Students band together to support Japan


    Students have been helping those affected by the Japan disaster by organizing, getting donations and offering moral support. Photo by Heather Ma / North by Northwestern.



    With textbooks piled on the surface of the table, Lucy Pearson manages to blend inconspicuously with the rest of the students in Crowe Café. Three weeks ago Pearson was still studying abroad at Waseda University in Japan when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake and subsequent tsunami shook the nation.

    “I was in a Zen monastery at the time on a cultural practicum so I didn’t know anything about [the earthquake or tsunami] until a day afterwards,” recounted Pearson. “When we got out, we went on the Internet to see what had happened and it was shocking.”

    “I just sat there and I cried for a really long time, just looking at all the pictures,” Pearson said.

    Since her return to Evanston, Pearson has been unable to devote time to relief efforts amid reclaiming her life at Northwestern. She is not the only one. The Japanese crisis happened to coincide with reading and exam week, and following that spring break. Vice president of ASG Hiro Kawashima feels this is one of the chief causes of Northwestern’s slow response to the Japanese crisis.

    A handful of student organizations and members of the Northwestern community, however, came together last Monday and are now working to combine efforts in aiding Japan in the upcoming weeks.

    NU Stands with Japan’s (NUSJ) relief campaign is one such effort. Initiated by the Japanese community in Northwestern, the group’s chief goals are to help raise funds and increase awareness of the situation amongst the undergraduate student body, according to Kawashima, who advises for NUSJ.

    “Right now our main focus is to make sure that we can mobilize the undergraduate student body because that’s where we’re closest to, and that’s where we can probably do the most,” said the McCormick junior.  “We were able to show we care for Haiti, we care for Pakistan – this is the same thing. We care for Japan, but not only that, we care for our own community members that have been affected by this disaster.”

    NU Stands with Haiti (NUSH) and NU Stands with Pakistan (NUSP) were both campus-wide responses to the disasters that occurred in each country in 2010, each campaign raising more than $18,500 and $23,000 respectively.

    “Looking at Pakistan and Haiti, that was a student effort and that’s probably the most important thing – students leading the effort at Northwestern to support our own community,” Kawashima said.

    Kawashima hopes that NUSJ will have similar, if not greater, results and has already reached out to the groups who were responsible for NUSH and NUSP.

    “At the initial meeting there were people from the APAC [Asian Pacific American Coalition], from the Coalition of Colors, and a lot of cultural groups pledged their support which is great,” said Kawashima. “It’s just a very large coalition right now and it’s probably just going to get larger.”

    McCormick junior Sunghwan “Paku” Park, one of the coordinators of NUSJ and president of the International Student Association, says the campaign will consist of three chief components: fundraising, education and cultural awareness. NUSJ will set up paper crane booths for the next two weeks at Norris. For each paper crane folded, one dollar will be donated to the Japanese Red Cross.

    “Cranes are an important part of Japanese culture and traditionally when a disaster happens, [people] fold cranes,” said Kawashima. Their goal is have students fold at least one crane and later hang the imitated bird, said to be a mystical creature in Japanese culture. And while it may not possess quite the funding or magical attributes they’re looking for, it’s the symbolic gesture NUSJ members feel will offer support to the Japanese community both abroad and here in Evanston. NUSJ hopes to have every student on campus fold at least one crane and later hang the birds somewhere like the arch once completed.

    Additionally, NUSJ hopes to bring in an educational panel with speakers to touch on the long-term economic consequences of the natural disaster on both Japan and the globe.

    “Just because of the fact that it’s a very developed country, people think that Japan doesn’t really need anything,” said Kawashima. “But the cost is enormous. There’s going to be a tangible effect on the day-to-day life of everyone.”

    While there is not a specialized support group offered by NUSJ, the Northwestern community is certainly extending its arms around those most affected by the tsunami. “We have a pretty small Japanese community in terms of people who are either Japanese or have relatives or family in Japan,” said SESP sophomore Taro Tomiya. “But then there are other people who are definitely interested in helping out and have an interest in Japan and they’re pretty much the other half of who’s helping out right now.”

    A Japan Earthquake Support Group was recently formed by Kenichi Shimokawa, a Madigan postdoctoral fellow at the Family Institute, a non-profit organization devoted to couple and family therapy. “Given the nature of the devastation that’s happened, [it’s important that we] help people understand and make sense of what they’re experience.”

    Aside from promoting greater educational awareness amongst the Northwestern students, NUSJ is planning on holding a Bunkasai, a large festival in Japan, near the end of the quarter. “It’s a celebration, but instead of just having a celebration it’s more of a cultural experience that we hope can be directed toward relief efforts,” said Kawashima.

    Other fundraising strategies include selling merchandise, such as pins and t-shirts later on in the quarter.

    Kellogg’s Japan Club is similarly making efforts to raise funds in order to support Japan’s delicate economy. With the words “Gambare, Japan!!” which means “Cheer up” or “Hang in there,” and the character for friend printed on the fabric, the t-shirt not only “creates a lot of awareness, but it’s also something tangible that someone can have,” said Kellogg graduate Nobumasa Tanaka, who leads the fundraiser.

    “[How we can help Japan] is the question we all have to think about,” said Tanaka. “We are lagging quite substantially [in terms of contributions] behind other schools and what’s important is that we communicate better and coordinate better.”

    The graduate Japan Club managed to raise over $10,000 through online fundraising and selling t-shirts the past week.

    While funding is an indispensible part of the campaign, Park says what the Japanese community needs is continuous support from the entire Northwestern community.

    “As somebody from Japan, if people care, if people pray for you and even if people are really aware, that already means a lot to me,” said Park. “People reading the news and trying to know more about it and challenge their knowledge about it, those kind of small actions pile up.”


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