Students join Japanese disaster relief effort

Hiromi Karamura smiles. She drinks coffee in the morning and attends her classes. She talks about the pink-white cherry trees blossoming on campus-delicate, fragrant symbols of perfected beauty-and how they remind her of her native country, Japan. But she is concerned. Across the island country that Karamura calls home, grocery stores are running out of food, produce is slowly being tainted by radioactive particles, public transportation is shutting down or cutting hours to compensate for power outages, and, most of all, people are scared.

Last week, she and other members of the Tech Japanese Culture Society stood at a table in the RUC, asking passersby for donations to the Red Cross Japanese Earthquake Relief Fund.

“When your country is so far away, you don’t get involved as much,” Karamura said. “I’m panicking a little bit, but still, I’m all the way over here.”

Karamura is a sophomore majoring in international business and culture. She was born in Fujisawa, Japan and first came to the United States as a child in 1983. Fujisawa is a smaller city just south of Tokyo, far enough southwest to be safe from the earthquake’s deadly effects. Thankfully, her loved ones were not harmed by the recent disaster.

“We’re among the lucky ones,” she said.

Her father frequently visits Sendai on business trips. Sendai is less than twenty miles from Miyagi, the prefecture hit hardest by the earthquake and tsunami. The moment Karamura heard what had happened, she thought of her father.

“He waited a whole day to get in touch with me,” she said. “I tried to call home, but the line was busy because of the chaotic situation. Finally he sent me a short e-mail saying he was okay.”

Since then, she has spoken with her mother and her close friends through emails. All of them are worried about the Fukushima nuclear plant.

“The nuclear meltdown is pretty much scary for anyone, anywhere in Japan,” said Karamura.

“People are panicking because they don’t know where the situation is going,” Karamura said. “It’s like something you hear about that happened after World War II, which I can’t imagine at all.

“The Japanese are stoic. They’re usually strong during these hard times, so we’ll probably work hard to get the situation back to normal as soon as possible.”

In the mean time, Karamura is working with the Japanese Culture Society on campus to raise relief money. The group has been around in force since last fall, but they still haven’t found a faculty sponsor.

Esther Phillips, also an international business and culture major, is the current chair. She revived the Society after its previous abandonment and failed attempts to reorganize. The Society now has twenty members, most of whom are American students interested in Japanese culture.

“I’ve noticed a lot of the kids who are interested in Japan get that from anime,” Karamura said. “I’m amazed at how much Americans know about Manga.”

The group meets on Thursdays during dead hour in Bruner Hall, Room 218. Phillips said the Society’s purpose is to spread the knowledge of Japanese tradition and culture and promote fellowship with Japanese exchange students.

“Anyone interested in donating to benefit the crisis in Japan who didn’t get a chance last week can text ‘redcross’ to 90999, and $10 will be donated via your phone bill to the Red Cross Japanese Earthquake Relief Fund,” Phillips said.

Last week her group raised about $1,200 through their donation table in the RUC. Contributors were able to sign their name on a banner of the Japanese flag that read, “Thank You,” in two languages.

Phillips is planning to do more fundraising at the Window on the World Festival, scheduled for April 16 at 10 a.m. She said the Japanese Culture Society will definitely have a booth and will definitely try to raise more aid money, but she’s still working on the details.

Karamura said the thing that bothers her the most about the whole situation is ignorance.

“I’ve met more than one person on campus who didn’t even know about the earthquake,” she said, “and that shocks me.”

In 1912, the mayor of Tokyo sent 3,000 cherry trees to Washington D.C. in honor of lasting friendship between the two countries. Tomorrow, Karamura is traveling to Nashville with others from the Japanese Culture Society for “Sakura Matsuri.” She will gather with Japanese and Americans alike to hold a viewing party of sorts-a commemoration of beauty and connection, of the transience of one and the permanence of the other. She will smile, not because she is unafraid for her country, but because “matsuri” means “festival,” and “sakura” means “cherry blossom.