It is with great sadness that we must announce that after developing cancer, Akemi Tanaka passed away recently.
Akemi had been ill for some time, but had made the conscious decision to continue working to promote those ideals that she held close to her heart. This included the charity that she founded, Aid For Japan. Akemi’s passionate work for the orphans of the 2011 Japanese earthquake & tsunami covered ten years of fundraising, events and personal support for children whose lives were changed by the charity’s efforts.
Akemi’s passing impacts not just the charity, but also all the other lives she touched through teaching, lecturing and organising across a long career focussed on promoting Japanese culture. Equally, her support of Shiroi Ito, which meant challenging the problems of sexual violence in Japan, was also a strong cause that Akemi spent the last few years championing.
Her recent book The Power of Chōwa reached a new audience for Akemi’s wisdom, once again expanding her advocacy for Japanese culture; where she explored the Japanese concept of chōwa, which means ‘the search for balance’. The success of the book has been a testimony to Akemi’s passion and makes her absence all the more sad. However, the book also offers solace in its words. In one chapter, Akemi approaches the issues of life and death:
When we lose the people closest to us, it is perfectly natural for us to feel as if we have fallen down, and to feel like there is nothing we can do to get back up.
But chōwa reminds us that people come together in times of sadness. It teaches us that it is the people left alive that matter the most, and we must help each other back to our feet.
明美さんは健康状態が望ましくないにも関わらず、彼女が心から大切にする理想を実現するため、最期まで活動を続けられました。その活動は彼女が設立した、2011年の東日本大震災で被災した子供たちを支援する慈善団体「Aid For Japan」の10年間におよんでの募金活動や被災した子供達への個人的サポートなどです。彼女の惜しまぬ努力によって子供達の人生は大きく変わったと言えましょう。
近年の彼女の著書「The Power of Chōwa −−調和の力」では、新しい読者に明美さんの知恵を「調和」という 日本固有のコンセプト−−バランスの探求−−を用い、改めて彼女の日本文化の理解を深める活動を拡大。
In Japanese culture one thousand origami cranes strung together symbolises hope, peace and healing. Here’s some of the beautiful cranes people have made as part of Aid For Japan’s 1000 Origami Cranes initiative. This includes the crane collage below which was created out of everyone’s submissions up to the 11th March 2021.
Recollections, thoughts and memories from 10 years of Aid For Japan…
On the 11th March 2011, the Tōhoku region, northeast Japan, was hit by a magnitude 9.0 earthquake. The earthquake and tsunami led to the deaths of around 25,000 people and left over 500,000 people homeless. Over 1,200 children lost at least one parent, and over 250 children lost both parents.
On my first visit to Tōhoku, I met children who had not only lost parents, but grandparents, siblings, as well as beloved pets and belongings. Adoption rates in Japan were, and remain, extremely low. The chances were that the children would spend their childhood in orphanages. In a culture where the nuclear family structure is so important, they would also likely face difficulties when it came for finding work, or looking for a partner later in life. I resolved to set up a charity to support these children. This was the beginning of my charity, Aid for Japan.
We organised summer residential courses in Japan, inviting English volunteers to interact and have fun with the children in Tōhoku. The courses provided a wide range of activities promoting confidence-building and English learning. Events included team-building exercises and learning about the cultural differences between the UK and Japan. Many of our international volunteers and the children became good friends. We also organised a successful home-stay programme in which orphans were invited to come and stay in the UK, which gave the children we supported a much needed break from challenging conditions at home.
It is now ten years on from the disaster. Several of the children we met in 2011 are now in their teens, and some are children no longer, having legally come of age in Japan. It has been wonderful to be part of their lives and to have watched them grow in confidence. But we have not wanted to disappear from their lives, and have continued to send small annual gifts, even to those who are now adults, as many of them still have fond memories of their visits to the UK.
This year, on the tenth anniversary of the charity’s being established, the money we raise will continue to support orphanages in the region in their valuable work, and to fund trips to the UK for those children who have not yet come of age, who we hope to welcome back to the UK in the near future.
Please follow the links below to see how you can participate in Aid for Japan’s Ten Year Anniversary events, and for a link to the donation page.
