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Japanese-Americans Open Hearts, Wallets For Quake Relief

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(credit: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images)

(credit: YOMIURI SHIMBUN/AFP/Getty Images)

Disaster In Japan
» How To Help

LOS ANGELES — Japanese-Americans, expats and others in the United States rallied this week to help the victims of Japan’s earthquake and tsunami, finding touching and sometimes imaginative ways to donate or raise money for the Asian country’s injured and displaced.

Proceeds From T-Shirt Sales Aid Japan Relief Efforts

Some were motivated by a surge of sympathy, others by friendship or family ties, while many gave out of a need to do something to counter feelings of helplessness.

Sayaka Fukushima said the victims in her native country seemed distressingly far away when she saw coverage of the disasters on TV last week and she was sad not to be able to help them directly.

“I want to do something, but what can I do?” said Fukushima, 26, after making a donation this week at a memorial vigil in Japan’s Little Tokyo district.

In San Francisco, meanwhile, Eric Fuji was donating profits from his sushi restaurant to Japan as he awaited word on a missing friend in Sendai.

“We should all be coming together and helping as much as we can,” he said.

And in Hawaii, which has the nation’s largest Japanese-American population after California, University of Hawaii at Manoa students planned to hold a “candlelight” vigil Friday — using cell phones instead of candles to provide light — to support the people of Japan, where 6,900 people are confirmed dead so far and another 10,700 are missing.

Large-scale fundraising events, along with countless donations by individuals, have been showing some results, with relief organizations having collected more than $87 million as of Thursday, according to a tally by The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Doug Erber, president of the Japan America Society of Southern California, said collections are easily outpacing those for the 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, which killed more than 6,400.

He attributed the current fundraising success to recent technical innovations, such as those that allow donors to contribute using their cell phones, in addition to the images of widespread destruction seen on TV this time.

“We have footage that Hollywood can only dream of, of devastation that is heartbreaking,” he said. “I would compare it to what Americans went through when they watched 9/11.”

Not all quake-related activity is aimed only at raising money.

In the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, home to a large Japanese-American community, staff at a Japanese supermarket in the Mitsuwa chain were providing customers with white paper squares to be folded into origami cranes, following a Japanese folk belief that you can make a wish come true by folding a thousand of the paper birds.

Store manager Masato Takai, who hoped to have 1,000 cranes to hang in the store by next week, said his wish was for those harmed in the quake and tsunami to have a speedy recovery.

“I know a lot of people have the same feeling where they wish they could go to Japan and help them directly, but we have families and businesses and can’t go there,” said Takai, whose market is also soliciting cash donations for quake relief.

Cranes were also being folded with get-well wishes in mind at Somerville Elementary School in New Jersey’s Bergen County, which has that state’s largest Japanese-American population. Students there have also created a video about the disaster to raise awareness among their peers about the crisis in Japan and collect donations for relief efforts.

Nako Yoshioka of the Japan-US Alliance of New Jersey says that her group was planning a fundraising concert for victims in Japan as well as helping coordinate efforts across the state with other groups wanting to help.

“We’re doing donations and fund raising for immediate relief efforts, but we’re trying to figure out how we can contribute to rebuilding efforts long term,” Yoshioka said.

Back in Los Angeles, community groups were planning a series of fundraising events in Little Tokyo over the weekend, some of which will be staffed by fans of Japanese animation who will collect donations while dressed as their favorite “anime” characters.

Little Tokyo is also the location for a daylong series of concerts Friday. The shows are free, but audience members will be urged to contribute money to the American Red Cross fundraisers who
will be on hand.

Japan-born recording artist Hidehito Ikumo, who was performing at the event with his bilingual rock group Layla Lane and serving as the concerts’ master of ceremonies, said his first impulse after
hearing news of the quake was to offer whatever assistance his musical talents allowed.

“I feel pretty powerless and helpless, but if I just think that way and do nothing, it’s not going to help, so I decided to do what I can as an artist,” Ikemo said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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