In wake of Japan tragedy, students raise funds to rebuild

More than 6,500 miles away from her parents and sister in Japan, senior Maiya Kinoshita plans to find her own way to help after a 9-magnitude earthquake hit her home country.

The marketing communication major has been working on a designer toy store featuring made-in-Japan soft vinyl toys in her entrepreneurial studies class. Her boyfriend, Todd Robertson, is a toy artist and is customizing playthings for her to sell at the April class exposition.

The idea sprouted after Maiya woke up to six missed phone calls and an unexpected e-mail from her sister, confirming her family was safe, on the Friday over spring break. Maiya had yet to hear about the natural disaster and was confused by the message, sent at 1:22 a.m. EST.

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She called her father, Kazuho, on Skype because wireless phone service was down. In the 10-minute conversation, her father told her about the tsunami and earthquake that hit in Fukushima, about 180 miles north of where her sister and father work in Tokyo.

“It made me sad, it was still my country,” said Maiya, who lived in Osaka, Japan from age seven until she came to Emerson. “It was really heartbreaking seeing all the houses getting washed up, and I was worried about after shakes, and I knew my family wasn’t together.”

Her mother, Marian Kinoshita, was in the midst of moving into the family’s new apartment in Fujisawa City when the quake hit.

The next day, Maiya made the decision to send all profits from her exposition to Japan relief.

In a press release to the Beacon, Maiya said she will donate all profits to Kaiju for Japan, an earthquake relief campaign involving designer toy artists around the nation.

“I just gotta keep myself together,” Maiya said. “I’m really worried about my family; I miss them. I wish I was in Japan now and could give them a huge hug, but I think I just have to go on with my life here and help them from here.”

Assistant Professor Mariko Morimoto, who was born in Nara, Japan, said Kinoshita’s business proposal is a brilliant idea. She adds that she can’t bring herself to discuss the situation in her own class.

“I know that I will get very emotional,” she said from her office in the marketing department. “It was just like 9/11. I got this similar feeling, I couldn’t believe it, and I still can’t believe what I see or what I hear. It’s like, ‘is this possible?’”

Paul Niwa, an assistant journalism professor, coordinates the Japan Foundation’s grant program that allows graduate students from across the country to travel to Japan, including Emerson students.

In past years, Niwa has introduced students to survivors of the 1995 Kobe earthquake. This year, Niwa says the group will travel to the areas hit by the recent earthquake and hopes to introduce them to survivors during their two-week summer trip.

“There’s a Japanese saying ‘shikata ganai,’ literally translating that ‘it cannot be helped,’ but the meaning of it is that when these kind of problems happen, you don’t complain about it, you just get busy,” said Niwa, who’s great-grandparents hail from Japan. “It can’t be helped, you move on from it, you rebuild your lives.”

The death toll from Japan’s worst crisis since the Second World War expected to pass 10,000 on Sunday, according to a Boston Globe article. The country fears a nuclear meltdown after a nuclear plant explosion post-earthquake, according to the Globe article.

But problems go beyond the nuclear crisis for those on the outskirts of the disaster.

“Other power plants themselves don’t have enough power,” said Marian Kinoshita in a Skype interview with the Beacon. Mrs. Kinoshita called from Japan, joined by her husband and elder daughter, who translated their responses.

“We’re trying to stay in one room and use less power. This may sound silly, but most homes in Japan have heated toilet seats, so even little things like unplugging the toilet seat can help,” she said laughing.

Emerson Alumnus Ravi Relan was on his lunch break in Tokyo when he felt the quake and quickly hid under a table to protect himself.

“It lasted for about three minutes,” Relan said in an e-mail to the Beacon. “We left the restaurant using the emergency exit, and saw a bunch of people outside on the streets, frightened and not knowing what to do.”

Relan, who graduated in 2009 as a marketing communication major, said he walked three hours to get home because the trains were disabled. He said this caused panic for those who work in Tokyo because trains are the main method of transportation.

“I saw people walking endlessly on the streets trying to get back home. One of my colleagues actually walked 8 hours to home,” Relan said.

He added that some of his colleagues who live farther out had to spend a night at an emergency evacuation center.

“As far as I know, Emerson Alums in Tokyo are safe and doing fine,” he said.