Thank you for your continued support!
Memories of being a host family for Maria
We’ve been a host family for Maria 4 times from 2016-2019 and it’s been lovely seeing her grow up over those years.
We first met her at Heathrow in 2016 – our son Alex had been in Japan with 2 other boys (David and Zac) on a trip organized by Akemi to help raise money for Aid for Japan and they flew back with Maria and Ryota, another boy the charity was helping. Maria stayed with us for the trip, and luckily we had Sumika from the charity staying too to help with communication as our Japanese is non-existent! When Sumika wasn’t around, we managed with a combination of Alex’s 1 year of Japanese and Maria’s ability with translation apps on her phone. Maria was (understandably) quite shy on that first trip, but she enjoyed a trip with us to Hampton Court, and as she was a big Harry Potter fan we took to her to Kings Cross to have her photo taken at platform 9¾’s.
In other trips we saw Maria increasing in confidence – if we were busy she went into London on her own, sightseeing and shopping. As she got older, she became very interested in style and clothing (I think she told me she wanted to become a stylist) and it was interesting to see she had developed a strong individual style of her own. Alex and I went with her to Camden Market (she wanted my opinion on getting some body-piercing!) and helped her track down a clothes shop in Soho that she’d found out about online.
On one of Maria’s visits we had a memorable trip to the Harry Potter studios (we’re all fans), and took her on the Eurostar to Paris for a night. Akemi had a student (Joachim) who had gone back to Paris for the summer, and he was happy to meet us at the station and spent 2 days showing us round and helping us track down photo sites for Maria’s Instagram. He was able to speak Japanese to Maria which made things much easier.
Alex went back to Japan for the summer in 2018, and stayed with Sumika during his time in Tokyo – Maria came to stay with her too and he enjoyed catching up with her.
It has been lovely to get to know Maria, we’ll be happy for her to stay again any time in the future. Although we can’t speak Japanese, her English improved every trip, and we got by with translation apps. I learnt what food she liked (not English food!) and when we were in the house she enjoyed helping with baking and playing with our cat. Even though we couldn’t chat very much, she was happy to spend evenings with us rather than staying in her room.
Sarah and Alexander Duggan
Little Dom’s Big Adventure
There are few days I remember as well as the 11th of March 2011. I was working that day and first heard the news of the Earthquake and Tsunami over the radio. I remember how I felt the spanner I was holding slip out of my hand as I ran to my phone to try and call my friends in Japan only to discover the same thing millions of others had – I couldn’t get through.
Later in the day when I could get to a TV I saw the images of the wave and the destruction I just sat on my bed crying and feeling utterly useless.
Seeing the images of buildings, businesses, livelihoods, lives and families being ripped apart in just a few minutes cut into me deeply.
At that time there were many things in my life stopping me from flying to Japan to help out but I vowed I would help out in some way in the future.
In 2013 I heard about Aid For Japan helping out the orphans and thought “This is how I can help!” and began planning a solo motorcycle journey from the UK to the east coast of Japan called “Little Dom’s Big Adventure” to help raise money and awareness for the charity.
Before setting off on Little Dom’s Big adventure the furthest I had ever ridden on a motorbike was to a friend’s holiday home in northern France. Every time I mentioned what I was planning to do people were shocked at the distance involved but strangely it was never a worry to me.
The only real worry I had was about who I would meet and any hostility that I may encounter on the way (after all I was going to cross the border of 2 countries at war!).
Having spent my whole life in the UK (aside from a few holidays to Japan and 1 trip to France), the stereotypes of people from other countries were well ingrained into my mind – Germany (still bitter from the WW2) Ukraine (former soviet country – everyone is poor and they will all try to rob you) Russia (everyone is miserable, drunk and they all want to kill you)!
Thankfully in the battle of worry which was raging in my mind I had a counter offensive. I had been to meet a number of famous overland adventurers and read the books of those who had dared to venture to the less travelled parts of the world. All of these people said time and time again that the stereotypes are all totally wrong!
