- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 20, 2011

As president of the Japanese-American Student Union of D.C., Kazu Koyama knew he had to do something after watching newscasts and videos of a magnitude 9.0 earthquake hitting Japan on March 11, then triggering a tsunami that destroyed much of the country’s northern coast.

Then came the phone calls and Facebook messages from friends in Japan.

“We held an emergency meeting the next day and said: Let’s do something, what can we do to raise awareness and what can we do to make this a long-term project?” said Mr. Koyama, a George Washington University sophomore. “We felt really helpless.”

On Sunday, the group’s determination came together in the form of “Hope for Japan,” a fundraising event at Cafe Asia, in Arlington.

Guests at the crowded banquet hall were encouraged to write heartfelt wishes on Japanese flags and paper cranes, purchase Hope for Japan wristbands, listen to testimonies from members of the local Japanese-American community and talk with one other about more ways to help.

The money raised will go to Red Cross relief efforts in Japan.

The local chapter was established in 2009 and includes representatives from American, George Mason, Georgetown and Johns Hopkins universities and the University of Maryland, College Park.

Mr. Koyama said the group’s mission is to encourage universities to share ideas, raise money and try to connect with Japanese universities.

Yuko Shimata, a former Georgetown group representative, said the coming together of a community can be summed up in the Japanese term “wa,” meaning “peace” or “harmony.”

Ms. Shimata said the group also is taking pictures of people holding hands “to show [survivors in] Japan that we support them.”

Group members said they also want the public to know they welcome and need support from many people beyond Japanese descent.

“We don’t know how long this will take,” said Jintae Kim, who is Korean and Japanese. “It’s definitely going to take a long time to get over this, which is why we wanted to support it in the long term.”

The group also has set up the website www.japanreliefproject.com for visitors to follow the rescue-and recovery-efforts, read blogs, look at photographs and connect with supporters local and worldwide.

“The media can be shortsighted,” Mr. Koyama said. “We want to maintain awareness among American people.”

As George Mason student Jennifer Sklarew watched her two young children write their messages of hope on the corner of a Japanese flag, she expressed appreciation for the large turnout Sunday from a cross-section of residents.

“I was searching for events and saw this,” said Ms. Sklarew, who was born in Japan and still has friends there. “I sent it to as many people as I could.”

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