Messages of Encouragement from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda and Efforts by The Soka Gakkai During the Earthquake-Tsunami-Nuclear Crisis in Japan (w/Updates)
Kon’nichiwa, soshite arigatōgozaimasu, SGI menbā to yūjin!
¡Hola!, gracias a ustedes, los miembros de la SGI mucho y amigos!
Olá, a gradeço muito membros da SGI e amigos!
नमस्ते, आपको बहुत बहुत SGI के सदस्यों और मित्रों को धन्यवाद
Hallo! Ich danke Ihnen sehr SGI Mitglieder und Freunde!
Ciao, e grazie mille, membri della SGI e amici!
Bonjour je vous remercie beaucoup les membres de SGI et ses amis!
Hello, and thank you very much, SGI members and friends!
This page will feature messages of encouragement by President Daisaku Ikeda and other Gakkai representatives along with updates from the Soka Gakkai in Japan, as members find and reunite survivors with families and friends, and provide provisions and shelter to others. In addition, I will also include some articles from other news sources that spotlight Gakkai activities during this crisis, as well as bring up ethical and moral questions and perspectives in the face of this disaster. This coverage will continue until the end of 2011.
UPDATE: December 9, 2011
The survivors of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami thank the world.
This video was released on November 23.
UPDATE: November 3, 2011
I forgot that I had this eyewitness account sent by a member from Atlanta, GA. This in turn was taken from a World Tribune article dated June 17, 2011 and it was also excerpted and republished on SGI.org.
Members’ Stories – My Mission as “Junko of Tohoku”
by Junko Sato Japan
When I graduated from Columbia University’s Teachers College in 2008, it should have been a time to celebrate my journey thus far. Instead, I hit a brick wall.
My dad was hospitalized after a stroke, and my family learned that he had accumulated more than 10 years’ worth of financial debt. It was during this time that I decided to return to my hometown of Tagajo City, which is located in Miyagi Prefecture in Tohoku, northeastern Japan.
I was still in a fog when, one day in the summer of 2009, I severely injured my thumb. After a doctor deemed my injury untreatable, another doctor at one of the best hospitals in the Tohoku region agreed to see me. She informed me that if I had arrived an hour later, I would have lost my thumb.
As I recuperated over the next few months, I had a lot of time to chant “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” and reflect on my life. It was during this time that I recalled a memorable encounter with my mentor, SGI President Daisaku Ikeda.
In January 2001, my mom and I had made the 10-hour round-trip from Tagajo to the Soka Gakkai Headquarters in Tokyo to let Mr. Ikeda know that I had been accepted to Soka University of America (SUA) in Aliso Viejo, California, as part of the first class.
This was especially meaningful news for my mom, because she had dreamed of studying abroad after attending a meeting with Mr. Ikeda when she was in high school. My mother, in fact, had been offered a full scholarship to study in America, but her parents couldn’t afford the flight tickets. Even so, she instilled in me the same dream of becoming a global citizen.
After reporting my acceptance to SUA to Mr. Ikeda, my mom and I were invited to attend the Soka Gakkai headquarters leaders meeting the following day. During that meeting, Mr. Ikeda spoke about SUA and mentioned that some of the incoming freshmen were in the room. To my surprise, he then called out my name several times, referring to me as “Junko of Tohoku.”
When I realized he was speaking to me, I stood up. Mr. Ikeda praised me for working hard to get accepted to SUA, all the way from Tohoku. In my heart, I felt as though he were speaking through me to all the members of Tohoku.
As I recalled this prime point eight years later, I realized that, regardless of how incapable I felt, I indeed had a mission. With this determination, I began searching for a job that would enable me to fulfill my potential as an SUA graduate and become a global citizen committed to living a contributive life.
In April of 2010, I began working for a foundation that provides various social services and workshops to foreign nationals in Miyagi Prefecture, part of Tohoku. I was placed in charge of promoting international education in public schools.
On March 11, when the 9.0-magnitude earthquake rocked the Tohoku region, I was working on the seventh floor of the 10-story government building in Sendai City, and the room shook so violently that I thought I was going to die. Unsure whether the building was stable, I stayed overnight in a co-worker’s car, and we listened to updates on the radio in the pitch-black dark.
It was then that I learned that a monstrous tsunami had wiped out my hometown Tagajo, killing many people. For the next two days, I agonized over my mom’s safety, as residents went without water, food, gas or electricity.
With local cell phone towers down, the only communication I received was from friends in Tokyo and the US. One friend texted me: “Please be alive. That’s the only thing we ask you to do.”
On March 15, my brother and I were able to travel home after he waited five hours to purchase a little more than 2.5 gallons of gas. Nothing could have prepared me for the horrific images I saw on the two-hour drive home.
When we arrived, we found our mother living in her car with our family cat. For several days, she had been chanting day and night, while subsisting on a can of tuna and a bottle of tea.
When I assured my mom that I would stay with her, she responded with a warm smile and in a strong voice: “No, you have many people waiting for you. They need your help. You have to go back to work!”
This attitude reflected the spirit of the Tohoku members. Though many lost their homes and were separated from their families, their determination was to turn poison into medicine for all of Japan.
Local Soka Gakkai leaders, including my mom, began visiting members one by one at the evacuation centers. Being involved in such efforts, I started to feel conviction and hope. In fact, I had never felt so appreciative for life itself.
When I returned to work, we received phone calls nonstop from people all over the world desperate to confirm the whereabouts of their loved ones. We translated around the clock and visited evacuation sites to support foreign nationals among the survivors.
I knew that, in some small way, I had to inspire hope in my people. In May, I traveled to the US to attend SUA’s seventh commencement ceremony, which also marked the 10th anniversary of the school’s founding.
Before departing, I received the names of elementary school and junior high and high school members in Tohoku who had been affected by the disaster. During an alumni celebration at SUA, I shared my experience and asked fellow classmates to write messages to these children on SUA postcards. I then mailed them out, one by one.
At this same gathering, my alma mater presented me with its Community Service Award. I knew I had received it on behalf of the people of Tohoku. I returned to Japan safely on June 5, and I continue to support survivors in any way I can.
In a recent essay, President Ikeda wrote: “The mountains of benefit brimming with ‘treasures of the heart’ accumulated by our dedicated Tohoku members will never be destroyed.”