As it turned out the overlanders were correct! in Germany nobody was bitter towards me, Ukraine – is a well-developed modern country who’s people are VERY friendly and kind and in Russia I found warmth and kindness on a scale I’ve never seen before! Travelling across so many different countries and meeting with so many different cultures taught me that in the end, after all the differences, opinions, religions and beliefs are set aside everyone is trying to achieve the same thing – a good and happy life for everyone.
We all love each other one way or another. Weather that be for one’s spouse or brother or sister or friend or even friend of friend or a total stranger on a motorbike from a far-off country we all have the capacity to show the love for each other which at the end of the day was the very reason I got on my bike in the first place.
Opportunities and Happiness
Christel and I still remember the shock and horror that we felt when, 10 years ago, we learnt of the earthquake and tsunami that had just hit Japan. The scale and the extent of the damage and loss of life were unlike anything we had ever experienced, seen, or even contemplated, up to that point in our lives.
When we met Maria for the first time, and, a few years later and after Akemi-sensei had explained to us her circumstances, we felt it was our responsibility to help. Of course, we could not repair or undo the damage that the tragic event had done, but perhaps we could support and bring some opportunities and happiness to Maria. She had left quite an impression on us, and we came to deeply care for her after meeting/hosting her in London every year after that and until we moved to Tokyo.
We have now known Maria for several years and we see her in Tokyo on a regular basis. She used to be a quiet, withdrawn kid, but she has grown to be an outgoing, capable young woman that we are proud of. This is, at least partly, thanks to what Aid for Japan did for her and for many other children, and that is simply amazing.
Matteo and Christel
Photos: Roger Payne – Head of Mid Sussex Martial Arts School
On the 11th March 2011 the east coast of Japan was struck by an undersea earthquake and subsequent tsunami. As well as the loss of life that this devastating event resulted in, hundreds of children also lost their parents and families.
Aid For Japan was founded by Akemi Tanaka in 2011 to support the orphans of this tragedy. With the advent of the 10th anniversary of the earthquake, it provides an opportunity to look back at the charity’s activities and the lives of those that it has touched.
At the time, the tragedy had a profound effect on Akemi. “As a mother myself, living in London, my heart went out to them and I felt a strong responsibility to help. So, to that end, I set up a new charity specifically to support these children and their education until they become adults and can fend for themselves.”
“They will never forget what happened but, with the help of our kind volunteers, we are working hard to bring some normality back into their lives.”
Researching the situation, Akemi initially contacted several Japanese NPOs (non-profit organisations) who provided good advice and help, particularly in getting in touch with the right orphanages. In Japan, they do not use the word “Orphanage”. Usually the term Jido Yogo Shisetsu is used, meaning a living space for children who do not have parents or who cannot live with parents.
In December 2011, Akemi flew to Japan on a fact-finding exercise to get first-hand experience of what life was like for the orphans who had experienced such devastating losses. Among the Jido Yogo Shisetsu that Akemi visited was La Salle Home near Higashi-Sendai station and also Iwaki Ikueisha based in Iwaki city, Fukushima prefecture. Akemi also visited Ishinomaki, one of the worst places struck by the tsunami.
Back in the UK, Aid For Japan’s initial fundraising events included a dedicated event at Conway Hall in London. Previously, Akemi had been responsible for the Japanese Art Festival (https://japaneseartfestival.com/), an annual cultural event designed to bring Japanese culture to the UK which had been running since 20?? So, she already had experience in organising Japanese-themed events, but now they took on a new focus with a good cause to promote.
Launching the events under a new name, Bunkasai (文化祭 or ‘cultural festivals’), the initial events carried on the tradition of promoting Japanese art and culture to UK audiences. Akemi also founded a satellite project from this initiative called Bunkasai Club (bunkasaiclub.org.uk). This weekly social event was designed as a meeting place for both English and Japanese people to practice language exchange.
In 2012, Japanese TV showcased the work of Aid For Japan as the charity created the foundations for one of its regular activities. In this case, the invitation to bring some of the orphans to the UK. For children that have lost their parents, this is an important step that not only broadens their view of the world but also reminds them that the world remembers them.
Aid For Japan was also linking up with other events that shared some cultural common ground. This included the annual AmeCon anime event and the Manchester-based Doki Doki (dokidokifestival.com), who regularly featured Akemi as a guest speaker and also adopted Aid For Japan as their charity of choice.
