SAN FRANCISCO — Kristi Yamaguchi and Jesse Kahaulua will lead a 18-member Project Aloha delegation from Oct. 24 to Nov. 1 to visit cities and towns in northern Japan that have been most affected by the March 11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster.
Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist in figure skating, and Kahaulua (also known by his professional sumo name, Takamiyama), a Hawaii native and former sumo champion, will serve as the co-chairs of a delegation of musicians, hula dancers and community activists. The delegation will bring messages of hope, support and the aloha spirit during its nine days in Japan, which will include stops in Tokyo, Iwaki, Kesennuma, Sendai and Ishinomaki.
The project is being sponsored by the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund (NJERF), established by the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC). The fund, which has received more than $3.7 million from more than 11,000 donors in the past seven months, is the largest Japanese American community-based relief fund in the U.S.
The project is being co-organized by the With Aloha Foundation in Honolulu and Japan Airlines as the official airline sponsor.
“This will be my first trip to northern Japan, although I have been to Japan twice before,” Yamaguchi said. “When I saw the images of people’s houses being washed away and their life memories disappear in front of them, I knew that I had to do something. I hope that my Always Dream Foundation can support activities for young children to help them overcome the challenges they face, so that they can fulfill their dreams and goals like other children.”
“The delegates will serve as goodwill ambassadors to spread the message of hope and strength to the people of Japan, who have experienced so much tragedy, loss and suffering since March 11,” said JCCCNC Executive Director Paul Osaki, who will be part of the delegation.
Osaki noted that Yamaguchi — who is also the official spokesperson for NJERF — was one of the first people to support the JCCCNC’s relief efforts following the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995.
The delegation’s first visit will be to U.S. Ambassador to Japan John V. Roos in Tokyo to add its support to Major League Baseball’s First Pitch program, which aims to restore baseball diamonds in the devastated areas.
A key stop on the trip will include a visit to Iwaki in Fukushima Prefecture, well known for its Spa Resorts Hawaiians (the location of the movie “Hula Girls”), which is considered one of the most popular theme parks in Japan. Members will visit schools and there will be two performances at the resort featuring Hawaiian entertainment, hula dancing and Hawaiian food, all to demonstrate that it is safe to travel to Iwaki, whose economy relies heavily on tourism. The highlight will be an all-day luau festival on Oct. 29.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have performed in Japan on several occasions and we have always received a warm and kind response from the people of Japan,” said delegate Lloyd Kawakami, a member of the band Manoa DNA and president of Iolani Sportswear, the sponsor for the Project Aloha shirts. “After March 11, we wanted to do whatever we could with recovery and rebuilding efforts. Project Aloha will give us that opportunity.”
After leaving Iwaki, the delegation will head to Kesennuma, where members will work with the Shanti Volunteer Association sponsoring an event at a community center and children’s facility. Members will then head to Sendai to meet with the staff of Sendai YMCA, an organization that has received donations from the NJERF. The Sendai YMCA has been organizing volunteers, providing temporary shelter and working with other recovery and rebuilding projects.
Later, the delegation will travel to Ishinomaki to donate art supplies to children’s facilities. The art supplies, which are part of another NJERF project called Crayons for Japan, will be used by the children to express themselves and as a form of therapeutic relief. Some of the artwork will be published as a children’s book of hope and recovery.
The delegation plans to meet and interact with more than 5,000 individuals throughout the goodwill tour.
The other delegates are Nolan Conjugacion, Jennifer Hamamoto, Bret Hedican, Alex Kawakami, Nick Kawakami, Donna Kimura, Diane Matsuda, Wayne Miyao, Sarah Noyle, Robyn Omura, Chantelle Sua, Mark Tanouye, Vieni Vitale, and Lori Yamaguchi.
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