A Big ‘Arigato’ to Quake Relief Donors

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Consul General Junichi Ihara addresses the audience at JACCC Plaza. (Photo by Mario Reyes/Rafu Shimpo)

cBy J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

Southern Californians who have helped the victims of the earthquake and tsunami that struck northeastern Japan six months ago were invited to an “Arigato” event held Sept. 7 in Little Tokyo’s JACCC (Japanese American Cultural and Community Center) Plaza.

The event was sponsored by the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, Japan Business Association of Southern California, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, Japan Prefectural Association of Southern California, Japan Foundation-Los Angeles, Japan External Trade Organization-Los Angeles, and Japan National Tourism Organization-Los Angeles.

Emceed by actors Lane Nishikawa and Helen Ota, the program opened with the national anthems of the U.S. and Japan, and a moment of silence for the more than 20,000 people who died in the disaster.

The earthquake and tsunami “had a major impact here in Southern California, especially for those with friends and family in Fukushima, Iwate and Miyagi prefectures, the regions most heavily affected,” said Nishikawa. “Within hours after the earthquake, Southern California organizations began to mobilize in response to the disaster, setting up funds and working with the most up-to-date information on what was happening on the ground.”

“As the large-scale toll of the earthquake and tsunami became clear, offers to provide support and assistance to Japan began to pour in … The U.S. military forces in Japan launched Operation Tomodachi, providing disaster relief, including material aid and searching for the missing,” said Ota.

“International rescue and medical teams arrived in Japan to support the disaster relief efforts, including the Los Angeles County Urban Search and Rescue Team,” added Nishikawa. “In the months following, the Southern California region has been one of the most active areas providing relief to those devastated by the effects of the massive earthquake and tsunami.”

Consul General’s Gratitude

Consul General Junichi Ihara noted that in the Tohoku region, “people are still suffering acutely from loss of family members … homes, jobs, family heirlooms and memories and more, let alone the uncertainty of the future. It will take years for the region to fully recover. In the midst of this, however, people remember that we are not alone.”

The outpouring of support from around the world included donations from Riverside, Sendai’s sister city, and from Los Angeles, Ihara said. “Jan Perry and other L.A. City Council members stopped all cars in front of L.A. City Hall from 7 o’clock in the morning days after the earthquake to solicit donations for the victims. Mayor (Antonio) Villaraigosa and Deputy Mayor (Aileen) Adams convened a conference of donors and charitable organizations at this JACCC to coordinate their efforts. And many of you … have attended charity concerts and events in Pasadena, Little Tokyo, and many other places …

“I often felt tears running in my eyes thinking about the sorrow and misery of the victims, but more than that I was moved to tears by your solidarity and kindness. The Japanese were all deeply touched by the massive show of goodwill from foreign countries and citizens …

“As 9/11 changed the United States, March 11 has been changing Japan profoundly. We are determined to remember and cherish the kizuna, the bonds of friendship with other people. As we were helped, so we will help others. Japan will rise above this disaster and come back even stronger and more eager to contribute to the international community.”

Guitarist Soichi Muraji performs a song dedicated to the earthquake/tsunami victims. (Photo by Mario Reyes/Rafu Shimpo)

Ihara, who returned to Japan on Sept. 8, also took the opportunity to say goodbye. “Thanks to you and many other people in Southern California, I am able to conclude this most fruitful and memorable tour of duty. I particularly thank the Nikkei community here. Since I started working in the Foreign Ministry 32 years ago, we have moved 10 times. In each place, we met interesting people and made many friends, but we couldn’t feel that we belonged to any community. Here in Los Angeles, it has been different. You preserve a very strong sense of community and yet you welcome newcomers like us. Thank you so much for accepting my wife and me as your own.”

Councilmember Perry, who represents Little Tokyo, thanked the Iharas for their friendship over the past three years and recalled working with them on disaster relief: “To be able to see the images from Japan … to see how people help one another, particularly when people reached out and literally carried people on their backs to safety is something from which we can all learn about being brothers and sisters to each other. To have you both here to be able to help us understand and to interpret that and to comprehend the vastness of it, the ability of your country to recover and to thrive, is a lesson that I personally will never forget.”

