Dealing with Disaster: Support from L.A.

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by HIROKO TINA TAJIMA

Editor’s note: Hiroko Tina Tajima is a university professor in Tokyo and a simultaneous interpreter for the United Nations and the Japanese government. This is part of a series of updates to family and friends about relief efforts she has been organizing to help victims of the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan. To get involved, contact her at [email protected] (write “Tina Tajima” in the subject line).

May 17, 2011

So sorry for the slow update. As I said in my short email to you all, I got home safely on the 5th and found out that my auntie had passed away.

Went to the funeral with my parents, but my mother started getting panic attacks more often after that (she had a stroke a few years ago and several minor ones after that, too).

I still had to get ready for my business trip to D.C., so I had to put off a lot of things until I got here (D.C.). I arrived here yesterday (around 12 noon). My colleagues and I assumed that the security would be tighter after bin Ladin’s death, but there was NO line at Immigration and I was out in about 15 minutes. Surprise!

It’s been raining and cold. I wasn’t ready for this weather. I was told that the temperature was about the same as Tokyo, so I didn’t bring any sweater, just a light jacket. WRONG. It’s cold in the morning and evening. I endured the air-conditioning in the meeting rooms today and just got back to my hotel room and took a hot shower.

This is the nation’s capital and WHO talked about CO2 and conserving energy? Same thing is happening in Tokyo, too, but after the earthquake and tsunami, people DO conserve energy. Streets are darker because businesses turn off lights of their store signs outside. Offices use only about half the lights compared to before. It feels DARK, but we’re used to it.

That means we used to use too much electricity. Good lesson, I think. I might have sent this link to you, but you can see the difference: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d-ChRZunYaw (slightly darkened Tokyo).

Debris collected in front of a high school in Ishinomaki.

Thank you so very much for coming to “Meet Tina Tajima” meeting on Sunday, May 1.  A crowd of people gathered at Centenary Methodist Church in J-Town. Thank you, Wendy and Art, for getting the place. Art, thank you for getting the place ready with volunteers.  Steve, Patty and Kelsey, thank you for preparing slides and getting the registration stuff and all the food for the volunteers. Thank you, many of you, who brought desserts. I can’t thank you enough.

For those of you who could not make it to the meeting, thank you for the emails. Sorry I missed you there, but I’m sure I’ll see you soon.

I basically talked about what I have been doing since the earthquake occurred on March 11. I showed pictures of Yuta and other volunteers who have been faithfully delivering goods and cleaning up debris. Yuta rented a few apartments (SMALL, Japanese-size studio apartments, probably not even the size of your bathroom), so volunteers can go with sleeping bags. I’m helping him with the rent.

Yuta is a car dealer in Natori City, right next to Sendai City. He lost all his cars due to the tsunami, but offered the lot, warehouses and workshop to store donations and stuff we buy and drive to Ishinomaki and other places to deliver the goods. Without his help, I couldn’t have continued my work, and I appreciate his enthusiasm very much.

I also talked about a shortage of social workers and counselors. There are many orphans who need HELP. There are so many people who lost their family members.

Thanks to all of you, the donations from L.A. and Honolulu and friends from S.F., etc. are over $30,000 (sorry I forgot to bring the exact number with me to D.C.). I received some more checks and cash at the meeting, too. Thank you.

I think I talked too much and didn’t leave much time for Q&A. Sorry. One of the things that I mentioned was sustainability. Yuta and I talked about getting a big tub (furo) so that people at shelters can take a bath, as taking a bath is considered very important and helps ease tension and stress.

I got some comments later on that it may not be a good idea. I also received a comment that I used some Japanese words that non-JAs did not understand, like “furo.” Sorry for my carelessness. I also talked about getting washing machines because it’s getting warmer and they can’t keep wearing the same socks, underwear and clothes for days.

The debris includes several dead squids.

Some of you might have read that some cities up north had to throw away some of the donated clothes because they were just too old or had big oil stains, etc. and no one wanted them. About a month ago, I talked to some people in D.C. (on the phone) — nongovernmental and nonprofit organization people. They all said that they had received inquiries about donating clothes to Japan, but from their experiences, they declined the offer because they knew that they would get a lot of old, smelly socks and the like and they have had a hard time sorting out the clothes and getting rid of those that they could not use. They experienced the same thing up north this time.

The tsunami took away disposal centers, so people up north have been trying not to increase the amount of trash and garbage. My friends bring trash in their trucks when they come back to Tokyo/Yokohama.

After coming home and talking to Yuta and other volunteers, the first thing we need to do is to clean up debris BEFORE we even think about getting a bathtub and a bus to transport people. It’s been almost two months, but there still are TONS of debris all over town, especially in Ishinomaki City, right by the ocean.

Self-Defense Forces are up there cleaning up, but they don’t have much flexibility since they are there by the government order. They did a good job fixing up main streets and expressways, but when it comes to cleaning up ordinary streets in housing areas, they are not so cooperative.

As I mentioned in the meeting, the Japanese government is VERY slow. Their concern is centered around the nuclear plants and we get news almost daily that this vegetable from this area is contaminated and should not be shipped out or that vegetable from that area is contaminated. Farmers are committing suicide because they have no other means to make a living, but it does NOT hit the news. Very sad.

Before my visit to L.A., we started gathering volunteers to go up north to clean debris. It’s getting warmer and sakura (cherry blossoms) are in full bloom up north. Usually, people would go to parks and enjoy seasonal food and sake under the cherry trees, but not this year. Because of the rising temperature, the smell from debris is unbelievable. Yuta tells me that a couple of volunteers almost fainted because of the smell.

Workers in the tsunami zone must cope with the outrageous smell.

Ishinomaki is known for cuttlefish and the tsunami brought all the fish to housing areas and debris inside AND outside of houses (as you can see in the attached pictures).

Shinkansen or bullet trains are running all the way to Sendai now, but the schedule is still irregular due to blackouts. There are only three flights from Tokyo to Sendai and they are fully booked.

We are trying our best to encourage people to buy things grown or sold in Tohoku. Tohoku is known for its sake, as the water and rice are good. My friends and I have been sending emails to massive number of people in Japan with website URLs about things to stimulate the economy in the Tohoku region.

Joey Slick, the Sansei DJ that I introduced to all of you, has been a HUGE help to me. I’ll meet him when I get back from D.C. He told me that he could do some more PR of what I have been doing in his radio shows  — he has MANY fans and listeners! (I was honored to meet his uncle and aunt at the meeting.)

This will be a long project and I really appreciate your help. I have opened a new bank account (DBA account) at Union Bank and am waiting for approval. Once it’s approved, you can wire your donations directly to the account or send checks to Patty Nagano in L.A. Will keep you informed about this.

Once again, thank you very much for those who came to the meeting, and those of you that I missed this time, I’ll try to be back in L.A. in the summer with more updates.  I welcome any ideas and comments from the meeting and/or my updates or my activities. Some of the ideas sound a bit too “Japanese,” but please understand that we’re dealing mainly with Japanese people (I say “mainly” because there are a number of non-Japanese people living up north).

Tina

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