A call to (bakers’) arms

chiri mo tsumoreba yama to naru
Even dust amassed will grow into a mountain.

As I try to wrap my head around the scale of the events in Japan this proverb has been bouncing around in my mind. I think it is fair to say that if you have any Japanese relatives that at one point or another you’ve heard this phrase. For me, it has been repeated since childhood in a variety of contexts. To scold me for waste, to praise me for frugality, and most notably, to motivate me. In fact I think I have been carrying “chiri mo tsumoreba…” around with me in my back pocket repeating it to myself as a call to action whenever the odds seem against me. I like to imagine this phrase is being said by many many people as we try to help in any way we can.

After agonizing extensively about what to write I realized that if you are reading this, you have probably already helped or donated to the Japanese relief effort. And no doubt you’ve read extensively about the earthquake and tsunami and are abreast of many of the organizations stepping forward to help. So how can I give this post purpose? Something I haven’t seen as much of is the opportunity to help in a more personal way. Which makes the causes I’d like to describe all the more special.


Elderly woman at Otsu Port shelter loving her letter! Photo by Jason Kelly.

The first is an opportunity to help those affected by the disasters in a very direct, tangible way. Socks for Japan is a ground level effort to collect socks and letters of support for those trying to stay warm in the aftermath of having to flee the tsunami. Jason Kelly happened to work near enough to the affected areas to be able to drive there and hand deliver goods but far enough away that the mail is still running. He and his friends realized they were in a unique position to help in a way other larger organizations could not – due to the logistic complications of physical donations. You can mail new socks to their address in Tochigi, Japan, attach a letter of support and they will deliver it into the hands of someone currently waiting for much needed warm clothing. You can read more about how to send socks on their website and you can get your letter (if it isn’t already in Japanese) translated by one of the volunteers helping out – or even better, if you are fluent, help by posting translations to their letter translation forum. Socks might seem like the most inconsequential detail in the face of such epic events but they are making all the difference to real people in real time (I can’t stop reading the Socks for Japan updates and tearing up at the work they’re doing!). Hardly chiri.

The second has, over the course of a few days, become a continent wide bake sale. If you love to bake, love to eat baked goods, or can help fold paper cranes, the awesome people at your local “bake sale for Japan” could sure use your help! Most importantly, they need help spreading the word. Why do I think this cause stands out? When have you ever been able to make such a difference while doing something as wonderful as baking? But the sweetest part of this April 2nd, I think, will be that the funds are raised, dollars at a time, by a coming together of the many. This April 2nd even flour amassed will grow into a mountain of goodwill.

Update: The bake sales for Japan raised a preliminary total of $124,120.38! Congrats to everyone involved for their amazing efforts!! Read more about it on their site: http://bakesaleforjapan.com/current-totals



About Pauline Fujita

Pauline Fujita lives in Santa Cruz, California. A biologist by trade and a glutton at heart, she's especially interested in Japanese and Japanese influenced food.


  1. Oh wow. I can’t believe such a perfect Japanese proverb exists, the analogue to the Howard Zinn quote I’ve been using. Thank you for this sweet post.

  2. Pauline Fujita says

    Samin – No, thank *you* for creating this amazing opportunity for everyone to chip in and help out!! I wondered if maybe you had this proverb in mind when you posted your Howard Zinn quote. Kismet I guess!

    Reminder to everyone!!
    Nationwide bakesale for Japan is happening TOMORROW 10-2. Check their site for a sale near you! Santa Cruz locals – this is happening in front of the Octagon and San Jose people this is happening in front of Roy’s Station coffee shop in Japantown. Get out there and eat some sweets for a good cause!!

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.