‘Anything I can do’

Japanese women living in Newfoundland plan fundraiser to help victims of tsunami

They’re tired of feeling helpless, living half a world away from home. Despite the distance between both islands, three Japanese women in Newfoundland are making an effort to support their disaster-stricken nation.

On March 18, a week after an earthquake-spawned tsunami washed away the lives and homes of thousands along Japan’s east coast, members of the MUN Japanese Student Society will be hosting a fundraiser in St. John’s for surviving victims.

Organizers of the event all come from different parts of Japan and have lived with the threat of earthquakes. They know what it’s like to live through a disaster, but none of them can imagine what it’s like to be there now.

From Kobe

Co-organizer Yumiko Kamatsu survived the Great Hanshin earthquake in 1995. Approximately 6,434 people lost their lives — more than half were from her hometown of Kobe.

“It was very terrifying,” she says calmly. “All of a sudden you lose your home or you don’t have water to drink or things to eat.”

“All of a sudden you lose your home or you don’t have water to drink or things to eat,” —Yumiko Kamatsu

Her family back home is doing well as Kobe wasn’t hit hard this time.

A Masters candidate at MUN, Kamatsu came to Canada in 2005. Being here and watching Japan’s crisis unfold from a computer screen hasn’t been easy.

“I feel terrible. I guess it’s because I’ve been through this before and I know what it feels like to be in this disaster.”

From Tokyo

Michiru Hirasawa, also helping to organize Friday’s fundraiser, moved to Canada in 1996 from Tokyo. All of her family and friends in Japan were affected by last week’s tsunami.

With the threat of radiation reaching Tokyo from a nuclear plant more than 200 kilometres away in Fukushima, she’s been in regular contact with her parents and sister.

The Japanese government is suggesting that everyone stay inside and not evacuate. All Hirasawa can think to tell her family is the same. Although, she wishes she knew more about the levels of radiation already in the air.

“If those people get radiated, what are they going to do?” —Michiru Hirasawa

“There’s not enough information going around. To a certain extent, I understand what the government is trying to do — not to cause any panic, but on the other hand, if those people get radiated, what are they going to do?”

She’d like for her family to come to Canada, but she’s not making any plans to return home. To make a trip to Japan now, she feels she’d just be in the way.

From Nagoya

“I can’t stop watching, I’m so worried” says Nami Ohara, who is from Nagoya. “Now I can watch for 24 hours on Japan.”

For the past seven days her eyes have been glued to a computer screen, scanning for the latest news updates and videos on Japan’s crisis.

“Now all Japanese people are like journalists and we can watch all Japanese TV through the Internet. Usually we can’t watch that, but through Youtube they’ve released everything.”

Ohara, a Japanese language teacher, came to Canada in 1999 and moved to NL in 2003. She has witnessed many earthquakes in her lifetime, but never really took them seriously. Getting through a Newfoundland winter has always seemed more difficult for her than living in Japan ever did.

“Now all Japanese people are like journalists,” —Nami Ohara

“Earthquakes are normally really small and people go about their business and say, ‘that’s okay’. Here in Canada winter is everyday, but in Japan earthquakes are normally a few seconds.”

She can smile, but Ohara says, “When someone asks me, ‘How is Japan?’, it is very emotional.”

There was little to no damage to her hometown, but she says her sister felt the earth shake last Friday like never before.

“Usually an earthquake is like this,” she says trembling her fingers. “But this time it was much worse,” swaying her body back and forth.


With the help of Komatsu, Hirasawa and Ohara, the Japanese Student Society will be holding a fundraiser for Japan on Friday, March 18 on the MUN campus.

They will offer origami cranes or flowers to all who donate and all funds will go towards Canadian Red Cross relief efforts.

“There will be a big white cloth and I will draw a Canadian Maple leaf in the middle and ask people to write messages to the victims,” Kamatsu says. “At the end of the month, I would send this cloth over to Japan.”

The event will take place from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at The Loft, UC-3013, in MUN’s University Centre.

Contact Yumiko Komatsu or Nami Ohara for more details.

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