By 2013, Aid For Japan became a busy hive of activity. There were regular appearances at events such as Richmond’s May Fair, charity appeals at the Rotary Club, a ‘Kaiseki’ Japanese 9-course traditional dinner and a special cultural event at Collectionaires – an exclusive range of luxury clothing and accessories for women selected from some of the top designers in Japan. This event (which took place in a ‘pop-up’ shop) also featured a sake tasting experience care of Sam Sake (www.samsake.com) and nail artist Kitsune (www.facebook.com/KitsuneNails) provided beautiful nail art ranging from the subtle and sophisticated to hyper-Japan kawaii (cute) designs. Meanwhile, Akemi offered attendees the opportunity to indulge in the art of the Japanese Tea ceremony and kimono dressage – a refreshing break from a day’s shopping!
Independent game developer Space Budgie (spacebudgie.com) launched the captivating 9.03m, a first person art/empathy game for PC. The developers described 9.03m as: “Not a game in the traditional sense of the word; it aims to humanise, and remember the victims of the 2011 Japanese tsunami. The media is quick to put figures to death tolls in such disasters, and 9.03m tries to remind people of the individuals behind those figures”. The games company donated nearly £5,000 from the proceeds to Aid For Japan.
2014 also saw what was probably the most unique and ambitious fundraising effort for the charity. Little Dom’s Big Adventure. Orchestrated by Dominic Farwell-Cooke, the project involved the enterprising volunteer riding a motorbike all the way from the UK to Japan. Dom had plotted out the journey in precise detail, factoring in four cameras to film his epic adventure, which were relayed via a regular video diary on YouTube. Using an inventive eye for narrative and editing, the end result was an engaging series of videos that formed a gripping adventure story.
Talking a little about why he had embarked on this journey, Dom commented that it was inspired in part by a photo taken of Earth on one of the Apollo moon missions, reminding him that everyone who has lived, is currently living and will live in the future was on that blue orb in the sky. “It’s important to me to help other people” Dom added.
The journey captivated people’s attention as the video diary took on a travelogue aspect. The challenging trip was not always a smooth ride however, with Dom having to contend with fuel leaks, engine failure, illness, rough roads and getting lost. But by the time that Dom reached Japan he had raised nearly £4,000 for the charity.
Other fundraisers also helped to do their part for Aid For Japan which included runners who sought donations for their efforts. This included Chris Pickering’s marathon run in 2015 and Jackie Thomas’ half-marathon the same year. The tough routine for Chris (which included the Ironman Triathlon Japan in Toya, Japan and the Hokkaido Marathon in Sapporo) resulted in raising over £2,000 for the charity in the end.
The summer of 2015 saw Aid For Japan take a team of UK volunteers to Japan as part of our annual residential course. “This was my first ever trip to Japan” commented Emile Loveday, one of the volunteers, “and also my first charity volunteer work. I have found the whole experience so overwhelmingly positive and have found every second rewarding and enjoyable.”
The charity’s Japanese representative Sumika Hayakawa was on hand to help and provided her own personal take when they visited Fukushima: “After the residential course with orphans, the English volunteers came and stayed in my parent’s second house in Fukushima. While they stayed in Fukushima, Tom and Emile did a mini charity concert in the garden and the neighbourhood attended”.
In December, Akemi dutifully collated gifts and messages to send to the orphans in Japan as part of a Christmas initiative. This gesture also became an annual Aid For Japan tradition.
2016 saw the 5th Anniversary of the 2011 tragedy. It provided an opportunity to pause and reflect on the losses that the country had faced, but also the optimism of building for the future. With strong media attention for the anniversary, Aid For Japan featured in the likes of The Guardian and The Telegraph with Akemi explaining the charity’s mission.
“It’s a strange thing to be an orphan in Japan” commented Akemi for The Guardian, “not least of all because the adoption of children is very rare, so many people remain unaware that it’s even a possibility. Foster care is also uncommon. This means that many of the children we work with are either entirely on their own or living with elderly grandparents, and are unlikely to ever find another home or family to care for them. Emotionally they are simply traumatised.”