Everyone has a unique mission. As “Junko of Tohoku,” I am determined to live out mine for the sake of the people of my region and as a world citizen, proving the truth of my mentor’s words.
I find it interesting that just before the quake, the Gakkai conducted a poll among young people around the world to gauge how they felt about nuclear weapons being used at any time, with the results showing that they were uniformly against its use for any defensive or offensive goals. Now, it appears, all aspects of Japanese society and culture seem to be united against the use of nuclear power at all for peaceful means, particularly as an alternative to fossil fuels.
UPDATE: October 12, 2011
TAKING IT TO THE STREETS
Nuclear fears reawaken mass anger
By ALEX MARTIN
Compared with the West, and recently the Middle East, which has been swept by civil uprisings, Japan is not commonly known for having large-scale demonstrations or violent antigovernment protests.
But since March 11, when the Great East Japan Earthquake devastated the Tohoku region and triggered the Fukushima nuclear crisis, the public has found a new cause for standing up and demonstrating on a scale unseen since the student protests of the 1960s.
Sept. 19 saw an unprecedented tens of thousands of people gather in Tokyo to protest nuclear power, surprising even the participants.
The largest such demonstration took place Sept. 19, when somewhere between 30,000 and 60,000 protesters, depending on whether one buys the police figures or the rally’s organizer, staged an antinuclear march in Tokyo that featured several notable celebrities, including Nobel novelist Kenzaburo Oe and actor and antinuke activist Taro Yamamoto.
Similar demonstrations were held simultaneously in other parts of the nation, including in Fukushima, Nagoya, Fukuoka and Nagasaki.
Yasunari Fujimoto, executive director of the antinuclear organization Japan Congress Against A- and H-Bombs, known as Gensuikin, one of the organizers of the Sept. 19 protests, said more demonstrations are in the works.
“We plan on organizing another gathering in Fukushima Prefecture next March 11, on the one-year anniversary of the disaster,” he said, and that gathering will be followed by one in Tokyo on March 24.
Gensuikin and other antinuclear groups are also aiming to gather 10 million signatures to demand that the government no longer rely on nuclear power as a source of energy.
(More from the article at the link above.)
UPDATE: September 15, 2011
When seeking employment, the students’ key purpose had previously been earning money (23.2%). Now it is reported to be “helping others” (18.8%) and “attaining a stable life” (17.7%). Many also indicated that their motivation is now for the sake of the community (16.8%).
When asked on what issues their views had changed, 19.9% of respondents stated that their views on nuclear power had changed (this figure was higher, at 23%, among students from the affected areas), 18.1% indicated a shift in their perspective on the importance of helping others and 17.7% a change in their appreciation for the basics of daily life such as shelter, food and clothing.
When asked if they identified any positive outcome of the March 11 disaster, 45% mentioned the strengthening of links between people. In terms of lessons they had learned, 34.2% stressed the need for disaster preparedness and 21.1% highlighted the importance of caring for others.
To a question about the characteristics of their ideal society, 38.2% identified a society where people can trust and rely on each other.
(More results at the link above.)
UPDATE: August 9, 2011
This is a video from a CNN World View feed regarding Gakkai efforts in the stricken area.
UPDATE: June 28, 2011
By DAISAKU IKEDA
Special to The Japan Times
“The journey of life is not smooth and unimpeded, but may be fraught with difficulties exceeding our worst nightmares,” observed Kan’ ichi Asakawa (1873-1948), a historian and peace advocate originally from Fukushima Prefecture.
More than three months have now passed since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami struck the Tohoku-Kanto region, leaving a trail of devastation of an unprecedented magnitude. The number of confirmed fatalities exceeds 15,000, with around 7,500 more still missing.
Each victim was someone’s father, mother, child, relative or friend — each was an irreplaceable individual.
As a Buddhist, I have been offering my earnest prayers for their peaceful repose, as well as for the health, safety and well-being of all those affected by the earthquake, and for the success of relief and reconstruction efforts.
The scale of the destruction is immense, with more than 110,000 people still living in shelters and temporary housing. There is a clear need to make official responses to the disaster more focused, speedy and effective.
My heart goes out to the huge numbers of people undergoing unspeakable difficulties.
The suffering of those whose loved ones and livelihoods were swept away has been compounded by uncertainties about the future, the seemingly unending problems at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, the threat of economic recession, harmful rumors and many other obstacles to recovery.
But I believe we must not allow feelings of defeat to take root in our hearts. Dr. Ved P. Nanda, an expert on international law, sent a message of sympathy stating: “Now is the time to profoundly cultivate the security of the spirit, the inner strength that can overcome any threat.”
The Buddhist scriptures teach: “More valuable than treasures in a storehouse are treasures of the body, and the treasures of the heart are the most valuable of all.” There are no greater treasures than the highest human qualities such as compassion, courage and hope. Not even tragic accident or disaster can destroy such treasures of the heart.
Even though the earthquake and tsunami was a cruel catastrophe that has left everyone stunned, I believe we can see three signs of hope.
The first is a sense of human solidarity. This can be seen both locally and internationally. We will never forget how the rest of the world offered Japan prompt and practical relief as soon as the disaster occurred. The gratitude of the Japanese people is heartfelt and immense.
Also, within the affected communities, a renewed and powerful spirit of cooperation is visible. When individuals stand up together in the face of a catastrophic challenge in this way, a dignified human community imbued with mutual care and support is born. No one should be left to suffer alone.
The second sign of hope is the indomitable courage of those affected by the earthquake. Words cannot express how deeply I have been moved by the selfless acts made for the sake of others by people who were themselves victims.
I was told of one woman from Kamaishi, Iwate Prefecture, who saved the lives of her neighbors. As the raging waters reached the second floor of her apartment building, she held onto an air-conditioning unit, meanwhile preventing a man carrying a baby from being swept away by pinning him against a wall with her back. With her free hand she then grabbed and held onto another man by the collar. She said she was determined not to let them go even if her arms were torn off.
There are thousands of such unsung heroes still working tirelessly for the reconstruction of their communities, undefeated by the heart-wrenching loss of families and friends, homes and belongings.
