For the third consecutive year, Fellowship for Japan presented a memorial honoring the victims of the Great East Japan Earthquake, Tsunami, and Nuclear Disaster at First Church of Christ, Scientist in the Upper West Side on Sunday, March 9.
AK Akemi Kakihara, the Executive Director of TOGETHER FOR 3.11, was just as motivated this year as she was in 2012, when she and dozens of friends organized the event to commemorate the first anniversary of the disaster.
“The people in New York are too far away from the affected areas, so they’re not able to go there very easily,” says AK, a UNIVERSAL MUSIC Japan recording artist. “But the things that we can do from New York is that together, even only once a year, we can send our prayers to the victims and also send our thoughts to the people in the affected areas to let them know we haven’t forgotten them.”
One person who is able to travel to Tohoku frequently is guest speaker Gary Moriwaki, Honorary President of the Japanese American Association of New York (JAA) and member of the U.S.-Japan Council. Moriwaki was in Japan when the disaster struck three years ago, and he has made several trips to the Tohoku area since, as recently as two weeks ago.
Moriwaki spoke to JapanCulture•NYC before the memorial, saying that three years after 3.11, the Japanese American community in New York is “still engaged” in what’s going on in Tohoku, even as the impact of the disaster has drifted off the radar of those living elsewhere in Japan.
JAA has been instrumental in the relief effort, raising more than $1.4 million. The members are actively involved in the projects that receive donations.
“We’ve always been focused on sustainable activities, and the money that we’ve raised is peanuts compared to what’s needed over there. So we want that money to have a long-lasting effect,” says Moriwaki, pointing out that JAA is focusing on jobs and helping businesses in Tohoku recover. By collaborating with the Kizuna Foundation, a local NGO, Moriwaki says he is seeing tangible results from the money JAA has raised.
“We went to Ofunato. It’s one of the bright spots,” says Moriwaki. “It’s a small town in Iwate. We were there two years ago, and there was a pier that had sunk about a meter, so it couldn’t be used. We contributed some seed money to build the pier back up. We went back two weeks ago, and it’s operational.”
As the months and years go by, we hope to hear more stories such as the one from Ofunato. But it is clear that there is more work to be done, which is why the Fellowship of Japan, an umbrella group for several grassroots organizations that formed in the aftermath of 3.11, continues to put on the memorial.
The solemn ceremony featured live speeches from members of New York’s Japanese community. In addition to Moriwaki, Ambassador Sumio Kusaka, Consul General of Japan in New York; Sayoko Fujita, Chairman of the New York Fukushima Kenjinkai; and Motoatsu Sakurai, President of Japan Society; delivered speeches.
There were videotaped messages from people in the affected areas, including Hayato Takizawa, a Tohoku Electric Power employee who created a guidebook, Walking Through Post-Earthquake Tohoku, to help bring back tourism; Yohei Arakawa, a city council member of Natori City in Miyagi who lost his mother and younger brother to the disaster; and the children of Minato Preschool in Soma, Fukushima, who sang a song to thank New Yorkers for our continued support.
Accordionist Shoko Nagai played a stirring arrangement of “Peace and Love,” while Iwate-born koto player Yumi Kurosawa performed her own composition. The audience of 500 stood together to sing “Furusato,” one of Japan’s most beloved songs.
AK and her fellow organizers encouraged audience members to write their thoughts on post cards, which will be sent to the people of Tohoku.
“That’s something that we can definitely continue to do no matter how far away we are,” says AK. “It’s very important to keep sending them the messages. It’s something we can do to stay connected.”
Following the ceremony Sony Music international recording star and Fuji TV personality Alex York expressed his interest in creating connections. “I haven’t been to Tohoku yet, but this has inspired me to visit,” he says, adding that he would like to perform in the affected areas in the near future.
York was happy to see an update from the children at Minato Preschool. AK first visited the school in the months following the disaster, and it was the children’s drawings that moved AK to create the Fukushima “Smile” wrapping paper and iPhone cases that were on sale at the memorial, along with other charity items from Love Japan Project and locally made products from Miyagi and Fukushima Prefectures.
Money from these sales and in the donation boxes totaled more than $11 thousand, which will go toward relief efforts through the Consulate General of Japan in New York and Japan Society’s Japan Earthquake Relief Fund. As a community, we did this TOGETHER FOR 3.11.