When Japanese pop singer Akemi Kakihara (AK) visited Soma, Fukushima, six months after the devastating natural and nuclear disaster of March 11, she was inspired by the preschoolers for whom she performed. Those children have motivated her to continue raising funds for and awareness of the daily struggles that people of Northeastern Japan still face today. AK wanted to unite the New York community to commemorate the first anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake, so she organized TOGETHER for 3.11, a memorial that took place tonight at First Church of Christ, Scientist in the Upper West Side.
Many New Yorkers, especially members of the Japanese community, turned out in force to attend the memorial.
AK formed the group JP Girls NY, one of several organizations created to help Japan during this crisis. These separate groups have come together under the umbrella of Fellowship for Japan, a collaborative effort for Japan relief. More than 100 organizations have connected through TOGETHER for 3.11.
“The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami has caused unforgettable, deep sorrow,” says AK, “but it has also created so many precious encounters as well. It is simply amazing that all the communities came together as one.”
Shortly after the disaster, says Ambassador Hiroki, Japan “received a helping hand to pull their hearts from the clutches of despair.”
AK pulled together many voices from Tohoku for this memorial in New York. Yohei Arakawa, a member of the City Council of Natori City in Miyagi Prefecture, lost his younger brother, and his mother remains missing. “The stench of burning seared my memory forever,” he says.
Born and raised in Kobe, Japan, Dr. Kamal Ramani, who has a practice in New York, volunteered at a makeshift clinic in Minami Sanriku, Miyagi Prefecture, not long after the earthquake and tsunami struck. “We saw patients from soon after sunrise to soon after sunset, as we had no light, no heat, no running water,” Dr. Ramani says.
Dr. Takeshi Kanno saved the lives of dozens of patients at his hospital in Minami Sanriku by taking them to the highest floor as the tsunami reached land. For his heroic efforts, TIME Magazine named him one of the top 100 most influential people in the world. “Many Japanese are still reeling from the disaster and trying to build a future,” says Dr. Kanno in his video message.
Hana Springer and Philip Yuki Weissman are students at Ridgewood High School in New Jersey. Because of their Japanese heritage, these teens felt compelled to do something for Japan. They raised money by selling baked goods and T-shirts they designed themselves at their school’s Asian Festival. Both Springer and Weissman remind us of how easy it is to move on to the next disaster and how focused we need to remain in helping Japan.
Hana, Philip, and their friends, wearing the T-shirts they crated, pose with the poster on which they collected messages of encouragement from their classmates. The group of teens sent the poster and remaining T-shirts to the town of Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture.
In her speech Hana mentioned she was surprised the group’s T-shirts and poster received a response. The grateful recipients sent the above photo as a way of saying thanks to the thoughtful teenagers.
The children whom AK befriended on her humanitarian visit to Soma, Fukushima, sang a song on this heart-wrenching video.
Japan Society President Motoatsu Sakurai announced that through the generosity of 23,000 donors, Japan Society’s Japan Earthquake Relief Fund has raised $12.6 million.
When the organization JAJA, Japanese Americans Japanese in America (of which I am a member), were the guests at the residence of Ambassador Hiroki, we each decorated a square of fabric that would later be sewn into a quilt by the group Hope for Japan.
I was able to find the piece of cloth I decorated with my message, “Don’t give up, Japan.”