Friday, March 25, 2011

Eating Japanese Food to Help Japan

We usually have Mexican. Whenever I get together with my friends Sarah and Audrey we can count on a little guacamole and several margaritas. This time, however, Sarah suggested shabu-shabu. Since the heartbreaking disaster in northeastern Japan struck on March 11, I've been eating as much Japanese food in New York as I can. For some reason, I think if I eat Japanese food, I'm somehow offering my support to one of my favorite places in the world.

We chose Shabu-Tatsu, an East Village establishment that none of us had ever visited. I read a few good reviews on Yelp and made a reservation. It had been a while since the three of us had shabu-shabu, a popular Japanese hot pot in which we boil the thinest, freshest slices of meat with tofu and vegetables at the table.

Thinly sliced prime beef

As it turns out, we actually were helping Japan by eating at Shabu-Tatsu. NBC Universal and the New York State Restaurant Association had just started Dine Out for Japan Relief, and Shabu-Tatsu is one of the more than 60 restaurants – some Japanese, some not – that are participating from now until March 30. Restaurants are donating up to 5% of proceeds from every meal it serves to the relief and recovery efforts.

The girls and I sipped sake and noshed on amazing prime beef, napa cabbage, green onions, firm tofu, carrots, mushrooms, shungiku (chrysanthemum leaves), and harusame (clear noodles made from potato starch).

Rice and dipping sauces await the veggies and beef

Of course, we couldn't help but talk about the crisis in Japan. I mentioned the 60 Minutes segment that aired just a few days prior to our dinner.

In the midst of our helplessness, we took comfort in knowing we stood in solidarity with our friends in my beloved Japan, even if we contributed only a few dollars to the cause. As I move about my life, Japan is never far from my mind. Issho ni ganbaremashou. 

Eat at a participating restaurant and help Japan

Monday, March 21, 2011

Crisis in Japan: The Good, the Ignorant, and the Disappointing

What would we do without the Internet? It has been the prime source of my information about the crisis in Japan. Thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and even e-mails, I've been able to keep up with the situation, make sure my friends and family are safe, and find out about all of the wonderful fundraising efforts happening in NYC. 
The Good
In a recent article in The New York Times, Sam Dolnick and Kirk Semple explore the Japanese community in New York City. Dolnick and Semple note that there are only approximately 20,000 Japanese living in New York City, and news of the earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan brought about responses that are "small, scattered and often private – a reflection of the population itself." It's true that there isn't a cohesive, organized group where the Japanese community here can call their own. But I've observed that the tragic events in Japan triggered an emotional reaction from many Japanese, especially musicians and artists, as they worked quickly to organize fundraising performances. Facebook, Twitter, and even my e-mail inbox overflowed with notices of these events. 
The writers are right in saying that the efforts have been from small groups. Facebook communities such as Japanese New Yorkers and Moms United to Support Japan and Japan Earthquake ~ NYC Artists Fund Raising ~ sprung up online and raised money that went directly to earthquake and tsunami relief. Tuesday I'm attending a meeting of Japanese Americans and Japanese in America – a group mentioned in The New York Times article – to see how we as Japanese Americans living in New York can mobilize and strengthen our efforts to help the situation in Japan.

Providing help to the stricken nation isn't simply a grassroots effort. Institutions such as the Japan Society went right to work, establishing its Japan Earthquake Relief Fund and announcing that 50% of proceeds from its programs is going toward it from now until June 30. (According to the organization's website, the fund has raised more than $1 million as of March 17.) Carnegie Hall's JapanNYC is forging ahead, acting as a way to pay tribute to the cultural gems of Japan. While Carnegie Hall isn't doing any specific fundraising of its own, its blog offers a list of places where attendees of JapanNYC's events can donate.
The Ignorant
Of course, not everyone is sympathetic to the plight of the Japanese, even during this time of crisis. Japan Probe posted screen shots of negative Twitter posts. Click here to see a sample of people who believe that Japan deserved to be demolished by Mother Nature. Personally, I couldn't finish reading all of these posts because I found them incredibly tacky. 

Regular Joes aren't the only jerks on the planet; well known people are also riding the insensitivity train. Annoying comedian Gilbert Gottfried was fired from his gig as the voice of the Aflac duck after tweeting what he thought were jokes after the tsunami. I'm sure the Tweeting dingalings around the world feel Glenn Beck justified their tweets when he said the devastation in northern Japan was "a message from God." Nice.
The Disappointing
I was able to overlook the posts and rants of The Ignorant, chalking it up to the fact that some people are just plain idiots. I firmly believe that intelligent people don't think the people of Japan are going through this tragedy because of karma. However, one post hit too close to home. It was written by one of my Facebook friends. This person went to my high school many years ago, and while we were not friends back then, we have several mutual friends, which I suppose is a good enough reason to connect on Facebook. Here is his post, which refers to the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant:

Really? He actually posted this as his status on Facebook? "Why not have them fix their own problem." This isn't Japan's problem; it's the world's problem. Some people think that other countries spend their time criticizing the United States, but when disaster strikes, they're quick to call us for help. Okay, I get that. But this is a crisis of epic proportions, and everyone who is able to help must do so. 

I think it's important to mention that the person who wrote the post is a member of the US Navy. Stationed in Japan.
Oh, he also has the distinction of being the first person I've ever "unfriended" on Facebook.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

March 11, 2011

I intended to sleep late. Three straight 15-hour days with little sleep in between fueled my desire to snooze. It wasn't to be. It was the morning of Friday, March 11, and my phone buzzed with incoming text messages.

The first came in at 6:08 a.m. I read it, blinked a couple of times, wondered what in the world my friend Jackie meant, and rolled over. Something wouldn't let me completely fall back to sleep, however. About half an hour later, nagged by the need to know the meaning behind that text, I Googled "Japan" or something – I can't even remember – on my phone and discovered through bleary, half-open eyes that an earthquake struck Japan. "Japan has earthquakes every day," I thought to myself as my head hit the pillow again.

At 7:05 a.m. my phone buzzed again. It was from my buddy D.F.

Okay. Well, I thought that sucked, but I didn't read any sense of urgency. I shifted around my sleeping cat and closed my eyes again. Several minutes passed, and I felt as if I were on the edge of sleep . . . and . . . Tsunami. Visions of Indonesia forced open my eyes, which desperately wanted to stay closed. This time I Googled "Japan tsunami," and I sat bolt upright when I saw that a tidal wave had devoured a large portion of Sendai, an area where my friend Marty lives.

Finally accepting that I was not sleeping late, I scrambled out of bed. At 8:02 a.m., I received another text, this one from a friend whom I'd met on the JapanBall baseball tour.

By that time I had grabbed the remote and watched the biggest natural disaster to hit Japan in 140 years unfold before me.

The earthquake – a mind-boggling 9.0 (9.0!) – was bad enough. But the tsunami? The water was evil. It stampeded through the countryside with utter disregard for the whatever was in its path.

Watching the horrifying footage, I became absolutely heartsick. I still am.

It has been more than one week since the disaster, Japan's worst since World War II, and it is difficult to see the images of the aftermath, difficult to fathom how the Japanese feel. And the threat of a meltdown at the nuclear power plant in Fukushima is downright frightening. As Japan and other nations work together to clean up the mess, start rebuilding, and stave off nuclear disaster, I feel hope. After the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 and in the days following the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the Japanese reached deep down and reconstructed itself. Perhaps I'm a bit naive, but I firmly believe they will do the same now. With a nation of resilient people, Japan will persevere.