NorCal community raises relief funds for Northern Japan at Cherry Blossom Festival


FOOD FOR A CAUSE — Funds raised from the okonomiyaki booth will go toward the JCCCNC-established relief fund to benefit survivors of the March 11 disaster in Northeastern Japan. photo by Wakako Kobayashi/Nichi Bei Weekly

Joining communities all over the world in taking action, San Francisco’s Japanese-speaking and Japanese American communities have been using art, food and other aspects of their culture to raise funds for the relief efforts following the March 11 earthquake, tsunami, and ongoing nuclear crisis.

As it did to aid the Japan during previous times of need (following World War II and the 1995 Kobe earthquake), Bay Area community members have mobilized, most recently focusing their relief efforts around the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival that was held in San Francisco’s Japantown April 9-10 and 16-17.

The annual Festival featured a variety of food, cultural performances and martial arts demonstrations.

Following the disaster, Michio Harada, the deputy consul general for the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, said he connected with Diane Matsuda of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California (JCCCNC). They decided to make and sell okonomiyaki (pancakes filled with vegetables, meat, and seafood) at the Festival to raise funds for relief.

Harada anticipates that their efforts, having spent two weekends selling okonomiyaki, will have raised $10,000.

Harada said that they, along with others, spent at least two weeks organizing their efforts. Harada volunteered at the booth both weekends. About 20 volunteers joined the deputy consul general April 16.

“I really appreciate how enthusiastic the community is,” he said.

Community members have noted that the Japanese have also helped Japanese Americans in times of need, including during the 1906 San Francisco earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta quake.

Volunteers from groups including Hokka Nichi Bei Kai, Japanese Benevolent Society, Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, JCCCNC, Japan Society of Northern California, the Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival and the San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association helped at the booth.

Kikkoman, Nijiya Market, North American Sales, and TREXMARK sponsored the ingredients for the okonomiyaki. According to a flyer, one hundred percent of the fundraiser’s proceeds will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross.

LENDING A HAND, ONE OKONOMIYAKI AT A TIME — Volunteers from the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco-led okonomiyaki booth sold the pancake at the 2011 Northern California Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco’s Japantown. photo by Wakako Kobayashi/Nichi Bei Weekly

In yet another group effort, dozens of artists and volunteers collaborated to hold two concerts entitled Japan Restart on April 16. According to the concert’s Facebook page, $26,551 had been raised as of April 26. The funds were raised through tickets sales ($30 each), and the proceeds from the CDs and DVDs, which the artists donated. One hundred percent of the earnings will go to the JCCCNC’s fund.

The main organizer, Daisuke Miyake, along with Elena Miyake, Kallan Nishimoto, and Kiyomi Koide, began planning the concert two days after the earthquake. They amassed the help of 51 artists and more than 40 volunteers. The artists included Somei Yoshino Taiko Ensemble, ScoJourners and Soulit (from Japan). The performances offered a variety of styles, including rap, blues and taiko.

Furthermore, the concert was broadcasted through Ustream, a “live interactive broadcast platform,” with 7,600 people watching worldwide.

Miyake explained his reasons for holding the event: “The first is money, and the second is community healing. There are many people who are affected by the news, so I wanted to bring them together and share the thoughts and prayers.” Finally, Miyake said he wanted to show support for the survivors in Northern Japan. “If there is any difference between other fundraisers and ours, that would be how we broadcasted the event via Ustream. I wanted Japanese people to know that people in San Francisco care about them,” he said.

Performer Jason Jong praised the community support system. “I love bringing people together through art,” Jong said.

Seiko Fujimoto, an executive committee member of the Festival, said it did not take too long for everybody to come together.

“I am so amazed and I am so grateful,” said Fujimoto, who helped with the relief efforts.

“Now is our turn to say thank you to Japan,” said Fujimoto, referring to relief funds the Japanese have provided in times of crisis.

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