Meanwhile, Aid For Japan marked the anniversary with a special commemorative event. Traditional Japanese culture was explored through a demonstration of martial art sword techniques conducted by John Evans and the students of the Battodo Fudokan dojo (www.battodo-fudokan.co.uk), provided a captivating window into the skill and discipline required to work with these classic Japanese weapons. The event also featured a traditional Japanese flute (shakuhachi) performance, a talk by Zen Buddhist monk Julian Daizan Skinner Roshi and tasty sushi kindly provided by local sushi outlet Maki, as well as a selection of onigiri and dorayaki donated by The Japan Centre and Wagashi shop.
Attendees walked away from the event with perhaps a stronger impression of the impact that the events of 2011 tragedy had resulted in. Even five years on, the effect of the earthquake/tsunami still has a profound impact on those that survived the devastation, particularly the orphans who had lost everything.
As part of 2016’s plan, three young volunteers from the UK flew out to Japan. This was jointly to help raise funds and also awareness for the charity. David, Alex and Zak (who are all in their teens) invited people to track their progress on a special blog (https://aidforjapansummerblog.wordpress.com/) which had regular updates on their travels.
The same year, Akemi also visited Fukushima with some of the charity’s volunteers to visit the tsunami orphans. Akemi summed up her feelings on the time that had passed: “It is now a year since we last met these children but, even so, I was so surprised how much taller they had grown and how much more mature they had become. It was most satisfying to see the results of our efforts and that they are growing up into good people”.
Obviously one of the sources of help for Aid For Japan’s funding is from volunteers devoting their time to raise money for the charity. Among the various fundraisers in 2017 was a production of Sleeping Beauty staged by the Singapore-based Cheng Ballet Academy. When Emile Goldberg’s daughter, a student at the ballet school, became part of the event, he saw an opportunity for fundraising for Aid For Japan. As a result, the initiative managed to raise £2,466 for the charity.
In July 2017, Aid For Japan, in partnership with the Japan International Cultural Exchange Foundation (JICEF), staged a Japanese Culture event in London to raise awareness of the charity. JICEF (https://www.jicef.or.jp) is a Japanese-based initiative whose mission is to encourage cultural building through international exchange activities. Akemi gave an introduction to the kimono, as well as a demonstration of the Japanese tea ceremony before completing with a presentation about Aid For Japan. The event also had some generous assistance from The Japan Centre and Wagashi shop. £300 was raised for the charity at the event.
In June 2018, a special charity dinner was organized by Aid for Japan at the Ten no In temple (http://www.tsurumi-kubutsu.org/tennouin.html) in Tsurumi near Yokohama city. The temple was founded in AD 858 by the Tendai Buddhist sect. Guests at the dinner included members of Zonta International and The Rotary Club hailing from as far afield as the United States, England and Italy as well as local Japanese members and members of the Nara Zonta club.
At the end of July 2018, Maria (one of the orphans that Aid For Japan has formed a close bond with) arrived in the UK to spend a break assisted by Aid For Japan and its team of volunteers. The first port of call was the Asian Wellness, Yoga & Vegan Festival in Richmond. The event featured yoga sessions, Tai Chi and Qi Gong classes while Aid For Japan staged origami and calligraphy demonstrations for enthusiastic attendees. One of Maria’s dreams was to travel on the Eurostar, so regular charity volunteer Angela and interpreter Shiori took Maria to London’s St Pancras station for a trip to Brussels. During the journey, Maria took time to catch up on her science homework while the train zipped to its Belgian destination. Belgium is world-renowned for its chocolate, something which Maria got to sample first-hand by visits to some of the city’s best chocolate shops.
After her adventures in the UK and Belgium, Maria returned to Japan, but sent a message back to her UK friends: “It was a good memory this summer. I really appreciate your kindness”.
2018 also brought sad news when one of Aid For Japan’s trustees, Paul Algar, passed away after a long illness. Paul had been a tireless supporter of the charity and had regularly offered his services at many of Aid For Japan’s fundraising events. We all appreciate Paul’s warm and kind help to the orphans and the loss of his presence at Aid For Japan will be keenly felt by all.
