As they prepare to stage their third annual Japan Night to benefit the children of Fukushima, members of the nonprofit Japanese Association of Southern Oregon say they have created a thriving artistic and cultural community here and donated tens of thousands of dollars to tsunami survivors in the stricken area.
And from the friends they've made with their work, they get an accurate, day-to-day story of what's happening there, they say.
During the anniversary week of the March 11, 2011, earthquake, tsunami and reactor meltdown, JASO puts on many events, including concerts, dinners, movies, craft sales and classes — and brought together scores of local Japanese people who have become fast friends, says Noriko Hansen, president of the group.
At 4 p.m. Sunday, March 16, at the Ashland Community Center, 59 Winburn Way, the group will feature a sushi bar and Japanese cuisine from Musashi Restaurant in Grants Pass. In addition, the JASO Singers will perform in Japanese and English, and the group will stage a crafts sale by local artists, a koto (harp) performance by Mitsuki Dazai, food from Mihama Teriyaki Grill and Asia Market, taiko drumming by Ashland Taiko, a JASO kimono fashion show, and the Aikan Dojo of Aikido Yoshinkai (a martial art).
Money raised this year will go directly to Fukushima Board of Education and Aiikuen Orphanage in Fukushima, site of reactors destroyed by the class 7 tsunami that followed Japan's largest-ever quake, rated at magnitude 9. Almost 16,000 people were killed.
Hansen's computer screen is filled with emails in Japanese, many of them from friends in the Fukushima area reporting how children are being driven an hour to more distant preschools so they can play outside with less radiation risk, says Hansen, a 25-year resident of the Rogue Valley.
"You don't hear the sound of children laughing and playing outside (in the supposedly safe zone several miles from Fukushima), although families live there," says Hansen. "Would you let your child go out to play there?"
Hansen says she has heard about 46 children who were diagnosed with thyroid cancer, adding that news in Japan focuses more on the reactors and cleanup than on casualties.
"My family in Japan is safe and sound, but everyone had a very bad shock," says Hansen. "Everyone is affected and so down after the quake. So we decided to do something afterward and started with garage sales. It brought us all together. You'd think all the Japanese here would know each other, but they didn't."
Donations to the Fukushima Board of Education will go for purchase of English textbooks, so their children can go out to the world when they grow up and tell their story — and continue to get help for the region, she notes.
Tickets, limited to 100, cost $28 and are available at www.ja-so311.org or email@example.com. Tickets and donations are tax-deductible. For information, call 541-821-6092.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.