Yesterday, subscribers to the Tokyopop (a popular manga publisher) newsletter received a message from the founder regarding the situation in Japan. He is collecting letters, art, manga, and pictures to give to the Japanese students there who have lost their home as a way to show support. It's especially good if you are able to write in Japanese since they cannot read much English, so since this group is made up mostly of people who either know or are learning the language, I thought it would be a good idea to pass this on here. Of course, even if you can't write in Japanese, I'm sure your letters will be very much appreciated.March 18, 2011 - Stu Levy
As you all know, Japan is going through a very challenging time. The 9.0 earthquake last week and the resulting tsunami caused significant damage to coastal towns throughout Miyagi and Iwate prefectures. The quake rattled and rocked us in Tokyo as well, resulting in food and gas shortages, electricity blackouts and transportation problems.
But the people north of Tokyo (in Miyagi and Iwate) have been living a nightmare. Over 400,000 victims have had their homes destroyed - and are now living in emergency shelters. Many have lost friends and family, as well as most of their worldly possessions.
This week I visited one of those shelters to deliver food, fuel and other provisions. The shelter is a junior high school in a harbor area of Sendai, Miyagi. The school (and neighborhood) is called Rikuzen-Takasago, shortened to TAKASAGO. There are over 1000 victims living in this shelter.
For the first few days after the earthquake, they had so little food that they had literally only one potato chip per person for the entire day. Two nights ago we prepared their first hot bowl of rice for them from the provisions we delivered. They still do not have electricity or heat, and when I was up there it was freezing cold and snowing. 30-80 people are scrunched into each classroom, sleeping on the floor with one or two blankets each. The victims are of all ages - and everyone is urgently cleaning the tsunami mud from the school so that disease doesn't spread.
Even in those circumstances, the victims are working hard as a team. They are cleaning together, cooking together, carrying the provisions, helping each other out - it's truly inspiring to see them fighting so hard to survive and overcome this tragedy.
What really stood out to me the most was the energy and spirit of the Takasago students. When we were building an outdoor cooking facility, they all labored on various tasks we assigned them - sweeping, washing, carrying gas tanks, laying down temporary flooring, and more. We worked as a team and I could tell how excited they were to be involved - they took a lot of pride in their hard work.
On the way home, I was listening to Japanese radio while taking turns driving the truck. The radio's DJ was reading letters from people throughout Japan who are cheering on the victims. It is very moving to hear these letters, but I realized that none of the victims can actually hear these messages because the shelters don't have electricity - so no radio.
That's when it dawned on me what WE can do together as the TOKYOPOP community. I remembered the students' excitement when they practiced some of their English phrases for me and when I taught them some of our American handshake styles (we have so many, after all). They laughed and jumped around trying to high-five each other in the "American" styles.
So, I thought, what if I gather letters from our community and deliver those letters to them? They can't read much English but so many of you can draw beautifully as well as write poems, simple letters, and even some decorative Japanese phrases. Maybe you can include a photo of yourself and friends (cosplay!) - or something about you. Anything to let the Takasago students know that you are cheering them on - and to put a smile on their face.
Of course, the food, fuel and blankets are top priority but so many people are now pitching in that I anticipate that problem will be resolved in the next week. The real issue is how long the victims will have to live in these shelters - it could be months. So many of these shelters are schools and the schools need to start teaching. The students will have bright futures if they can make it through this trauma, not only physically but also emotionally. That's why your letters and drawings will mean so much. It will help heal the deep scars this disaster has caused, and ease the pain of the trauma.
So, here is my plea to you:
PLEASE SEND YOUR WORDS, ART, MANGA AND PICTURES!
We can't do this digitally because there's no electricity, so we have to go old school: paper! Also, I want to bring up a huge box on my next provisions trip, so please send them directly to my office in Tokyo. I know the postage is a bit more expensive, but it will save precious time to not go through our LA office.
Of course donations to the various non-profit funds are critical but this is something that will cost you almost no money (just postage) - and it is something very special. My hope is that I can learn more about the Takasago students and introduce them to you guys next - through photos and letters from them back. For now, here's a photo I took in the shelter's kitchen. It's a group of some of the students - you can see the joy and love in their faces. Your letters will guarantee many more smiles over the hard months ahead.
Please send them to:
Students of Takasago
c/o Stu Levy
Tokyo Towers, Mid-Tower 4918
6-3-2 Kachidoki, Chuo-ku
Tokyo, Japan 104-0054
If you are also interested in making a donation, click here for JEN (Japan Emergency Network) the non-profit organization I am volunteering for.