At the Soka Gakkai’s community centers throughout the region, survivors volunteered their help despite their own grief and exhaustion. Our relief efforts began immediately after the earthquake and included offering shelter to evacuees. We are now supporting medium- and long-term reconstruction efforts in Miyagi, Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures.
A Buddhist scripture states: “When we light a lantern for others, our own way forward is lit.” When one takes action for others, one’s own suffering is transformed into the energy that can keep one moving forward; a light of hope illuminating a new tomorrow for oneself and others is kindled.
The third sign of hope is the passion and vigor of youth taking action.
A young man I know from Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was swept up by the tsunami and escaped death by clinging to a pine tree above the freezing waters through the night. A plumber by occupation, he lost his shop and home.
But he refused to succumb to the crushing burden of hopelessness, assisting efforts to reestablish vital services throughout the city. Amid the ruins and on the site of his former home, he and his friends put up a huge sign that read “Gambaro! Ishinomaki (Don’t give up, Ishinomaki!)” made out of salvaged wood. The sign has become a symbol of the spirit of the people of Ishinomaki.
Young people are, by their very youth, the embodiment of hope. No matter how dark it is, the sun rises where young people take a stand.
The path toward full reconstruction will be long. But we will continue to move forward, inspired by the example of such courageous youth, joining forces with others exerting themselves for the recovery of the affected communities.
Each step, no matter how seemingly small, will help plant the seeds of hope and be counted among the treasures of the heart.
The spirit of the people of Tohoku is found in these further words of Kan’ ichi Asakawa: “People are not so weak that they can only live under the sway of their circumstances. … Rather than be crushed by sorrow, let us rise proudly above it.”
Daisaku Ikeda is president of the Soka Gakkai International and founder of Soka University and the Toda Institute for Global Peace and Policy Research.
UPDATE: June 26, 2011
Yasuhiro Izumi and his wife Yuka sought shelter at an elementary school in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, for about one month after the earthquake. One day, in a package of relief supplies sent by relatives and friends, they found packets of sunflower seeds along with a message card saying, “It must be a very challenging time for you, but we hope that watching these sunflowers grow this summer will brighten your spirits.” Seeing all the destruction and debris in Ishinomaki, Mr. and Mrs. Izumi decided to plant the sunflower seeds throughout the city with the aim of reviving a sense of hope within the community.
On May 3, Mr. and Mrs. Izumi, together with a fellow member from the evacuation center, Kiyotaka Kamiyama, formed a volunteer group called “New Ishinomaki–Ever Victorious Group” and started planting seeds and flowers throughout the city.
News of this movement spread quickly and, as a result, they were able to receive more than 320,000 seeds of 53 different varieties from throughout Japan, as well as from the United States. After receiving permission from the government, the group began weeding and tilling soil in the city and planted seeds, including along major roads and highways within the city and prefecture.
(More at the link provided above.)
UPDATE: April 24, 2011
In Iwaki City, Fukushima Prefecture, as well as being active within Soka Gakkai, Kahoru Kannabi is the chief secretary of an NPO called “The People,” which supports the economic independence of Southeast Asian women.
Following the earthquake, a joint relief effort was started with their NPO counterpart in Kumamoto Prefecture, to provide food and set up cooking facilities at local evacuation centers. The goal was to empower women at the centers to cook for those housed there so that they would not be simply waiting for food donations to arrive.
Her relief team also successfully helped create a network of women at various evacuation centers who could relay detailed information regarding specific items that were lacking. Based on this feedback, volunteers were able to deliver these items to the appropriate shelters.
In addition, Ms. Kannabi helped set up relief distribution centers in several homes, to help provide relief goods to other survivors living in their own houses. She was eventually appointed chief secretary of a disaster relief center in Onahama District of Iwaki City, due to her success in providing aid to many people. Asked about her relief activities, she remarked, “I am determined to continue my relief efforts to support the citizens until recovery is fully accomplished. What I want to deliver more than any relief item is the energy and will to survive.”
(Story continues at the link provided.)
UPDATE: April 17, 2011
At the Soka Gakkai Ishinomaki Peace Center in Ishinomaki City, Miyagi Prefecture, which serves as a relief shelter, volunteer medical professionals who are members of the organization’s doctors’ and nurses’ groups are providing health consultations to the evacuees.
On April 10, the Tohoku Doctors’ Division Chief Eiichi Murakami along with Mariko Kawahara and Sachie Onodera from the nurses’ group held consultations with each of the 60 evacuees remaining at the Ishinomaki center. One evacuee commented that although living at the shelter is stressful, they were relieved to receive a detailed consultation that included questions about dietary conditions.
On April 3 and 10, a special cleaning task force consisting of Soka Gakkai young men’s group members in Miyagi Prefecture helped to remove debris, sludge and rubble from homes affected by the tsunami in Ishinomaki City. The young men were able to lend assistance particularly to the elderly and women, by moving toppled furniture and other heavy items such as tatami mats soaked with water weighing over 100 kilograms.
(Continued at link provided above.)
UPDATE: April 7, 2011
Japan’s Youth Build Generation’s Identity In Time Of Crisis
by Laura Gottesdiener
(First Posted: 04/ 7/11 01:12 PM ET; Updated: 04/ 7/11 03:03 PM ET)
In Tome, Miyagi, a northern Japanese city about 45 minutes inland from the ravaged coastline, a group of Tokyo college students were crying.
The six had spent the last five days sorting children’s clothing and cleaning the muddied frames of photographs they’d collected from Minamisanriku, a coastal town an hour east that was one of the worst hit by the March 11 tsunami. The work was emotionally draining: cleaning images of smiling brides and grooms and sorting socks for tiny children, all the while knowing that thousands of this town’s residents have died and 10,000 were initially declared missing.
Yet the students were crying for a different reason: They were overwhelmingly proud of their day’s work.
“They said they were crying because they’ve never been such a good team,” said Kentaro Watari, who was on the other end of the phone line in Tokyo where his organization, Youth for 3.11, is working to send hundreds of students north for one-week volunteer shifts. “They’d never worked together as well as they had today. It’s a life changing situation.”
