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Japanese-American Community Leaders Urge Donations

Charlotte Spangler |
March 29, 2011 | 4:32 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter


The U.S.-Japan Council hosted a conference Tuesday for different Japanese-American groups to share their plans to help Japan.
The U.S.-Japan Council hosted a conference Tuesday for different Japanese-American groups to share their plans to help Japan.

Los Angeles organizations will continue to donate money and contribute to the relief effort in Japan, local officials and community leaders announced at Tuesday’s U.S.-Japan Council conference. 

More than 20 leaders in the Japanese American community and other Los Angeles voices, including Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, met to discuss how the city of Los Angeles is helping and will continue to help the citizens of Japan.  

“In the worst of times, the best people emerge," said Thomas Iino, Chairman of the U.S.-Japan Council, to open the conference. "It’s times like these that I’m proud to be Japanese-American.” 

The conference, which took place at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo, allowed the different groups to announce their efforts to help Japan.  It featured a diverse group of organizations and representatives, ranging from David Ono of KABC Los Angeles, to chairs of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, to representatives of USC, UCLA, and other ethnic groups from the community. 

"It is great that such a diverse group is all coming together to help Japan," said Craig Tomiyoshi, who works for IW Group, who helped coordinate the event. "It shows it's not just a Japanese issue, but an issue for everyone," Tomiyoshi said. 

Gene Block, chancellor of UCLA announced the school is using their scientific expertise to assist Japan, as well as allowing Japanese displaced scientists to use their labs in the U.S.  Iino announced that the council has raised over $1.5 million for non-government organizations in Japan. 

Catherine Scheider of the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles presented $30,000 to the U.S.-Japan Council during the meeting.  John Kobara of the California Community Foundation did not give a number, but said “donors are responding.”

A representative of Wasserman Media Group, which represents many professional athletes, announced, “The sports industry is behind the citizens of Japan.”

Twenty star NBA players have already donated to Direct Relief International, and some have pledged to donate $1,000 for each point they score at different games.

Toshio Hand, president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California, said, “The JCC stood up immediately to help our mother country.” Their donations are going to the Japan Disaster Fund. 

All of those present expressed the importance of remaining with Japan for “the long haul,” Villaraigosa said.  “This is not just an issue for the next two months, three months, even six months.  We will all be dealing with this tragedy for a long time."

Many urged Angelenos not to forget about Japan in the coming months.  One leader said, “Americans think Japan can provide for itself. But it’s the same suffering we saw in Haiti and after Katrina. We will go back one year from now and it will still look like the day after.”

 Kobara agreed, and said “We, as Angelenos and as humans, need to add Japan to the list of our responsibilities.” 

Leonard Anube, Executive Director of the Annenberg Foundation, admitted the response has “been quite extraordinary. We all have a moral and ethical obligation to help these people up. I am pleased to be a part of it.”

Along with these groups, the entire Japanese-American community is rallying together to support Japan. Irene Hirano Inouye,president of the U.S.- Japan Council, explained that more than 30 other organizations throughout the community have stepped up to raise funds. 

“The day after the earthquake, we started receiving emails asking what could be done. We are a very close-knit community,” Inouye explained. Numerous concerts and performances have been organized in the coming months, and restaurants in Little Tokyo have already held happy hour fundraisers, and will continue to do so. 

On March 17, there was a community gathering, which Hirano Iouye explained as a “much needed opportunity. People wanted to do something and that’s the way to do it.”  There was also a candle-lighting vigil on March 21 in the pouring rain, which one attendee of the conference described as “tears from heaven falling for the people of Japan.”

Villaraigosa also proposed that the conference attendees set up regular meetings to monitor the issue.

“Convening people will create a nucleus of organizations and individuals," he said. "All of us should be working on all the issues together. 

Towards the end of the conference, many reporters questioned the mayor about Los Angeles’ preparedness for a disaster like Japan’s.

“We aspire to be as prepared as Japan,” Villaraigosa said. “Our building codes are not as tough as there’s, but they are the toughest in California. We are working to make them even stricter.  We are continually updating our earthquake preparations.”  

Villaraigosa also explained that he is not particularly concerned about radiation in Los Angeles, as experts are “continuing to monitor it in a way that I think it is not an issue.”

Inouye was in Japan during the quake, and said she “felt quite safe” because people were so prepared. However, cell phones went down, trains stopped, all transportation was interrupted.

“It was an important reminder that we need to be more prepared," she said. "There is so much more we need to do in L.A. and California.”

Reach reporter Charlotte Spangler here.



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