For Penticton resident Yoshie Takahashi, hearing about an earthquake in Japan was not a strange occurrence.
Having grown up in Shibata, feeling the earth tremour a little wasn’t unusual. It wasn’t until the morning after the 8.9-magnitude earthquake rocked the north and central coasts of Japan she searched the internet and realized just how bad it was.
“Earthquakes happen all the time there but usually they are half that. I started reading the news and that is my country. I couldn’t believe what is happening in Japan. I was so sad I started crying and I wanted to do something right away,” said Takahashi.
Shibata, her hometown where her parents still live, was not affected but she learned about 600 people evacuated there to get away from the Fukushima nuclear plant — about a three-hour drive away.
“I thought I could send money for food or clothes but read those people were getting that already so I wanted to do something different. So I started gathering toys and talked to my daughter’s teacher at Queen’s Park and the kids all wrote letters,” said Takahashi.
Takahashi’s family had scheduled a trip to Shibata for just one week after the quake hit, but after watching the news carefully they decided to postpone. They are now leaving on April 13 with plans to take the toys and letters of hope to bring strength to kids that have been evacuated from their homes.
“I hope to take them to the shelter for the children. Some schools near the affected area have opened so I also would like to send some there. I just want to send the kids messages of encouragement,” said Takahashi.
Along with members of the Japanese community in Penticton, the Penticton-Ikeda Sister City Society and the Salvation Army in Penticton, Takahashi will also be volunteering at a fundraiser on Saturday at Cherry Lane shopping centre to raise donations for disaster relief. From 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. members of the Japanese community, their families and supporters will share unique aspects of their culture with the public and encourage others to offer support.
Lester Patrick, who lived in Japan for 17 years, said he went through the Kobe earthquake (7.2 magnitude) in 1995, and when the news started leaking from Japan on March 11 the memories came back to him.
“There is always earthquakes in Japan, but I had no idea it was that big. We spent all day Friday and finally got through to friends and family later that afternoon because our emails were bouncing back and there was no phone communication. We were very relieved,” said Patrick, who is helping organize the Saturday fundraiser.
The Salvation Army of Penticton will be on site to collect any donations, and activities and displays of origami, Japanese calligraphy, kimonos and traditional Japanese music will be set up.
“We will also have a big sheet of paper people can sign with comments and messages for the earthquake survivors, and Yoshie will be taking that to her hometown and posting it outside so people can look at it,” said Patrick.
The Rotary Club of Penticton is also providing disaster relief assistance. They purchased six shelter boxes which are on their way to Japan. Shelter boxes contain a large disaster relief tent, thermal blankets and insulated ground sheets. A water purification system, a tool kit and a multi-fuel stove for cooking and heating along with utensils and water containers are also in each kit.
“Given the magnitude of the disaster in Japan, it is up to all of us to give what assistance we can as fast as we can,” said Rotary Club of Penticton president Crystal Froese.
Any individuals or groups that would like to join with the Rotary Club to send more shelter boxes can contact a Rotary representative at 250-493-0951.