In 2019, Akemi was recognised for her work with the charity by then-Prime Minister Theresa May. In a personal letter, the Prime Minister wrote:
“Through ‘Aid for Japan’ you are helping children who suffered the devastating loss of parents and loved ones in the Tohoku earthquake to rebuild their lives. Thanks to your tireless fundraising efforts, the charity’s residential programmes are ensuring that these young people can regain their confidence and reach their potential.”
Aid For Japan commemorated the 8th Anniversary of the earthquake with a special event at Islington Yoga School with the generous help of long-time supporters Fudokan Battodo. The event included a video with a teacher recounting his own story about the tragic events of 2011. Yukio Saito is headmaster of Ishinomaki Nishi High School. Ishinomaki town was severely damaged by the tsunami in the disaster. Saito Sensei has also written about the experiences of those at the school during and after the disaster.
As the school buildings were on higher ground, many local people took shelter there and the school gymnasium became a mortuary that eventually held more than 700 bodies. The title of his book Ikasarete Ikiru (lit. ‘Allowed to live so Live’) describes the mission of those who survived – both children and adults. Generous donations from events attendees helped raise over £600 for the charity.
Once again, Doki Doki welcomed Akemi as a guest speaker for their 2019 event. Akemi gave a talk about the charity and also took part in a panel answering the audiences questions about Japanese culture and her new book The Power Of Chowa.
With events and vendors covering Japanese food, dance, music and martial arts, the two-day event was very well attended. In the end, a staggering £7,000 was raised by Doki Doki directly for Aid For Japan. Funds were also raised by Genki Gear (https://genkigear.com), who donated sales of their Doki Doki T-shirts which raised £356.95 and also the Meian Maid Cafe who donated proceeds from their cafe event.
Aid For Japan has also benefitted from the contributions from younger fundraisers too. The students at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls in Elstree have staged their own Japanese cultural events, including language lessons, origami and even a sakura-themed cafe at the school.
2020 proved to be an extremely challenging year for the charity. In March, Aid For Japan had planned to stage its annual fundraising event in London to mark the 9th Anniversary of the Great Japan Earthquake. But the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic was causing many venues to shut down. To safeguard the well-being of our attendees, supporters, venue staff and the public, Aid For Japan took the decision to postpone the event.
2021 marks the 10th Anniversary of the Great Japan Earthquake, yet Aid For Japan’s work continues today even as the orphans from this tragedy become young adults. The charity’s mission has adapted and changed over the years, but support for the orphans has always been the key focus.
Aid For Japan’s progress would not have been possible without the assistance and support of countless organisations, companies, events and individuals, all of which have provided vital assistance in the charity’s ten years of operation. This also includes the tireless work and dedication of the charity’s small team of volunteers and helpers. Aid For Japan extends its thanks to: Matt Perkins, Sumika Hayakawa, Yuka Harada-Parr, Sophie Arias, Rimi Solloway, Bree Van Zyl, Paul Browne, Richard Pennington, Shiori, Cordelia Lawler, Isabelle Demaude, Angela Shaffer, Paul Algar, Misato, Sam Stocker, Yussif Osman, Sei Nakatani, David, Alex & Zak, Tom, Emile, Yukio Saito, the Doki Doki team, Genki Gear, Meian Maid Cafe, Elizabeth Morgan, Dominika, John Evans and the students of the Battodo Fudokan dojo, Dominic Farwell-Cooke, the staff and students at Haberdashers’ Aske’s School for Girls, the Griffin Federation, Akiharu Kitagawa, Japan Centre, JICEF, Ojiya Study Abroad, Emile Goldberg and the Cheng Ballet Academy, Chris Pickering, Tokyo Diner, Tengu Sake, TransIndus, 101 Thai Kitchen, Geek Girl Brunch, Space Budgie, Sam Sake, Roger Payne and the students of Mid Sussex Martial Arts School, Timo Hebditch, Benjamin Brook, the staff at Wasoukan, Julian Daizan Skinner Roshi, Justin Senryu, Angus Turvill and the staff at Maki, The Rotary Club and Zonta International.
Aid For Japan would also like to extend its grateful thanks to all those that have either donated or helped Aid For Japan in other ways across ten years of operation.