Helping their homeland

STACEY KIRK
Last updated 13:00 14/03/2011
japan
WRWICK SMITH/Manawatu Standard
PLANNING AID: Members of the Japanese Association of Palmerston North talk about the devastation of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan and what they can do to help

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Their country has been ripped apart and they can only watch from afar.

But for the newly formed Japanese Association of Palmerston North, the frustration of not being able to directly help won't stop them doing all they can to raise funds for people back home.

Japan was struck by a 9.0-magnitude quake on Friday that triggered a catastrophic tsunami, wiping out much of the east coast.

It was Japan's largest earthquake and the death toll has already reached 900 people, with thousands more still missing.

Association president Chiho Kiritoshi said the anguish members felt when they heard about the quake didn't sink immediately in.

"We've had earthquakes before, we're used to them, so we didn't think it was much different when we first heard, but then when we saw it on TV we just couldn't believe it," she said.

The association formed less than three weeks ago and one of its first items of business will be discussing what can be done for their country.

While many of the association's committee members had friends and relatives in the affected areas, they were relieved to hear they were safe.

Mrs Kiritoshi said they felt powerless.

"It's just so frustrating that we can't physically help anyone, it's like `what can we do back here', but it is so awful to see that happen to our country."

They have been hearing stories of their loved ones not being able to get home after the quake, having to stay overnight in their work buildings, and having no power. Mrs Kiritoshi's mother felt the earthquake from Kyoto, about 600km from badly-struck areas such as Sendai on the east coast.

The association had just made a big donation to the people of Christchurch, when the Japan earthquake hit. Members put together packages of supplies, toiletries and nappies to send to Canterbury and are now figuring out what they can do for Japan. One possibility is to collect money at this year's Festival of Cultures on March 25, at which many of their children will be performing a traditional Japanese dance.

They will also consider teaching things like origami and parts of their culture for small donations.

Mrs Kiritoshi said the generosity of New Zealanders had already blown them away.

"Normally Japanese stories we hear on the news are about whaling, but it just means a lot to us that it has been on the news, and that people are caring about it, and showing interest. The more people who know the more help we might get."  

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- Manawatu Standard

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