. All he asks for in return is a meal, a shower and a power source. He sleeps on a camper bed in his van.
Back in late May, for example, Mr Kamiya was consulted by Mr Shin’ichi Ouchi, 71, of Nihonmatsu city, Fukushima Prefecture, who asked “there’s smoke coming out of my tractor. Is it still operable?” So he checked around its engine and found an air-filter clogged with dirt. “Machines are like people, they need regular maintenance…simple maintenance adds years to their lives,” he explained, and advised Mr Ouchi to change the engine oil regularly ands check the spark plugs too.
Not only does Mr Kamiya check mechanical tillers, grass cutters, portable generators and such, but he also works together with the farm people hands-on, so that those who are “not mechanical minded” will be able to maintain their machinery regularly on their own.
“I learned a lot,” said a grateful Mr Ouchi. Mr Michiro Uozumi, 62, of Ishioka city, Ibaraki Prefecture, who is vice-chairman of the non-profit organization Japan Organic Agriculture Association (JOAA), also told the newspaper: “Unless they are pretty mechanical minded, many farming households don’t get around to checking their equipment and keep running them until they break down,’’ so “we’re grateful for his hands-on advice.”
Mr Kamiya had always wanted to offer his service for the survivors of the earthquake and tsunami, but he waited for the right time as rescue, relief and re-settlement were obviously had to take priority. In March this year, two years after the great disaster struck, he decided that his “farm machinery check-up service” might now be of help. Through the Japanese Consulate-General in Vancouver, he managed to get in touch with JOAA’s Mr Uozumi, who in turn gave him a list of organic farms in the disaster-stricken prefectures. Mr Kamiya arrived in Japan in April, and has given hands-on maintenance training in well-over-a-dozen places in Chiba, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Fukushima Prefectures so far.
Having worked for a construction machinery maker in Japan, Mr Kamiya came over to Canada in 1975, determined “to seek new challenges in a new country.” He has since acquired Canadian citizenship. He was employed at a company handling maintenance and repair of heavy logging machinery until 2009. In the meantime, he had become interested in organically farmed vegetables. Thanks to his vegetable-based diet, he has hardly ever been in ill health over the last decade. He took up his tour-cum-farm machinery maintenance service of organic farms in Canada and the US back in 2010, traveling over 40,000 kms and visiting 165 places over three tours since.
Mr Kamiya says he there is another purpose to his return visit to Japan. “I would like to study the thinking and philosophy behind organic farming…I would like to feel the total climate with all of my five senses,” he says. Helping plant rice seedlings in paddy fields bare-footed…
Making recordings of various dialects spoken in different localities along with the sounds of nature…it will be a continuous journey pursuing the whims of his curiosity.
No fame-seeking “do gooder” would ever be able to devote himself or herself so completely to such a low-profile yet helpful task, of that I’m certain. Mr Kamiya, you probably never thought about how much your action might reflect on your fellow Nikkeijin here, but speaking for myself, I’d like to thank him for two things. One, for making us feel proud for taking our Canadian spirit of volunteerism to the truly needy folks in the disaster-stricken parts of “our old country.” And two, for showing us one example of how fulfilling a life one can lead in one’s “senior years” and, at the same time, be truly of service to others.