It’s also a generation-defining moment, one that Japanese youth appear to be capturing. As increasing numbers are turning to service in the wake of the worst crisis to hit post-war Japan, they’re discovering that volunteering and fundraising are not only ways to help rebuild the devastated north — they are also opportunities to reinvent the generation’s often-maligned identity.
“Students are enthusiastically trying to organize volunteer groups and build connections between places and organizations, and those are things worth respecting from the adult’s viewpoint,” said Akiko Karaki, a senior in the International Christian University in Tokyo, who took a week off from her studies to volunteer in the north.
Most adults in the community were supportive of her decision, though some were baffled. Student volunteering is rare in Japan — an undervalued activity that has no place, for example, on a college application.
“University people, they were surprised,” said Karaki. “They kept saying, ‘Are you sure? Are you really going?’”
The disbelief wasn’t entirely unwarranted. The absence of a strong service culture in Japan, combined with the widespread perception of the youth as lazy and spoiled, makes this current movement all the more significant. Few expected much from the so-called video game set, often criticized for being self-indulgent, aimless and passive — for lacking konjo, the fighting spirit that helped former generations rebuilt Japan after WWII.
“This is a generation that didn’t have a clear goal,” said Mike Green, Japan Chair and senior adviser for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The criticism is that they are un-ambitious, lazy and insular,” he said.
Yet soon after the tsunami, images emerged of teenagers, bent double, carrying elders on their backs. Money began flooding in from fundraisers held by Japanese students studying in the United States and abroad. Twitter and Facebook exploded with students organizing teams of volunteers headed north.
Many hope that this activity will become the legacy of this generation.
“Youth for 3.11’s number one vision is to do the best we can for the relief victims,” said Watari. “But our secondary mission is to create a student movement that will change volunteering and youth in Japan. Our generation has been hated on by a lot of society, and I think that after the earthquake students have woken up and realized there’s more to life, that we can make a big difference.”
Japanese youth living abroad are also finding themselves drawn to service, empowered by the possibilities of its long-term impact — both for the country and for their reputation.
“There’s been a lot of criticism of the youth, and my father is one of them,” said Kazu Koyama, a junior at George Washington University and president of the Japanese American Student Union of D.C., which planned a massive event that raised thousands of dollars and drew high-profile attendees, including the Japanese ambassador.
“‘Oh the young generation,’ they say, ‘Is not as hard working, not as diligent.’ I would always get that message from my parents and my grandparents. I think this earthquake and our reaction really defies this view and proves that it’s not the case,” Koyama said.
Even before the tsunami, the Japanese youth were far more nuanced than the criticism would suggest. The country is overwhelmingly populated by elders: Japan has the world’s second oldest population (after retirement-haven Monaco) and more than 50,000 centenarians. Perhaps even more stifling, older generation’s accomplishments still dominate the national conscience. Today’s grandparents rebuilt after WWII; the parents built the nation into a world leader. What could the children do to compete?
Indeed, current youth were unsure about what their contribution to Japan could be. A depressed economic landscape and changed social norms of marriage and women’s roles turned their twenties into a period of indecision and aimlessness. Women chose not to marry as early; both men and women drifted in and out of short, part-time jobs.
“It’s a generation that seems lost because the expectations about what society and companies can give them has changed,” said Green.
As a result, some adults are willing to give kids a break.
“I do not agree with the characterization that Japanese youth are lazy and spoiled at all,” said Yuka Uchida, an international affairs commentator and former political secretary for Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara. “They are a hard working and serious generation, facing harder employment conditions—many facing unemployment.”
Still, students have felt the weight of the criticism regardless of the underlying economic and social forces, and they are hopeful that their time to step up has finally arrived.
“I don’t mean to say that the crisis is positive; of course it’s disastrous,” said Kenji Hayakawa, a Tokyo resident attending University of British Columbia in Canada.
Yet he views it as an alarm clock that jolted the youth awake and provided a new chance to define the future of Japan–if the generation can get organized. “What’s missing is a group of culturally prominent figures,” he said. “What we need is a younger figure who has an educational background and can voice a new attitude.”
Other, perhaps more Twitter-inclined, activists don’t think that today’s world still requires a charismatic symbol with an ironclad agenda. They believe that a sustained grassroots model centered on service will be enough to take the country in a new direction.
“Years down the line, I don’t know exactly what Youth for 3.11 will look like,” admitted Watari. “But if we have tens of thousands of students working, the possibilities are endless.”
Soka Gakkai Youth Division have already been at the forefront of assistance and service to their communities at this time of trouble. They know how to stand up for their country.
UPDATE: April 1, 2011
On March 31, Kazuo Nirasawa, the regional leader of Soka Gakkai in Tohoku, and Akihiko Morishima, Soka Gakkai Miyagi prefectural leader, visited the Miyagi prefectural government and presented a check for 100 million yen (US$1.2 million) to Miyagi Prefectural Governor Yoshihiro Murai in support of relief efforts. Mr. Murai thanked Soka Gakkai for the donation and for offering its facilities as shelters for those affected by the earthquake and tsunamis. Soka Gakkai also donated 100 million yen (US$1.2 million) to Sendai City in Miyagi Prefecture, 150 million yen (US$1.8 million) each to Iwate and Fukushima Prefectures, 30 million yen (US$360,000) to Ibaraki Prefecture, and 10 million yen (US$121,000) to Chiba Prefecture.
(Continued at the link provided above.)
UPDATE: March 29, 2011
(Members are helping themselves to help others.)
More than two weeks after the earthquake and tsunami disaster which devastated northeastern Japan, despite being victims themselves, local Soka Gakkai members continue to make strenuous effort for disaster relief and the recovery of affected areas.
Members of Soka Gakkai’s student and young men’s groups in Miyagi Prefecture have created a “Bicycle Rescue Team” in Sendai City to help assist senior citizens who live alone in the ravaged area. Their tasks include buying food and other essentials as well as helping to clean up. Although lifelines such as water and electricity have been restored, garbage and destroyed furniture have been causing problems for many senior citizens. On receiving requests, the team visits many elderly people at home to support and encourage them to give them strength. One 69 year old woman commented, “Even though they are victims themselves, they come to visit us. I am moved by their kindness.
The coastal city of Onagawa-cho in Miyagi Prefecture was devastated by the tsunami, making it difficult to deliver essential relief supplies. In response, three members who had lost their own homes, Junya Abe, Takayuki Kunimoto and Yūki Ohkabe, have been engaged in the delivery of relief goods since March 14.
