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Bainbridge raising aid for ailing Japan

Senji Kanaeda, a Buddhist monk who lives on Bainbridge, and other island residents connect with family and loved ones in Japan.  - Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo
Senji Kanaeda, a Buddhist monk who lives on Bainbridge, and other island residents connect with family and loved ones in Japan.
— image credit: Dennis Anstine/Staff Photo

Several local efforts are under way to aid the people of Japan suffering from the fallout of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that struck the northeast coast of the country’s mainland.

The undertakings include donations being dropped off at businesses owned by Japanese-Americans, several fundraising events by Bainbridge High School students and a collection jar set up by Ashleigh Clement, a third grader at Blakely Elementary School.

Most of the relief movements have been at the grass-roots level during the last two weeks, but members of the island’s Japanese American community are meeting Wednesday to discuss an organized effort by islanders.

Clement decided to assist by asking fellow students to drop coins in a large jar she was allowed to place at the school. As of Wednesday, more than $300 had been collected.

Blakely kindergarten teacher Karen Keller also coordinated a “hygiene kit drive,” with each grade given a specific item to collect. Enough toothbrushes, combs and soap were collected to pack up 72 hygiene kits.

According to Whitney Denning of the American Red Cross office in Seattle, as of Wednesday only one island business had contacted the office to set up a fundraising account in the relief agency’s name. However, Columbia State Bank will take donations through its tellers for the Red Cross at any of its branches, including those on Bainbridge.

Bainbridge Gardens started collecting donations two weeks ago when the Harui family set up a sign saying it would match the first $1,000 donated.

Donna Harui said it only took a few days for that to happen, and as of Wednesday more than $5,000 had been donated.

“We were overwhelmed that our goal of collecting up to a $1,000 was met during the first weekend,” said Harui. “We will continue taking donations for the Red Cross through the end of April.”

Denning said more than $7 million has been collected in Washington, with the funds being sent directly to the Japanese Red Cross. The contact email for donation inquiries, Denning said, is helpnow@seattleredcross.org.

Perhaps one of the more creative relief campaigns is the one being launched by BHS students, who will be washing cars this weekend, selling charity T-shirts and embarking on a paper-crane project when school reconvenes next Monday.

The efforts were initiated by Lani Kawasaki, the Japanese language teacher at the school, and many of her students. Their fundraising projects include:

• Placing 20-plus donation boxes in local businesses.

• A 10 a.m.-4 p.m. car wash this Saturday (April 2) at the Chevron service station on High School Road.

• Selling T-shirts with a Japan Relief logo on campus next week.

• Japanese residents selling kimonos, pottery and antiques on May 14 at a site not yet decided.

• Other possibilities include: a benefit concert, perhaps at Bloedel Reserve; a charity dance, talent show and walkathon.

Another Bainbridge Island business collecting donations is Shima Garden Sushi & Japanese Cuisine restaurant on North Madison Avenue, which has collected more than $1,700 in hopes of reaching a goal of $5,000 during the next few weeks.

Yoko Tamori, who manages the restaurant for owners Takashi and Kaori Asakawa, said the contributions will be wired to the Association of Medical Doctors of Asia (ADMA), which is a nonprofit organization (www.amdainternational.com) that was among the first groups to establish aid operations in the crisis. Tamori said the AMDA has sent 10 teams of doctors, nurses and other staff to Sendai and Kamaishi, two of the hardest-hit cities.

The restaurant is also holding its first spring Sakura (cherry blossom) Festival on April 15-17 on the premises, where it will donate a portion of the food sales to the relief fund.

The earthquake, which lasted for about five minutes and was followed by hundreds of destructive after-shocks, struck at about four miles below the ocean’s surface and 62 miles east of the coastline. The tsunami struck land about 20 minutes later and hit Sendai about an hour after that.

One islander who is keeping daily contact with Japan is Mariko Green, whose 85-year-old mother lives by herself in Sendai. It took several days for Green to contact her mother, but she was fortunate to be away from her home at the time of the event and was uninjured.

“She was out shopping in the city center, which wasn’t hit as hard as it was near where she lives,” Green said this week. “She lives on a hill overlooking an area that was devastated by the tsunami. She lost all of her infrastructure for several days, but she’s returned home and doing well.”

Green, who has a pharmacy degree from the University of Washington, has lived in the United States for more than 30 years. Her husband, Wade Green, is a nuclear physicist who, while working for General Electric, was involved in the start-up process for some of the reactors at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, many of which have been breached since the earthquake and tsunami struck the area.

Mariko Green said she plans to return to Japan soon to see her mother and may stay for a while to volunteer, perhaps as a medical interpreter in local hospitals. She had worked as a corporate interpreter for many companies before the Greens retired on Bainbridge Island four years ago.

“We are very concerned, not just for our friends and relatives, but for those who are struggling to exist after what happened,” she said. “It draws tears from everyone’s eyes. My mother was lucky. So many people have lost everything. Families have been torn apart. Under the circumstances, the Japanese people are doing well and are pulling together.”

She said the fallout from the nuclear plants could be a lengthy problem for the region, but “the people will overcome. They have done it before.”

Another native of Japan, Senji Kanaeda, a Buddhist monk who lives on Bainbridge, said he has been in contact with many relatives and friends who were spared.

“I am concerned with the people who died,” he said. “I pray for their souls. But the survivors also deserve our prayers and help. There are many homeless and orphans whose lives are threatened.”

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