Hope for Japan, Japanese Cultural Night promotes charity and critical thinking

KAT MYERS / The Journal At the Hope for Japan event, students sold wristbands to support donations that would go to relief efforts for post-earthquake Japan.

(Webster Groves, MO, March 13, 2011) On March 11, a devastating earthquake and tsunami struck the nation of Japan.  To date, the disaster has killed nearly 13,000 people and left even more homeless. Days after the tragedy, a Webster University professor and a group of students began to ask what they could do to help. After weeks of correspondence and planning, ‘Hope for Japan: Rebuilding for our Common Future,’ emerged as a means to highlight Japanese culture and raise money for the victims of the disaster.

Maiko Wakabayashi, a senior advertising and marketing major, is president of the Japanese Student Association, the group responsible for organizing Hope for Japan. Wakabayashi said JSA had raised more than $5,500 and that a donation check would ready on April 12.

“We just wanted to do something,” Wakabayashi said.

The event was held in the Community Music School building. Student and community organizations occupied the lobby of the building, each selling their own unique merchandise. A rummage sale was held outside.

The fundraiser was accompanied by a panel presentation and discussion held in the Sverdrup Complex. Members of the panel discussed American media coverage of the disaster, the role Japanese youth will play in their country’s future and the use of nuclear power by Japan and the United States. The panel featured Webster faculty and other experts. The panel event was also webcasted, which offered global viewers the chance to ask questions via the Internet.

The night culminated with a performance by Osuwa Taiko, a community group specializing in Japanese drumming. After their performance, the audience was invited to take part in a workshop and learn the craft.

A number of organizations were represented in the arts and craft sale, the fundraising part of the event. The Japanese American Society Women’s Association, St. Louis Biyori, a volunteer group of Japanese women, Webster’s Art Department and JSA each offered unique wares: from bracelets to ceramics to stuffed animals. Professor Noriko Yuasa’s graphic design class even participated by offering free gifts to attendees in hopes a donation would be made. At one time, nearly 70 people packed the lobby of the CMS.

Mary Neal, a community member, bought earrings and soap at the sale. She was very impressed with the event and Webster’s international connection.

“It is a wonderful thing these students are doing,” Neal said.

On the event’s pamphlet, a special thanks was given to Yuasa for leading the “Hope for Japan” campaign.  Yuasa rejected the assertion that she had led the effort. She said the 12 Japanese students at Webster, not just her, had made it a reality. She also praised the university and its students for volunteering to help with the event.

“This disaster has made me realize how good I have it here at Webster,” Yuasa said.

She urged students to continue to donate and give their Japanese counterparts a hug.

Complementing the art and craft sale was a panel presentation and discussion on the future of Japan and the globe. The panel featured Dr. Roy Tamashiro, professor of education, Dr. Art Siverblatt, professor of media literacy, Edson A. Kodama, secretary general of the charity organization Junior Chamber International, Yoshiyuki Shibusawa, president of the St. Louis Japan Society, as well as Professor Steven Starr, senior scientist at Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group which advocates for nuclear nonproliferation. Nearly 55 people attended the event, held in Room 101 of the Sverdrup complex.

President Elizabeth Stroble opened the event by welcoming those in the room and everyone watching around the globe. After her introduction, each panel member spoke about a different topic relating to Japan. Afterwards, the panel opened discussion.

Members of the panel criticized the U.S. media for not accurately reporting news of the disaster to its viewers and often times being sensational. They also pondered whether a similar disaster could happen here in the US. Starr said news organizations were not throughly explaining the mechanics of nuclear fission or the true dangers of radioactivity.

“People are not getting good information,” Starr said.

Despite members’ anxiety, the panel said Japan’s human spirit would overcome this crisis, just as it has before.

“We fall — and we will rise up again,” Shibusawa said.

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