They have been distributing relief goods which are delivered to the Soka Gakkai Ishinomaki Peace Center to 16 refuge shelters in the city every day. Their car is now certified as an official emergency vehicle in order to assist victims, in liaison with the city disaster relief center.
Rin Itoh, a women’s member, has provided her house as a distribution site to sort out relief goods for delivery. Susumu Chiba devotes himself to taking care of victims at a refuge center and is responsible for supporting evacuees on one whole floor. Many members in Onagawa-cho are engaged in relief activities throughout the city.
(More at the link provided above.)
UPDATE: March 28, 2011
TOKYO: Starting on March 11, the day the earthquake and tsunamis devastated the Tohoku Region, the Soka Gakkai Buddhist association, which has a large grassroots network and local community centers throughout Japan, created emergency task forces at its headquarters in Tokyo and throughout the affected region.
A total of 4,500 people were provided with shelter immediately following the quake at the main Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City, and 40 other local centers throughout Tohoku as well as in Ibaraki and Chiba prefectures. As of March 27, around 200 people were still receiving shelter and food in these centers.
Soka Gakkai community centers in some of the worst-hit towns along the coast such as Ishinomaki, Kamaishi, Tagajo and Kesennuma provided safe havens from the tsunami for many people, despite partial flooding. Local Soka Gakkai volunteers were among the first to help reestablish initial contact with some isolated communities and bring in relief supplies by car.
Hundreds of volunteers have been continuing to help locate missing people and provide assistance to survivors. One local youth leader, Masatoshi Suzuki, was knocked unconscious when his house in Iwaki City was swept 500 meters by the force of the tsunami. As soon as he recovered consciousness, he began rescuing others trapped nearby, and he continues to play a leading role in relief efforts. “Since the quake I have felt keenly the importance of the ‘never give-up’ spirit that I have learned through Buddhism,” he says.
Members from nearby Yamagata, Niigata, Aomori and Akita prefectures and Hokkaido have been regularly delivering truckloads of supplies including generators, fuel, foods and medicines, with the first vehicle arriving in Sendai City at 2am on March 12.
Soka Gakkai’s emergency task forces have been closely coordinating their ongoing efforts with local authorities and community groups. The parking lot of the Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City was used as a base for 25 fire trucks from local fire stations engaged in fighting the fires that broke out in the days following the quake.
(Continued at link provided above.)
UPDATE: March 25, 2011
In response to the 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunamis which devastated parts of northeastern Japan on March 11, SGI organizations throughout the world have been making donations to various NGOs to aid in relief activities.
SGI-USA General Director Danny Nagashima commented, “We sincerely hope this contribution will help provide immediate additional assistance and relief to those most in need after this disaster.”
A donation by SGI-Canada was also made in the amount of Canadian $10,000 (US$10,200) to the Canadian Red Cross on March 18.
On March 21, Singapore Soka Association (SSA) General Director Ong Bon Chai presented a check for donations amounting to S$200,000 (US$160,000) to humanitarian NGO Mercy Relief (MR), with whom SSA has a long history of collaboration in disaster relief. The check was received by MR Advisor Abdullah Tarmugi, who is the Speaker of Parliament. Two Mercy Relief teams are already distributing relief goods in affected areas of Japan.
(Continued at link provided above.)
UPDATE, March 22, 2011
My Take: Japanese new religions’ big role in disaster response
by Barbara Ambros
The largest new religion in Japan, Soka Gakkai, grew from a small lay Buddhist movement in the 1930s to millions of adherents today. At the forefront of organizing aid, Soka Gakkai’s Tokyo headquarters immediately became the group’s emergency communication center after the March 11 earthquake.
Soka Gakkai turned its northeastern facilities into shelters and mobilized centers in surrounding areas to ship food and supplies. The relief effort built on Soka Gakkai’s centrally organized youth groups. Its fundraising campaign has cut across national boundaries as donations have streamed in from domestic and overseas branches.
On March 13, Ikeda Daisaku, the leader of Soka Gakkai announced that he and his wife were “sending powerful daimoku” to followers. The chanting of the daimoku, an incantation meaning “Honored be the Wonderful Law of the Lotus Sutra,” is a central practice of the group.
Ikeda exhorted followers to show strength in adversity, in the words of Nichiren, a medieval Buddhist monk who founded the school of Buddhism from which Soka Gakkai derives.
March 17, 2011
Tokyo Governor Says Tsunami is Divine Punishment—Religious Groups Ignore Him
As Tokyo’s governor takes to the media to talk about the wickedness of the Japanese people, religious groups in the country do the hard work of caring for the suffering.
by Levi McLaughlin
Scenes of destruction and human suffering in Japan have elicited worldwide support—both material and spiritual. But amid global calls for prayer and other religious responses, the most widely publicized religious response to the nation’s worst disaster since the Second World War comes from within Japan itself—a series of comments made by 79-year-old Tokyo Governor, Shintaro Ishihara.
Ishihara, a prize-winning novelist, stage and screen actor, and a populist hero of the Japanese right, has gained notoriety for his willingness to court controversy, but his take on the tragedy in northeastern Japan offended even his staunchest supporters. On March 14, just three days into the crisis, Ishihara told reporters that he saw the tsunami as “divine punishment,” or tenbatsu, a term usually employed in Japanese to describe a righteous and inevitable punishment of the wicked. For Ishihara, the tsunami produced by Japan’s largest-ever recorded earthquake was a means of washing away the “egoism” (gayoku in Japanese) afflicting the Japanese people.
While the Tokyo Governor said that he felt sorry for the victims, he concluded that “We need a tsunami to wipe out egoism, which has rusted onto the mentality of Japanese over a long period of time.”
