Nikkei rush to aid victims during time of need


A massive tsunami engulfs a residential area after a powerful earthquake in Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on March 11. Kyodo News photo

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC) has received more than $150,000 in donations, just a few days after launching the Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund March 11, following the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami that struck Northern Japan the same day.

This outpouring of support is the “Japanese American community’s response,” said JCCCNC Executive Director Paul Osaki.

Concern from the community has been pouring in.

“I’ve received endless e-mails and phone calls from people who want to find out what they can do. It’s just terrific to see that outpouring of sympathy and concern,” said Bob Hamaguchi, executive director of the Japantown Task Force.

He praised the community for its quick and heartfelt response, as numerous groups and individuals have expressed a desire to help. Hamaguchi also noted the need for greater organization around the fundraising efforts.

This is not the first time the community has scrambled to reach out to those suffering in Japan, however. In fact, the Japanese American and Japanese communities have come to one another’s aid for more than a century.


‘A unique understanding’

THE AFTERMATH OF DISASTER — A woman lifts up belongings from the rubble amid snowfall in Miyako, Iwate Prefecture, northeastern Japan, on March 16. Kyodo News photo

Osaki said that Japan provided the largest amount of foreign contributions following the San Francisco earthquake of 1906.

Following World War II, Nikkei came to the aid of the war-torn Japan. One of Nichi Bei Times’ founders, Shichinosuke Asano, used the newspaper to raise awareness, funds and much needed goods, for this very cause.

Decades later, after the Loma Prieta earthquake struck the San Francisco Bay Area, the Japanese responded during the Nikkei community’s time of great need.

“We share a lot of wonderful things culturally,” Osaki said. The two communities also have a unique understanding of one another’s history with earthquakes, he added.

Beyond providing one another with financial support in times of crisis, the Japanese American-Japanese relationship has long been cemented by the celebration of a shared culture. Each year, the community celebrates this connection during the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival (NCCBF).

This year, the festivities, which will take place April 9-10 and 16-17 in San Francisco’s Japantown, will also aim to keep some of the focus on supporting the earthquake and tsunami victims.

The Festival will provide attendees with a number of ways to donate.

The importance of keeping the Japanese victims’ needs in peoples’ minds is great, said Allen Okamoto, NCCBF co-chair.

There will be at least one booth dedicated to receiving donations. Wristbands and ribbons — to raise awareness of the cause — also will be sold. Beyond that, speakers will remind people throughout the festivities to consider making a donation, Okamoto said.

The traditional Friendship Reception has been canceled, as groups from Japan rescinded their ability to attend (some even prior to the earthquake and tsunami). Instead, the Festival will hold an earthquake relief event Friday, April 15 at Hotel Kabuki, 1625 Post St. in San Francisco’s Japantown, at 6 p.m. Festival leaders are asking attendees for donations. Featured guests will include the 2010 and 2011 NCCBF courts, as well as the visiting Cherry Blossom Festival courts from Hawai‘i, Los Angeles and Seattle. Food will be served, and entertainment will be provided.


JCCCNC spearheads relief efforts

Beyond the Festival’s plans to raise funds, many individual efforts within San Francisco’s Japantown community are being directed toward the JCCCNC-operated relief fund.

A number of community figures have made substantial donations — Olympic gold medal figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi has pledged $10,000, and the Minami Tamaki LLP law firm and the nonprofit Inspirational Opportunities for Youth and Seniors are aiming to raise $50,000 in the next 30 days. Thousands of dollars have also been raised through anonymous donations in increments ranging any where from $10 to $2,000.

Osaki anticipates the community will raise funds that are “well into six digits.”

He said that 100 percent of the money will go directly toward relief efforts in the areas that have been hit the hardest by the devastation. Osaki did say, however, that this was after the fee that credit card companies require has been processed.

Short-term aid alone insufficient

The JCCCNC is working with the Kobe YMCA, National Council of YMCA of Japan and other non-governmental organizations to determine the best way for community-based organizations to support victims.

According to the Cultural Center, it raised more than $600,000 to aid victims of the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 that struck Kobe, Japan, killing more than 6,000 people.

As with its previous efforts, the funds raised will help provide the necessities, food, water and medicine, to “keep people alive,” Osaki said.

And the needs are great. News outlets have reported that millions of people in Japan are without necessities.

Over time, however, the efforts will turn toward the recovery phase, both physically, and emotionally.

Recalling his experience with the earthquake in Kobe, Osaki anticipates that victims will be in temporary housing for years. Many victims will suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, he added. Osaki expects that the JCCCNC will bring Japanese doctors and psychiatrists to San Francisco for bilingual and bicultural training in mental health services.

“There’s going to be so much pain. The Japanese bury it deeper than we do as Japanese Americans.”

And yet, having seen firsthand the “resiliency” of the survivors of the Kobe Earthquake, Osaki is confident that those in Northern Japan are equally equipped to rebound.

“I’ve gotta believe they’re going to recover. There’s hope.”


For more info about the NCCBF’s earthquake relief event, contact the Festival at (415) 563-2313, or 1759 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115.

The Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California is soliciting donations to be made to the National Council of YMCA of Japan, and 100 percent of the cash donations will go toward relief work in Japan. Donate at or send a check to the JCCCNC at 1840 Sutter St., San Francisco, CA 94115. Make checks out to: “Northern Japan Earthquake Relief Fund.”


2 responses to “Nikkei rush to aid victims during time of need”

  1. […] the “nikkei”, or people of Japanese descent living outside of Japan, including U.S. immigrants, are again showing solidarity with the Japanese people, as has been the case […]

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  2. Support for Japan Crosses Ethnic Lines, Historical Divides | Fundraising Firms

    […] the “nikkei”, or people of Japanese descent living outside of Japan, including U.S. immigrants, are again showing solidarity with the Japanese people, as has been the case […]

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