Dealing with Disaster: The Road to Sendai

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A young mother and her daughter receive relief supplies at an evacuation center in Ishinomaki.

by HIROKO TINA TAJIMA

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] (write “Tina Tajima” in the subject line).

April 4, 2011

This past weekend, Kim Sunhong, president of the Japan-Korea Society, came to Japan with a producer from UTB (United Television Broadcasting Services). They interviewed me and I made arrangements for them to go up to Sendai, Ishinomaki, etc.

They came back to Tokyo early this morning by bus and went directly to Narita.  They’re probably sitting somewhere in the airport to put footage, etc. until they board a flight back to L.A. this evening.

One of the biggest non-profit organizations from Vienna, Austria came to Tokyo two days ago. I met with them and they left for Sendai yesterday afternoon. I have also made arrangements for them to go to Ishinomaki and other areas where you need a special pass to drive in to.  My friend Yuta Sakura has the pass and he is the one who has been delivering all the stuff I sent to Sendai. He has connections and has a team of volunteers who drive trucks to places I want things to be delivered.

I sent three truckloads of things on Friday, Saturday and Sunday: mochi, kinako, microwave rice, canned food, diapers (adult’s as well as baby’s), chocolates and snack food, cup noodle/udon, underwear and more water.

Companies are short of supplies themselves, so they cannot donate things anymore, so I purchase, of course at a discount price.  Gas is really expensive now — about $6.50 per gallon.

Ishinomaki City Hospital reopened on April 1, and prior to that, I talked to pharmaceutical companies and they were kind enough to donate medical supplies (a truckful) and we took them there. The hospital reopened to see patients who need dialysis, insulin shots, etc.

The government is concentrating on nuclear plants and news coverage on the earthquake and tsunami victims is getting shorter and shorter.  This will a LONG-TERM project.

I have gotten emails asking about tax deduction for donations sent to me. I, unfortunately, do not have non-profit status; therefore, I cannot do anything. I haven’t had time to sit down and endorse any of the checks I have received so far.  Ernie Fukumoto has been doing a lot of thinking whether there is any way to set up a bank account or go through a non-profit organization in L.A., etc., but we have not yet come up with any concrete idea.

I should have thought about it before I started this mass email, but I’m a Japanese national and in Japan unless you make a HUGE donation, we do not get any tax deduction, so it wasn’t even on my mind when I started this activity.  If any of you think that you should give your money to other non-profit organizations where you can get tax deduction, please contact me. Like I said, I haven’t yet endorsed any of the checks received.

Ernie Fukumoto sent the following message to his friends and cc’ed it to me late last night Japan time:

“I just had a 30-minute conversation with Tina.  She called me from Tokyo to discuss ‘things.’ You are right about things not happening with the Red Cross. Maybe it can’t be helped when you are a BIG non-profit like RC, but everywhere Tina looks everything seems to be at a standstill with RED TAPE!

“The roads to Sendai are clear!  She has about 10 trucks traveling and there is basically no one on the roads! When her volunteers get to the villages they disbursed (yesterday) mochi, and kinako. They were grateful! The drivers noticed that there were warehouses full of donations of goods that just got frozen from the last snowstorm. RED TAPE prevented the city officials from disbursing the goods!!! People were starving and the supplies were locked up in the warehouses.”

It really is sad that people send STUFF up north, but they are all sitting in the warehouses.  It seems that there are a lot of THINGS up there, but they don’t get to those who really need them. Yuta, my friend up in Sendai, has a special pass and he’s not afraid of driving in deep mud to deliver our donations to people in small towns and villages.

The only place I can’t “touch” or do anything about is Fukushima because of nuclear plants and radiation fear. There are some people who are there and I talked to a few of them, but ALL of them said they didn’t want to leave because that’s where they were born and grew up. Understandable, but we need the government help to deliver food, etc. to those who decided to stay there. I heard that Aizu Wakamatsu is safe and we can drive up there. I’m supposed to talk to someone who has relatives in Aizu Wakamatsu, so will give you an update.

In the meantime, I’ll keep looking for a non-profit organization here that can take over what I’m doing because my school starts in two days. I might go to L.A. in the last week of this month. If I do, would it be possible to meet some of you there?

April 6, 2011

We had another big earthquake up north (it shook quite a bit down in Tokyo, too) on Thursday and some of the roads are closed again and people up north are more scared.

We had a truckful of food, water, apples and underwear that went up there on Saturday (yesterday our time). The attached pictures are from the previous trip BEFORE the second earthquake.

I finally sat down with my secretary and wrote down the numbers. Thanks to all of you, we received a total of $27,185 from all of you and those who are not on this mass email, but some of you enclosed the checks with yours. THANK YOU. So far, we have spent $25,174 (using today’s exchange rate). Many of you responded to my email and told me that I can go ahead and cash the checks. Thank you for your understanding.

Please watch this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYi0_f5yCjc. Those who don’t know me now know what I look like! The TV producer of UTB in L.A. put it on YouTube and he’s working on a program with more shots that he took while he was here with Mr. Kim of the Japan-Korea Society last week.

Our new school year has started and I’m BUSY from early morning ’til late evening, as I’m curriculum coordinator for our department. I’m involved in so many things at our university as well as at many other places.

My trip to L.A. is now confirmed and I’ll be there from April 26 ’til May 4. Would love to see many of you while I’m there and am trying to think what would be the best way to see/talk to as many of you as possible. My brain is not functioning right now, as it’s midnight here and I have to get up early tomorrow morning (MONDAY here…).  I’ll try to talk to Steve and Patty Nagano in the next couple of days to try to figure it out.

Once again, thank you for your support and generosity.

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1 Comment

  1. Mary Ellen on

    hello! I am trying to find up to date information on roads and products still affected. I appreciate your updates. I hope you had a good trip to Los Angeles. I am in Texas.

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