When a devastating tsunami swept across Japan last year, the world reeled in shock and horror.
But it’s only when the sheer scale of the carnage is laid bare to the naked eye and is told directly to your ear, that the magnitude of what happened that day is truly realized.
Veteran councillors Bill McNulty and Harold Steves visited on the weekend the site of such a village adopted by Richmond in the wake of the disaster.
Since last year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, Richmond community groups and residents have pledged more than $150,000 to help the small Japanese fishing village of Onagawa.
A Richmond delegation, led by McNulty and Steves, saw in person how those funds are aiding recovery efforts.
“It is totally shocking to see and hear about the impact of the tsunami first hand,” said McNulty. “We’ve all seen the pictures, but until you’re here and talk to the people and see how they’ve been impacted, you cannot appreciate how terrible it really was.”
Only 5,000 of Onagawa’s 11,000 residents survived the disaster. Many lost their homes and all their possessions. Numerous children were left orphaned, having lost their entire family.
Led by several Steveston community groups, more than $150,000 in cash and in-kind donations has been raised in Richmond to provide assistance to Onagawa. The funds have been targeted to aid the seven schools in the region.
Among other initiatives, Richmond was able to arrange for Onagawa schools to be provided with 700 life vests to be used by students in case of a similar emergency.
Richmond has also sent more than 60 “comfort quilts” to Onagawa. The quilts were created by members of the Richmond Textile Arts Guild for tsunami victims, many of whom lost both their families and all their possessions.
Richmond has worked closely with its Japanese Sister City of Wakayama to distribute the relief funds. Wakayama officials have liaised with Onagawa officials to identify needs and then purchased the items directly in Japan, thereby helping to boost the local economy, which was also struggled to recover from the effects of the earthquake and tsunami.
“It’s really gratifying to see how the relief efforts in Richmond are making a real difference in Onagawa,” said Steves.
“Steveston and Richmond have deep ties to Japan through the thousands of immigrants who came to Canada as early as 130 years ago to take part in the West Coast fishery, so it’s only natural this tragedy would bring an outpouring of support from our community.”
The Richmond delegation spent Friday and Saturday visiting areas impacted by the tsunami, including Onagawa where they are being hosted by the local Mayor, school principals and other community representatives.
The Richmond delegation includes Jim Kojima, vice chair of the Richmond Sister City Committee. Kojima recently received the Order of the Rising Sun from the Government of Japan in honour of his lifelong contributions to the promotion of mutual understanding between Japan and Canada through sport.
The delegation will also visit Richmond’s Japanese Sister City, Wakayama, The visit will include work on plans for a visit to Richmond later this year by a delegation from Wakayama and for commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the two cities’ relationship in 2013. Finally, the delegation will meet with Japanese naval officials to discuss possible visits to Richmond by Japan’s two Class A tall ships, the Kaiwo Maru and Nippon Maru.