The waters have long since receded, but Winnipeg’s Japanese community continues to rally for support for its home country, still struggling to recover two years after a 9.0-magnitude earthquake and tsunami left thousands dead and the cost of damages in the billions.
On June 1, the Manitoba Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre played host a sold-out dinner event that raised $7,000 for Kodomo Mirai Kikin (Children’s Future Fund), which is working to help cover school tuition fees for more than 100 children in the Miyagi Prefecture who were orphaned by the disaster.
"Recovery has not been very easy for them," said Atsushi Kawazu, a downtown resident and member of the Mirai 3.11 Benefit Committee that organized the dinner at the centre, located on McPhillips Street.
March 11, 2013, marked the second anniversary of the 3.11 Earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Japan’s history.
The quake, off the country’s northeast coast, sent a massive tsunami inland, with waves reaching 10 metres high in some places. More than 12,000 people were killed, with another 20,000 left injured or missing. Damages were estimated at $60 billion. According to Kawazu, nearly 1,700 children lost one or both parents.
Like many other Winnipeggers, the city’s Japanese community has been fundraising to support the country’s recovery, said Kawazu, who has visited Japan twice since the disaster.
However, recovery has been slow-going, he noted. The government estimates it will take another three to four years to clean the debris. Added to that, communities have been at odds over how to rebuild the affected areas, which remain isolated and depopulated. Those displaced still live in temporary housing, Kawazu said.
"Not much has changed," he said. "You see just concrete foundations. You see nothing. The government won’t let them rebuild unless they rebuild the ground or homes higher.
"Half want their original town back. Half want it to move. There is no consensus," he said.
After sending emergency donations for the past two years, the committee decided to focus on programs aimed at helping the country’s school kids so it could chart the progress of its contributions, Kawazu said.
"The children are the people who are going to help revitalize their own town. They’re hope," Kawazu said.
Sadao Ohno, former owner of Winnipeg’s prized Edohei sushi restaurant, doesn’t blame people for forgetting the natural disasters occurred.
However, he was humbled by the response of Winnipeggers in 2011 and hopes they will continue to show solidarity with the city’s small Japanese population, estimated around 1,600.
"There are many Winnipeggers here who have an interest in Japan," said Ohno, who lives in Linden Woods.
"We just want to help. There are others who want to help too, and we want to work together.
"This is an opportunity for everyone to do something. That’s good for us," he said.
The Mirai 3.11 Benefit Committee is still accepting donations for Kodomo Mirai Kikin, Kawazu said.
For more, visit www.mjccc.org or call 204-774-5909.