By GWEN MURANAKA
RAFU ENGLISH EDITOR IN CHIEF
After a week of searing images, sleepless nights and phone calls, Thursday was a chance for Little Tokyo to mourn together for victims of last week’s 9.0 magnitude earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis. Nearly 1,000 people, many dressed in black, gathered in the JACCC Plaza to pray, to cry and to offer their help to the people of Japan. Rows of white chrysanthemums formed a backdrop to a long table for mourners to light candles and offer incense.
As the ongoing disaster continues to unfold in Japan, its impact has been distinctly personal in Little Tokyo, one of the last three remaining Japantowns in California.
“We gather as a community to send messages of deep condolences and expressions of sadness to the people of Japan and to pray for hope and recovery,” said Sandra Sakamoto, chair of the board of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center. “We are here because we are a community with deep ties to Japan and its people.”
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa joined Consul General Junichi Ihara and other dignitaries at the hour-long service. The mayor praised the fortitude of the Japanese people who have suffered through the earthquake and tsunami.
“Now as we await the possibility of a third (nuclear) calamity, their fortitude is being tested once
again. We say to our Japanese brothers and sisters that you are not alone,” said Villaraigosa.
Members of the Nikkei Interfaith Council, representing Buddhist, Shinto and Christian faiths, offered prayers and words of comfort for the victims. During Christian prayers, Psalm 46 was read: “We will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”
Since news of the disaster first broke last week, an unprecedented effort has been undertaken by organizations in the Japanese American community to send relief to Japan.
Yoshihito Yonezawa, president of the Miyagi Kenjinkai, said his group was establishing a relief fund that would send money directly to the Miyagi prefectural government, one of the areas hard hit by the tsunami and earthquake.
In the JACCC, representatives from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, the U.S.-Japan Council and Japan America Society of Southern California collected donations for their relief efforts.
Bryan Takeda of the U.S.-Japan Council said it collected $3,500 in donations on Thursday night. The council has so far raised over $360,000.
Doug Erber of the Japan America Society said it has received donations and pledges of nearly $500,000 since starting relief efforts last Friday. The society will also be raising money for earthquake relief during its upcoming 102nd anniversary dinner on April 2.
The Japanese Chamber of Commerce has received more than 100 mailed donations, with an
approximate tally of $9,000 for UNICEF. The Rafu Shimpo has so far received $6,500 for Japan relief.
Brian Kito of the Little Public Safety Association said it has raised over $11,000 for the American Red Cross Japan Disaster Relief Fund, including two donations of $1,000. He said he was most touched by donations from the seniors at Koreisha Chushoku-kai, the hot lunch program at Little Tokyo Towers. The seniors put out a collection can for donations and gave the money to disaster relief.
“They donated $319, that’s big money for Koreisha. They’re sacrificing something to give that money,” said Kito.