Ishihara, who will seek a fourth term as Tokyo Governor in a 2013 election, apologized publicly the next day, following comments by Miyagi Prefecture Governor Yoshihiro Murai, leader of the prefecture closest to the quake epicenter. Murai condemned Ishihara and urged sympathy for the hundreds of thousands of victims suffering in northern Japan. Despite Ishihara’s expression of regret, his “divine punishment” comment lingers as the most widely known religious sentiment yet expressed by a high-profile Japanese public figure in reaction to the current crisis. It resonates with similar remarks made in the United States following disasters, such as those by Pat Robertson in 2005, who described Hurricane Katrina as divine retribution for Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts upholding Roe vs. Wade, or the televised conversation between Robertson and Jerry Falwell on September 13, 2001 in which they characterized the attack on the Twin Towers as God’s punishment for American tolerance of “abortionists,” gays, feminists and the ACLU.
It is worth noting that Ishihara made his pronouncement while employees of the Tokyo power utility TEPCO and soldiers from Japan’s Self-Defense Forces willingly risk death battling to contain the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl at the damaged Fukushima reactors. He made his comments as hundreds of thousands of victims who have lost their homes and loved ones line up patiently in freezing refugee camps to receive meager supplies of food and water. There are no reported cases of looting anywhere in the country, even as thousands of Tokyo blocks are left without power during scheduled blackouts. When the hungry refugees receive food, they share it with their neighbors.
Cold, injured, bereaved, suffering from the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and facing the bleakest imaginable future, victims in northeastern Japan seem to only be embodying the spirit of gaman, or “sticktoitiveness” that exemplifies the Japanese character. It’s difficult to view Ishihara’s comments as anything other than an ideological rant, and one that may come back to haunt him in the next election. (Continued at link here)
UPDATE: March 17, 2011
On March 17, Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada and national youth leader Yoshinori Sato visited the Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City which is being used as a regional emergency communications center. They spoke to each person staying there, listening to their needs in order to provide the most appropriate relief and support. Mr. Harada also shared a message from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda, in which he praised the spirit of perseverance of the people of Tohoku, and expressed his respect for those exerting themselves to support others through relief efforts and his condolences to those who have lost loved ones.
Mr. Harada then travelled to the Soka Gakkai Wakabayashi Peace Center where he spoke with people seeking shelter there.
On March 16, Soka Gakkai youth volunteers from Hokkaido, Aomori and Akita prefectures reached the Iwate Culture Center. They met with Soka Gakkai Iwate prefectural youth leader Shun’ichi Tomita to organize the delivery of relief supplies throughout the region, based on requests from the affected areas.On March 15, the first delivery of relief materials reached Otsuchi town in Iwate prefecture which had been out of communication since the earthquake. Otsuchi, located on the coast, had been completely isolated due to the earthquake, tsunamis and fires.
Apparently, the delivery of the relief materials was attributable to one young man who connected two now-isolated hamlets together. More photos and information can be found at the link above.
UPDATE: March 16, 2011
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s Message
‘Never Be Defeated! Have Courage! Have Hope!’
The following is SGI President Ikeda’s message to those affected by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. The message originally appeared in the March 16 edition of the Seikyo Shimbun, the Soka Gakkai’s daily newspaper.
I offer my sincerest condolences to those of you who have been affected by the devastating earthquake and tsunamis that struck northeastern Japan five days ago (March 11) and have left many people still missing and unaccounted for. I can only imagine the fatigue and exhaustion you must be suffering. My wife and I, along with the members throughout Japan and the world, are sending daimoku [Nam-myoho-renge-kyo] to you with all our hearts, earnestly praying for your health and well-being, and that all Buddhas and bodhisattvas—the positive forces of the universe—will rigorously protect you.
I wish to deeply thank those of you who are selflessly devoting yourselves to the rescue and relief efforts in the stricken areas. I also truly appreciate those of you who are supporting your communities as solid and reliable pillars during this difficult time. Takuboku Ishikawa, a renowned, youthful poet who hailed from Tohoku, the northeastern region of Japan, declared: “Helping one person is a far greater achievement than becoming the ruler of a country.” I, therefore, express my deepest respect and gratitude to all of you. Nichiren Daishonin writes that even if we should meet with disasters and calamities, they cannot destroy our hearts (see The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 2, p. 135). Nothing can destroy the treasures of the heart. Every adversity is but a trial for us to overcome so that we can attain eternal happiness. Nichiren Buddhism, our practice of faith in the Mystic Law, enables us to transform all poison into medicine without fail.
I am offering solemn prayers for all your loved ones—family members and friends—who have lost their lives. This disaster is truly heartbreaking. Life, however, is eternal, and through chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, we can transcend life and death to connect with the lives of those who have passed away. Your deceased loved ones and friends, who through you share a profound connection with the Mystic Law, will definitely be enfolded in the embrace of the heavenly deities, attain Buddhahood and be reborn quickly somewhere close to you. This is an essential teaching of Nichiren Buddhism.
During the Daishonin’s lifetime as well, what was known as the great earthquake of the Shoka era (August 1257) caused unprecedented damage. Grieved by the pain and suffering of the people and amid great persecutions, the Daishonin embarked on writing his treatise, “On Establishing the Correct Teaching for the Peace of the Land,” thereby raising the banner of peace and justice for all humankind. He assures us: “When great evil occurs, great good follows” (WND-1, 1119).
Today, March 16, is the day that my mentor, second Soka Gakkai president Josei Toda, entrusted his youthful successors with carrying on the work of kosenrufu in order to eradicate misery from the face of the earth. Now, let us triumphantly overcome this great disaster by further strengthening our vow for kosen-rufu while wholeheartedly supporting and encouraging each other.
I am fervently praying and calling out to each of you: “Never be defeated! Have courage! Have hope!”
The Gakkai finally makes contact with coastal community centers not heard from since the quake and tsunami five days ago.
Since the day of the quake, no news had been received from two Soka Gakkai centers in Ishinomaki, a coastal town near a peninsula in the northeastern part of Miyagi Prefecture. On March 14, a message finally reached the Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City, informing them that many evacuees were being housed at the Ishinomaki Peace Center. On the same day, Soka Gakkai members set off by car to the Ishinomaki Peace Center to deliver relief supplies. After searching for the least damaged roads and with frequent rerouting, they finally arrived at the center that evening.
Ms. Tokue Kumagai, one of evacuees at the center, had taken her two children there immediately after the earthquake. She was then hit by the tsunami while checking on the safety of her elderly neighbors. Fortunately, she was swept to the second floor of a house where she waited in the cold and snow overnight. She was able to reach the center and be reunited with her children the following day.
