By RYOKO NAKAMURA
RAFU JAPANESE STAFF WRITER
Soon after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami devastated northeastern Japan, a network of support for victims has mobilized quickly.
On March 21, a Delta Airlines flight took off from LAX to Haneda Airport to carry relief supplies that were not just ordinary supplies. They were filled with lots of love, care, and support from the Los Angeles community. Volunteers will deliver the supplies to several evacuation centers in Iwate Prefecture.
Emiko Yamaguchi, a Pasadena resident, couldn’t believe what she was seeing on TV on March 10. The footage of black water engulfing her motherland made her act quickly. As soon as Yamaguchi announced her relief effort on a website and her blog, Nancy Yazawa, the owner of Pasadena Green Plaza Hotel, contacted her to offer the use of spare rooms.
Meanwhile, in Venice, Kaoru Shimizu, who is from Hanamaki, Iwate Prefecture, was filled with a feeling of helplessness after learning all the phone lines to Japan were dead. She kept asking herself, “What can I do to help my hometown?”
It didn’t take much time for her to find the relief effort information that Yamaguchi posted on the Internet. Shimizu immediately called Yamaguchi and said, “I’m from Iwate Prefecture. I want to help.”
Hanamaki is located inland, about a three-hour drive from the coastal area. There was no concern there about the tsunami, but Shimizu was not able to contact her parents and her aunt, who live in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, one of the areas hard hit by the tsunami. Shimizu threw herself into collecting relief supplies as if she was using her energy to obliterate a painful feeling.
Three days after the disaster, she finally heard a ring tone after dialing her parents’ phone number. “Moshi-moshi?” She heard her mom’s voice. They were all safe. Although their house was damaged by the earthquake, it was still habitable. But many of their neighbors were staying at an evacuation center.
Shimizu also confirmed her aunt’s safety, but her house, located right next to the ocean, was completely swept away by the tsunami and nowhere to be found.
According to her mom, there are no relief supplies at the nearest evacuation center. Neighbors are sharing what they have and donating their limited food to the people who stay at the evacuation center. Even under these devastating circumstances, people are giving each other help.
On the phone, Shimizu’s mom lamented to her daughter about the desperate need for diapers and milk for babies. At the evacuation center, babies are getting sick. “Mom, I will send you supplies from L.A. I promise,” Shimizu said.
She made a commitment to help however she can, even though she is 5,700 miles away from her hometown. Since then, Shimizu and all the volunteers have worked tirelessly to collect relief supplies, especially diapers and special milk that can be warmed by body temperature. The response from the Los Angeles community was beyond her expectations. She shed tears of gratitude.
People of all ethnicities and ages volunteered to help. The Los Angeles branch of Yamato Transport USA offered to transport the supplies from the Pasadena Green Plaza Hotel to LAX.
Marehisa Ishii and his wife, Kumiko, who were in Los Angeles on business, offered to help by taking the supplies from LAX to Iwate Prefecture on their way back to Tokyo.
Ishii, a pastor at Committed Japan, owns a café in Tokyo. One of his staff members is from Rikuzen-Takata, Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas hit hardest by the tsunami. His church members are already in the city, helping to cook food at evacuation centers. They have been communicating with the mayor and have promised long-term support to the community.
On March 21, Ishii promised all the volunteers at LAX that he and his staff would take the supplies to Iwate Prefecture. Shimizu finally smiled and said, “Now I can keep my promise to my mom.”
“Help Japan.” This was the key phrase for everybody who volunteered. From person to person, the supplies will soon reach the earthquake and tsunami victims in Iwate Prefecture.
Shimizu called this entire effort “the relay of life.” She said, “This diaper can save a baby. This milk can save a baby. These supplies are filled with our love, care, and support. They are not ordinary supplies. They are lives.”
The Pasadena Green Plaza Hotel has spare rooms for charity events, such as concerts or gatherings. For more information about the relief efforts, call Emiko Yamaguchi at (626) 792-7370.