Dealing with Disaster: How to Get Aid Directly to Those in Need


Boxes of diapers and napkins await delivery at a warehouse in Ishinomaki.


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]

March 20, 2011

Thank you very much for your responses and donations. I’m sending this to all who made donations in U.S. dollars or who cannot read Japanese. I’ve sent another e-mail to those who can read ONLY Japanese!

OK, as you know, we had the biggest earthquake ever last Friday afternoon (March 11). I was on my way to my best friend’s house from my parents’ house and stopped at 7-Eleven to get something when the earthquake occurred. I first thought I was dizzy because it started very slowly and then it became STRONGER and scary.

I went outside with the people in the store. Cars stopped and people came out of the cars all scared. It shook about 5 minutes or so and it stopped.

I called my parents and confirmed that they were OK and my best friend called to see if I was OK. I started driving to my friend’s place.

We had aftershocks, but they were small, but my friend and I were stunned to see what happened in Sendai and Iwate, northern part of Japan, on TV. We were glued to TV for some time and I quickly remembered that I have friends up north, so I stated calling them, but we had already lost the phone line.

Fortunately, text messaging worked, so we sent text messages. We were OK in Tokyo/Yokohama, but we learned from TV that people up north lost their houses, electricity, water and almost everything. It was chaotic.

On Saturday, we learned that the situation up north was worse than we had expected, so I ordered cases and cases of water and started asking for donations for blankets and food. I used my connections with TV stations and begged them to take the water, etc. to hard-hit areas, which they did. I filled two helicopters with water and food and they got DIRECTLY to the earthquake and tsunami victims.

Monday afternoon, I believe, people in Tokyo started panicking and buying gas, rice, eggs and almost all food items, and supermarkets now have almost empty shelves because they (I should say WE, as I’m in Tokyo, too) thought the earthquake wave will come down to Tokyo because we continued to have aftershocks.

In the Kanto area (Tokyo, Saitama, Chiba, Gunma, Kanagawa) and west of it, we have a limited amount of electricity and the government has started planned blackouts, but otherwise, we’re fine.

Gas is the biggest problem, however. We are so short of gas because petroleum companies have refineries up north and they were closed until yesterday afternoon. People are lining up at gas stations and wait for an hour or two to get a limited amount of gas. We have fewer trains due to the lack of electricity. Stores and companies finish early to save electricity, but at least we have houses to go back to, a hot shower to take, food to eat and a futon/bed to sleep on.

Up north, people lost houses because of the tsunami. They evacuated to schools and public halls with VERY limited or NO electricity and kerosene, which means they do not have heaters. They only have blankets. No futon. They are sleeping on cold wooden floor with blankets. The last drop of kerosene was used up last night and people are becoming weaker and weaker physically and mentally.

My friends and I started asking for donations as we looked for other sources to send stuff up north. Due to the lack of gas, transport companies stopped their service especially to up north and we were lost, but after asking around, I found two companies who agreed to drive up there for a fee.

Tina Tajima

Tohoku University Hospital, the hub hospital to send doctors and medical experts to evacuation centers, asked for medicine, diapers, paper towels, cloth towels, anti-germ lotions, surgical gloves and more blankets and food. We sent three BIG trucks to Sendai today and they will be delivered directly to the hospital and doctors from all over Japan will take the stuff to evacuation centers from there.

The trucks will arrive there around 10 a.m. tomorrow (today, I should say, as it’s 1:30 a.m. now) Japan time. Due to the shortage of almost everything all over Japan, very few companies can donate things and we have to purchase them. But you know me, I got a discount from each company. So far, we have spent about 1.5 million yen (approximately $18,600) and we’re in the red, but we’re expecting more monetary donations domestically and from overseas.

For those who sent me checks, I used the exchange rate of the day you sent me your e-mail and put the money in yen from my bank account to the donation pool. I have a bank account in the U.S., so all I need to do is to endorse the checks and send them to the bank in the U.S. I don’t have to pay anything to get the funds from the U.S. to my bank in Japan.

I’ve just heard from my friend that he can get three trucks out early next week. GREAT news.

I know it’ll take some time for the Tohoku region or the whole of Japan to recover, but we will, with all your prayers and support. Thank you, thank you, and thank you for your generosity and consideration. We’re sending 30 more doctors tomorrow from Osaka and Kyoto and are trying to get social workers to go up there.

As for the nuclear fear, the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) informed us that we should be safe. I hope so.

I’ll keep you updated from time to time. Please feel free to forward this to all who are concerned. This is an update right from Tokyo.


1 Comment

  1. michael nakai on

    I’ve designed a t-shirt and am looking for a NPO to work with so the checks can be written in a name other than my own. Any suggestions on bookkeeping to avoid problems appreciated.

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