Worry, Relief for Family and Friends in Japan


A prayer vigil is held in JACCC Plaza in Little Tokyo on Sunday night for victims of the earthquake in Japan. (MARIO G. REYES/Rafu Shimpo)

For Japanese and Japanese Americans with family in areas affected by last Friday’s earthquake, there were moments of worry and relief as news trickled out about their loved ones.


On Saturday, at the Japanese Institute of Sawtelle’s annual Sakura Festival and Undokai at Stoner Park, much of the talk centered on news of the disaster. The school, which has nearly 200 students, held a brief moment of silence at the start of the festival. Those with family near the quake’s epicenter included the school’s principal, Miwa Takahashi, whose family is in Fukushima.

“They’re in Sendai City, so hopefully they’re OK,” said Takahashi, who had yet to speak with her family.

Hitoshi Abe, chair of the Department of Architecture and Urban Design at UCLA, said he had been able to contact his parents, but was worried about friends and co-workers.
“Luckily I was able to confirm the safety of my family yesterday at noon,” said Abe, who is from Sendai. “My office is totally trashed and my parents house is OK, but inside is totally damaged. It’s just devastating, many landscape I used to love and spend time at is all gone. I’m so worried about my friends and co-workers who are staying in those towns, which are totally gone now. I’m totally in shock and paralyzed by all the images from Japan.”

Consul General Junichi Ihara said the consulate in Los Angeles has been helping Japanese and Americans reach loved ones through its website, noting that he had been able to contact his two sons in Tokyo. He had also received offers of support from Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard, Councilmembers Jan Perry and Tom LaBonge, and Sen. Barbara Boxer.

Attendees light candles for victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

“I understand that many organizations have started collecting money and support, and we really appreciate it,” said Ihara. “The devastation goes beyond our imagination.”
Following an emergency meeting on Friday night, the Japanese Chamber of Commerce Foundation (JCCF) announced passage of a resolution establishing the Japan Disaster Fund in cooperation with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF). According to Chamber President Toshio “Terry” Handa, UNICEF was selected based on assurances that 100 percent of donations will be applied toward Japan’s disaster relief.

Contributions may be sent to the JCCF office at 244 S. San Pedro St., Suite 504, Los Angeles, CA 90012. Checks should be made payable to UNICEF with “Japan Disaster Fund” in the memo line.

In Little Tokyo, Brian Kito of the Little Tokyo Public Safety Association said he was able to reach most of his friends living in Sendai on Sunday. Among others, he was able to confirm the safety of Koichiro Narumi and Ranko Naramura, who came to Little Tokyo last year to conduct a Tanabata kazari (ornament) workshop.

“Last night was great, it was such a relief. On the other hand, they still have all of this to
deal with,” said Kito.

The Little Tokyo Public Safety Association has organized a donation drive through the American Red Cross. Checks can be made out to the LTPSA/Japan Relief Fund or the American Red Cross Los Angeles Region for Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Fund and sent to: Little Tokyo Public Safety Association (Koban), c/o Japan Relief Fund, 307 E. First St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. For information, call the Koban at (213) 613-1911.

JACCC to Hold Memorial Service This Thursday
The Japanese American Cultural and Community Center (JACCC) in Little Tokyo will hold a hope and memorial service on Thursday, March 17, 2011, for victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan late Friday.

“Seeing the devastation so far away can leave people with a sense of helplessness, but Thursday’s memorial will provide an opportunity for the community to come together, and reflect on the suffering of countless individuals and our interconnectedness,” said JACCC Executive Director Chris Aihara.

The interfaith service and community gathering will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the JACCC Plaza at 244 South San Pedro Street in downtown Los Angeles. It will be open to the public. There will be representatives from Japan disaster relief funds, for individuals who wish to make a contribution.