More story and photos at the link provided above.
(Above is a new video from Aljazeera English, dated yesterday, March 14.)
This is from a memo sent from the Central Zone of the SGI-USA. (Administration of the SGI in this country is broken up into zones. Yes, there is such a thing as a Pacific Zone, too.) Those of you living within reach of The Chicago Culture Center and concerned about the situation in Japan should take advantage of this opportunity below. (Madison, WI members are three hours away from Chicago.)
As of today snow, sleet and rain is falling in northeastern Japan, where many still remain missing. There are also fears of radioactive exposures from local nuclear plants and after shocks are hitting Japan. Now is the time to send daimoku for all those affected by the tsunami and earthquake. Let’s chant for the happiness, great health, peace, prosperity, and safety of all those affected.
To support in this effort, there will be chanting sessions starting tonight at the Chicago Culture Center from 6pm – 8:30pm, with 7pm Gongyo and in the mornings. The chanting session will be held in the round Gohonzon room on a daily basis Mon-Fri.
Monday to Friday 7am – 9am (8am Gongyo)
Monday to Friday 6pm – 8:30pm (7pm Gongyo)
The Chicago Culture Center is located in downtown Chicago, IL on 1455 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60605. Telephone: 312-913-1211.
This was evidently spurred by an SGI USA organization memo from spokesperson Renu Debozi dated today:
For the past several days, members across America have gathered to chant daimoku in their local districts. We would like to praise these efforts and encourage everyone to join in, as President Ikeda
encourages us in his message below to chant powerful daimoku so that the people of Japan can experience the “clear and certain protection of the Buddha and the Buddhist deities.”
Let’s pray, first and foremost, for the safety and protection of the people of Japan and for the immediate recovery and return to normalcy for Japanese society. We encourage SGI-USA centers to hold chanting sessions so that members can gather to chant together during this crisis. We also ask everyone to chant as much as they can right now, whether at home or with others. As Sensei mentions, “Now is the time to muster the indomitable power of faith and practice, in order to bring forth and make manifest the boundless power of the Buddha and the Law as we together strive to transform this great suffering and trial.”
Our prayer for their protection and ability to transform poison into medicine quickly is so important.
Thank you very much for your continuous prayers for those people affected in the wake of the earthquakes that have struck Japan in recent days. While keeping in mind the far-reaching and fundamental power of chanting Nam-myoho-renge-kyo for the victims of this disaster, some SGI-USA members are asking if they can help in additional ways.
For those people wanting to help further, most support organizations are specifying that financial donations are most effective and useful for doing this. For this reason, the SGI-USA is suggesting that members use established international aid organizations with a recognized system to channel donations to the areas of need as quickly as possible.
Here are some suggested aid organizations:
* Global Giving
* Red Cross
Contacting family and friends in Japan:
* Red Cross
* Google People Finder
When using these Web sites, please follow the appropriate links to the support pages for relief victims.
Following the SGI-USA’s policy prohibiting the solicitation of money among members, people should not collect money from members to contribute to the above funds. Rather, individuals who would like to contribute should make their contributions directly through these Web sites or other sites that they may prefer.
Your prayers and support are sincerely appreciated.
On March 14, Mr. Kazuo Nirasawa, the regional leader of Soka Gakkai in Tohoku, expressed his heartfelt thanks to all those supporting relief activities in the region. He stated, “Some 3,500 people are being sheltered at 21 Soka Gakkai centers throughout Tohoku. We are doing our utmost best to provide a support system for these people.” Mr. Nirasawa expressed his regret at how difficult it still is to reach people in tsunami-stricken areas.
At the Soka Gakkai Wakabayashi Peace Center in Miyagi Prefecture, Soka Gakkai women members acting as volunteers to provide relief at the center, including some who have lost their own homes, created large badges inscribed with the Japanese phrase “gambaro!” meaning “Let’s do our best” or “Let’s hang in there.”
On March 13, Soka Gakkai members gathered at the Soka Gakkai Iwate Culture Center to discuss how to find people still missing in seaside communities hit by the tsunami and how best to provide support to people in the area. Soka Gakkai leaders and youth formed teams and set off to the cities of Kamaishi, Ofunato, Miyako and Rikuzentakata to aid in rescue efforts.
Mr. Nintei Kasai, the prefectural leader of Soka Gakkai in Iwate, together with youth leader Mr. Tetsuo Nagai, went to the particularly badly hit seaside community of Kamaishi to deliver food, water and relief supplies. Along the way, they stopped at the city of Tono to pick up blankets donated by Soka Gakkai members there.
The Soka Gakkai Kamaishi Culture Center, which is also being used as an emergency communications center, is being run by local youth members. Mr. Kasai reported hearing stories of great courage and fortitude from those rescued, many of whom immediately joined relief efforts following their own rescue. One local member whose home was just beyond the reach of the tsunami had opened his home to help assess relief needs of local residents.
UPDATE (March 15, 2011):
From: Renu Debozi, SGI-USA Organization Department
Santa Monica Rallies to Help Japan
Santa Monica Lookout News
March 15, 2011 — As the world watches stunned while the Japanese people endure calamity upon calamity, local groups have begun to organize support for the victims of earthquake, tsunami and possible nuclear meltdown.
Prayers and messages have been going out since the news first broke on Friday, charitable organizations say, and now they are advising cash donations as being the “most flexible” way to help thousands without food or shelter in Sendai and its environs.
Leading the way is the American Red Cross, and its partner organization the Japanese Red Cross.
“We’ve been on alert into the weekend,” Director of Public Relations for the Santa Monica Chapter of the American Red Cross Bill Bauer told the Lookout Monday. “We’ve had a lot of people on call,” due to the tsunami advisory on California’s coastline.
Now that that danger has passed, volunteers are still on hand to field calls from people who want to help, Bauer said.
“The chapter will respond to requests for fundraising support and have been advised that donations will be accepted for the relief effort” Executive Director John Pacheco said.
Those donations should be made out to American Red Cross and earmarked “Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami.” They can be mailed or dropped by the chapter at 1450 11th Street in Santa Monica during regular business hours.
Santa Monica is also home to the headquarters of Soka Gakkai International, (SGI), a Buddhist denomination closely affiliated with its sister organization in Japan.
