A variety of events will help Japanese City College students to cope with disaster

Elise Clements and Elise Clements

For most City College students, Japan’s disasters were a terrible tragedy, but for about 100 Japanese students, it was a heart-wrenching nightmare.

The earthquake and tsunami on March 11 destroyed cities where friends live. Towns where the students spent childhoods are now washed away. Family homes lie abandoned, bathing in radiation.

“I just can’t imagine my hometown,” said Hitomi Kobayashi, a Japanese tutor who grew up in Fukushima where the nuclear power plant is leaking. “I picture it turning into a ghost town,” she said.

For Kobayashi and many others, watching the news only generates hopelessness.

Luckily, there has been a sweeping movement of constructive support hatched by students and faculty. This includes hands-on activities, student projects, and fundraising with a goal of bringing in $10,000.

The International Students Office immediately sent all Japanese students an e-mail with detailed information offering help. Emergency counseling time slots were made available and a support group meeting was set up. Students were given emotional help memos and access to the People Finder website to locate loved ones.

A crane folding took place in the Campus Center on March 18. A donation box was set up, and students clustered around tables crafting brilliantly patterned birds from 9:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Experienced folders sat next to beginners, and students of all cultures showed to lend support.

By noon they were already running out of paper.

“If you fold 1,000 your wish comes true,” said Kazue Hata, a Japanese instructor who helped Kobayashi plan the event. The idea was based on a Japanese tradition of folding 1,000 cranes in a prayer-like gesture during crisis.

The cranes will be sent in bundles of 300 to various shelters, starting with Saitama Super Arena where many have fled to escape radiation, including Kobayashi’s family. The donations are part of an ongoing fundraising effort supported by the International Student Ambassadors, Phi Theta Kappa, the International Club and the School of Modern Languages. All proceeds will be donated to Direct Relief International, a nonprofit that ensures it goes to Japan.

These groups have also set up a table Monday through Thursday inside the Campus Center, and will continue to do so until they reach their goal of $10,000, or exceed it.

Andrea Perez, vice president of the Student Ambassadors, said this might be possible. They have already raised more than half the amount, collecting $800 in a single day.

But even when students can’t scrape money from emaciated wallets, they are still finding ways to reach across the globe and offer a hand.

After all, love is all you need.

That is the message Japanese students Shohta Takashima and Shota Kosuge are sending with their Facebook page and Youtube video. The “Gambare” video features the Beatles song, and has 101 shots of beaming Santa Barbara residents holding signs of encouragement, “ganbare.”

“We can rebuild, but it’s almost impossible to rebuild their feelings,” said Kosuge. “Although we try to understand we can never understand, so what we are trying to do is cheer them up.”

Though Facebook is not popular in Japan, the duo is working with friends who can help circulate their message. Takashima also hopes to travel to Japan with these signs and donate them to a monument or museum in honor of the disaster.

With a lot of tragedy dwarfing students, helping each other help those in need has been central.

“I don’t know what I can do as a person, which is why it’s great that all of us are getting together,” Perez said.