Gathering raises relief money for Japan

Volunteers (from left) Kaori Feldman , Keiko Henao, and Darren Henao appeal to passersby in front of Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, where the drive was based.
Volunteers (from left) Kaori Feldman , Keiko Henao, and Darren Henao appeal to passersby in front of Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, where the drive was based.
Posted: March 27, 2011

Outside the venerable Church of the Holy Trinity on Rittenhouse Square, three youngsters were jumping up and down shouting "Help Japan!" and waving signs emblazoned with the Rising Sun.

The two boys, Ren Yagawara and Ryo Lindsey, both 8, and Ryo's sister Maya, 6, were directing attention to the fund-raiser inside.

The Japanese Mothers' Association of Philadelphia (J-map) had organized a flea market and other events to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

A half a world away and desperate to help, the local Japanese community has spontaneously come together.

Outside the church, the children were aware of the gravity of the situation. "There was an earthquake and then a tsunami. In the middle of the ocean, a wave rises up and crushes everything in its path," Ren explained.

The children said they had spoken by phone to their grandparents in Japan, who were safe. The three had visited Japan several times. "It takes 15 hours to get there," Ren said.

Inside the church, Ren's mother, Ikuko Yagawara, was tending to her daughter Reina, 2, and spreading donated items on the church pews, including a Kermit costume, an Eagles shirt, and masks of the Japanese superhero Anpanman and his enemy, Baikinman.

Yagawara belongs to a local group of young Japanese mothers who use Facebook to arrange play dates with their children and share information about Japanese groceries.

Within days of the disaster, they formalized their social network into J-map to help.

Saturday's event at Holy Trinity also featured a jazz band, Chinese folk dancing, and a koto - Japanese stringed instrument - performance.

Yagawara came to Philadelphia in 1992 to attend Chestnut Hill College. Her family in Japan was safe. A cousin, though, had been visiting Sendai in northern Japan when the tsunami hit. He was stranded on the third floor of a building for two days before being rescued and went an additional three days without food, she said.

Other Japanese mothers sorting items said their families, too, were safe, but supplies of food, gasoline, and fresh water were concerns.

Nao Sakata, a Wharton graduate student, was selling T-shirts. A little more than a week after the quake, he had begun selling the shirts online for Japanese relief. The logo on the white shirts shows the red Rising Sun and black calligraphy, which Sakata roughly translated as "Go Japan." He already had sold 900 T-shirts at $20 each.

Artist Eriko Takahashi sold origami greeting cards at $3 each for J-map. "I didn't have enough stock, so I stayed up until 2:30 a.m. to make more," she said.

Kaori Schaffer displayed her collection of kimonos. A sign advertised $10 to have a photo taken wearing the traditional garment.

Schaffer and Kaori Kanemitsu were dressing Claire Adams, 14, in a layered beige-and-rose kimono. They spent several minutes draping, wrapping, tucking, and tying silk fabric, then slipped "dabi" socks and "nunozori" slippers onto the teenager's feet and tucked a pink silk flower in her wavy hair.

The Central High School freshman, who conceded she was fascinated by everything Japanese, had received a kimono for Christmas but learned from the women that she was missing a crucial tie for the obi sash.

After Adams was photographed in the kimono, her two dressers presented her with a tie, and all three women bowed to one another.


Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.

 

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