By RYOKO OHNISHI
RAFU STAFF WRITER
LONG BEACH — Last Sunday afternoon, approximately 600 people gathered for a fundraising event held at the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB).
The Long Beach community members came in solidarity to remember the victims and to help the survivors of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11.
The event, entitled “Japanese Disaster Relief Project,” was sponsored by local groups tha have affiliations with Japan: the Long Beach Japanese Cultural Center (LBJCC), the Long Beach-Yokkaichi Sister City Association, a non-profit organization called Interval House, the Earl Burns Miller Japanese Garden at CSULB, and City of Long Beach.
The ceremony was held just before sunset. Participants lit candles and prayed for Japan while Kokoro Taiko drummed and Yuzan Shirai and Yoko Awaya played the shakuhachi and koto, respectively.
According to Ole Nervik, LBJCC president, it was the center’s first time to outreach to the public and become a part of such an event. Afterwards, Nervik noticed that an envelope in the donation box included a card and $1,000 cash. It was from anonymous donor; the card simply said, “Pray for Japan … from a Vietnamese Family.”
The event raised a total of $14,595. The donations will go to the U.S.-Japan Council Earthquake Relief Fund, which will be assisting directly with medical and rescue efforts.
Michael Vaughn, president of the sister-city association, stated that his group’s relief efforts started with a phone call immediately after the earthquake. The group met at the LBJCC for the first time and shared common thoughts, concerns and willingness to support Japan.
Long Beach Mayor Bob Foster asked for donations, saying, “The earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster are overwhelming for the people in Japan. We urge you to be generous to the people who absolutely need help and resources.”
One thousand paper cranes folded by the CSULB Nikkei Student Union and local high school students were presented by Foster to Consul General of Japan Junichi Ihara. In his response, Ihara noted that current death toll is 11,000 people and 16,000 are still missing.
“We are so grateful for all your support, and I really appreciate all of you coming today to express your solidarity,” he said.
Former Long Beach Mayor Eunice Sato urged the participants to dig deep. She recalled that she spent eight years in Japan, three of them as a volunteer missionary, and taught students in 1948.
Sato emphasized the difference between sympathy and empathy: “Sympathy is just feeling sorry for someone. You should be sensitive to those who suffer, and that is empathy. You feel the hurt. We should sacrifice weeks of groceries to help people who are really hurting.”
One of the participants, CSULB alumnus Ravi Wadhwani from New Jersey, spent two years in Japan.
“I am seeking a volunteer opportunity to help the relief efforts in Japan,” Wadhwani told The Rafu Shimpo. “I speak Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese, Hindi, Marathi, and Sindhi. I hoped I could be the liaison for the international teams and Japanese groups or help in some other capacity. I posted my thoughts on Facebook, but I have not heard anything from anybody. If I do not hear anything by April 2, I will go to Japan by myself.”
The Interval House is an Orange County-based non-profit organization that was founded in 1979 to provide crisis intervention and assistance to victims and individuals at risk among immigrant communities that have language barriers. Mai Nakasone, who works for Interval House, prepared donation boxes that can be placed at restaurants and businesses.
Nakasone said, “I could not help doing something for Japan after watching the devastated scenes on media. We still have boxes available.”
If anyone is interested in placing the five-inch boxes, call (562) 754-8226 or e-mail [email protected].