“Many of our members have family, friends and loved ones in Japan,” Community Relations Director Ian McIraith told the Lookout Monday. “They’ve been sending thousands and thousands of phone calls and messages a day.”
As a spiritual community, this outpouring of love and moral support may be one of the most important things the group can offer, McIraith said. And SGI members are “praying very seriously” for succor to the living and for “the greatest soothing support” for the dead.
SGI is also encouraging its members – and the community at large – to make cash donations to organizations like the Red Cross, Feed the Children and Americares. They have the established infrastructures to get the job done quickly and well, said McIraith.
On the ground, SGI in Japan is opening up its centers to house, clothe and feed those displaced by the catastrophe, and is sending volunteers into the streets to offer help to victims, McIraith said.
The City of Santa Monica has been a sister city with Fujimoniya, some 300 miles south of the epicenter, since 1974, former Mayor and Vice-President of the Santa Monica Sister City Association Nat Trives reminded the Lookout Monday.
While not ravaged by Friday’s earthquake, aftershocks there were powerful enough that its city hall was evacuated, Trives said.
He’d like Santa Monicans to remember their ties to their sister city, especially those who’ve accompanied him on his many trips there. Fujimoniya features “Santa Monica Park” next to its pier and 45 of its residents are coming to visit us this summer, said Trives. He urges everyone to donate to the Red Cross.
The Japanese Consulate asks people to make donations to the Red Cross, and offers a good deal more information, including how to contact people in the disaster area, as does the Japan America Society of Southern California.
Macao Red Cross receives donations for Yunnan, Japan quake victims
MACAO, March 15 (Xinhua) — Macao Red Cross received on Tuesday 200,000 patacas (25,000 U.S. dollars) for the victims of the recent Yunnan earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan from a local association.
Representatives of Soka Gakkai International of Macao delivered a check of 200,000 patacas to officials at the headquarters of Macao Red Cross.
After the donation ceremony, officials of Soka Gakkai International of Macao appealed to local communities to offer help to quake victims of Yunnan and Japan, adding that Soka Gakkai International had opened its facilities in Japan for victims to take shelter.
Aside from Soka Gakkai International of Macao, local enterprises and associations also made donations for quake victims.
Macao Red Cross received 200,000 patacas from well-known Koi Kei Bakery for Yunnan earthquake victims and 20,000 patacas from Macao General Union of Neighborhood Association for quake victims in Japan.
In response to the devastation caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunamis, Soka Gakkai’s relief efforts continue throughout the affected region. One thousand people have now sought shelter at the Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai City, the regional emergency coordination center for the organization’s relief efforts. A further 2,500 people stayed overnight on March 12 and received emergency supplies including food in 20 other local Soka Gakkai culture centers throughout the Tohoku region.
Hearing that one group of Sendai City residents who had gathered together in a public place were badly in need of food and other necessities, local Soka Gakkai leaders set off with a carload of food and other supplies in search of them. They were able to locate and assist around 100 people in this way.
Support from different regions of northern Japan continues to reach the affected areas.</blockquote>
Click the UPDATE link above to view the rest of the press release and photographs.
I offer this expression of heartfelt sympathy and support to all those whose lives have been impacted by the massive earthquake that struck northeastern Japan on March 11, 2011. My wife Kaneko and I are sending powerful daimoku to you, my precious, treasured friends, for you to be able to experience the clear and certain protection of the Buddha and the Buddhist deities. As Nichiren Daishonin declares, “Myo means to revive, that is, to return to life.” (WND vol.1, p.149) Now is the time to muster the indomitable power of faith and practice, in order to bring forth and make manifest the boundless power of the Buddha and the Law as we together strive to transform this great suffering and trial. Again, I offer my deepest sympathy to all who have been afflicted.
It is all within as well as without; however, immediate help is being manifested for members and non-members stricken by trouble.
Soka Gakkai members continue to visit accessible areas to check on people’s whereabouts and well-being, offering support and helping those in need of shelter find accommodation.
Soka Gakkai community centers throughout the affected region have been opened to provide accommodation and food for the public, including seven in the worst-hit Miyagi prefecture where Sendai city is located.
The Soka Gakkai Tohoku Culture Center in Sendai is now the regional emergency coordination center for the organization’s relief efforts. Around 600 people spent the night there on March 11 and from 6:30am on the following morning, breakfast prepared by volunteers who worked through the night was served. Snacks and donuts were provided for children.
The center has a large parking lot that has been made available to local fire stations. Twenty fire trucks are now parked there and continue to engage in fighting the fires which are still breaking out.
The Soka Gakkai Headquarters, as well as Soka Gakkai members in Yamagata prefecture and the Shinetsu and Kansai areas, have sent trucks containing relief supplies such as water, blankets, food, stove burners and portable toilets.
In the same news edition, SGI General Director Yoshitaka Oba added the following message to SGI members around the world:
“[…] Please be advised that, as of now, Shinanomachi, where the Soka Gakkai and the SGI headquarters are located, is stable and safe. We are doing our utmost to maintain support of our SGI movement worldwide, while surmounting this immediate challenge.”
Pray in your own way for Japan; it needs prayer as much as supplies and rescues. With four General Electric nuclear reactors facing possible meltdown and only seawater is being used to stop them from imploding, the country needs everything it can get. Rain is also being predicted for this region as well. Food, water, and shelter are in short supply.
Contribute what you can to aid agencies like Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Global Giving, and ShelterBox. Investigate aid agencies with the help of Charity Navigator.
Again, as with the Haitian catastrophe and since Katrina, I urge people NOT to contribute to the Red Cross.
Nam-myoho-renge-kyo won’t always protect us from trouble, but the mantra (daimoku) helps us to face and to overcome such obstacles and lessen what we call, “the karmic retribution.”
- Japanese Students Shows Changes in Outlook Since March Triple Disaster (inquisitr.com)
- Winter Always Turns To Spring (studioat605.wordpress.com)
- Video From Today’s World Peace Festival on Coconut Island (damontucker.com)
- You: Diet OKs new agency to run Tohoku postdisaster reconstruction efforts (japantimes.co.jp)
- Japanese Perception of Risk Lowered by Tsunami (livescience.com)