Councilmember Tom LaBonge, who is active with the Los Angeles-Nagoya sister-city program, also complimented Ihara for his “personal dynamics and skills (that) made people react in a positive way.” Telling the Iharas that “you always have a home in Los Angeles,” he presented them not with a proclamation, but a Los Angeles street sign reading “Little Tokyo.”

From Riverside with Love

Riverside Mayor Ronald Loveridge said that his city has had a special relationship with Sendai for more than 50 years and recently signed a solar energy research agreement with Tohoku University. “When the earthquake and tsunami took place, this wasn’t simply a place on a map, this was people who we knew, who we’ve met, who we cherished …. That sister-city relationship is not an abstraction … So when we saw those horrific pictures, there was a sense that we wanted to reach out and say, ‘You’re not alone. We are with you.’ So we began a fund drive in our city.”

As of that day, the drive had raised about $584,000, Loveridge reported. “It was not done by a handful of people … It was done by school kids, it was done by churches, it was done by unions. We had a food drive that the firefighters participated in. We think there were thousands of people who contributed to the Sendai relief fund. I was very proud to take a $500,000 check and go to the City of Sendai, visit the mayor and say, ‘Here is a check, here is a statement from Riverside, your sister city.’ ”

His visit to the disaster zone left a strong impression: “It looked as if a giant had stomped on the ground and sprinkled boats and trucks and cars … They lost 12,500 out of 14,000 fishing vessels. They had no port.”

The 10-year anniversary of 9/11 is an occasion for Americans to reflect on “who we are and what we are about,” Loveridge said, and the aid that was provided to Japan was “in my own judgment, the best statement of who we are as Americans.”

‘One World’

Deputy Mayor Adams announced that Mayor Villaraigosa plans to visit Japan in early December “to express the very strong support of all Angelenos for the rebuilding effort under way as well as to express our sympathy to every family member who lost a loved one during the terrible tragedy.”

Wines from Miyagi, Fukushima and Iwate prefectures were served by Southern California kenjinkai. (Photo by Mario Reyes/Rafu Shimpo)

Adams also mentioned the 9/11 anniversary, calling it a reminder that “we are indeed one world, that each community is in fact impacted by events that happen across the world, and that all of us must be able to rely upon each other in our time of greatest need.”

Recalling the civil unrest of 1992, she thanked the Japan Business Association for being “one of the first organizations to step up and to help us rebuild our community during that tragic and difficult time. We still very much appreciate all of their efforts.”

Adams added, “There is probably no place in America where the bonds of friendship between Japan and the United States are deeper than in Los Angeles. This cultural center, Little Tokyo, the Japanese American National Museum, sit at the very heart, at the very center of our city … We are indeed blessed as a city to have … over 400,000 people of Japanese descent living here, the largest number in the country. We’re also blessed by the robust business ties to Japan.”

Referring to the business, philanthropic, academic and media representatives who worked with Villaraigosa and the U.S.-Japan Council on disaster relief, Adams said, “The mayor wants to recognize every one of these efforts and each contribution, from the largest to the smallest. Each one was given with a deep appreciation of all that Japan means to us and the knowledge that if we are in similar circumstances, Japan and its people will be there for Los Angeles as they have been so often in the past.”

Thanking Ihara for his “extraordinary service” and “outstanding leadership,” Adams said, “We know that you will welcome our mayor when he arrives in Japan, and many of us will be here to welcome you and your family always when you return to Los Angeles.”

On a personal note, Adams said that the three months she spent in Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, as a high school student 50 years ago “changed me forever. I learned what hospitality was, I learned what generosity was, I learned the importance of spirituality, I saw a culture that respected its elders … and I learned to view my own country through another’s eyes.”

Other officials in attendance included Councilmember Paul Krekorian, Los Angeles County CEO William Fujioka, State Controller John Chiang, and State Board of Equalization member Michelle Steel.

Music was provided by Nanka Yutaro and the Gary Fukushima Trio, whose set included “Ue o Muite Arukou,” better known in the U.S. as “Sukiyaki.”

Classical guitarist Soichi Muraji performed “Tsubasa o Kudasai” (Give Me Wings), which he dedicated to the earthquake victims. The composer, Kunihiko Murai, was in the audience.

TV monitors showed videos expressing gratitude from the Tohoku area, and sake from Fukushima, Miyagi and Iwate was served by members of the three prefectural associations in Southern California.

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