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Our final Doki Doki Manchester Japanese Festival – Summer 2023

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Our final outing as a charity coincided with the final Doki Doki Manchester Japanese Festival this year. The charity and the festival have grown up together, and so coming to a close together was a bittersweet feeling. Incredibly, over the past twelve years, Doki Doki Festival (organised by the stalwart Andrew Gaskell) has raised over £50,000 for our charity! Without their donations we would probably not have existed.

Aid For Japan is completely funded by donations and all our dedicated team work on a voluntary basis. Ever since the Tohoku Disaster of 2011 the volunteer teachers, homestay hosts, students and supporters have kept this charity going through their generosity. We’d like to thank everyone from the bottom of our hearts. We also know that if Akemi Tanaka were alive today, she would feel happy about what the charity has managed to provide –importantly – a supportive and caring environment for the orphans of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.

This year Doki Doki Festival raised for our charity £5,404.74. The designers at Genki Gear created an original T-shirt for Aid For Japan which raised £710. Extra donations were received from Meian Maid Café and CLAM Fashion. Our charity team member Yuka Harada-Parr wrote names in Japanese kanji calligraphy – producing over a hundred people’s names – and together with book sales from Akemi’s book The Power of Chowa, raised £652.60.

In total, thanks to everyone’s efforts we raised £6,768 at Doki Doki Festival this year!

Aid For Japan had a stall over the weekend manned by trustee, Richard Pennington, where people could come and talk to us about Japanese culture and traditions. We gave away free Japanese language learning resources provided by HABaLook, held free origami craft sessions and helped run the saké tasting workshop hosted by Miki.

The Japanese independent film Eternal New Mornings 『有り、触れた、未来』was also screened as its UK premiere (watch trailer here). For the first and last time in the festival’s history, inspired by the closing scene in the film Eternal New Mornings, a giant koi karp was crafted and placed at the front entrance, so that well-wishers could write messages on coloured pieces of paper representing the fish’s scales and stick them up.

It was a wonderful to see over the weekend the blank koi karp fill up with loving messages and become more colourful. Koi karp streamers in Japan are flown across the country on Children’s Day because they symbolise hope and the energetic spirit of children, which is a fitting image for the closure of our charity which supports the orphans of the tsunami.

Our charity director, Rimika Solloway, gave a speech to the festivalgoers at Doki Doki about why the charity is closing now. For the benefit of those who couldn’t be there, here is the speech in full below:

12 years ago, an earthquake struck Japan. You might remember seeing footage on the news. Debris crashed to the ground. Waves knocked buildings into rubble. People ran for higher ground.

Akemi Tanaka (my mother) was watching the news that day. She sat in her living room in England and saw a tidal wave of water swallow cities on the East Coast of Japan. It was devastating.

At that moment she thought of all the children who might have lost their parents and families due to this natural disaster. She wanted to help them and protect them from what would be a very difficult life ahead.

This is why Akemi founded our charity: Aid For Japan.

Since 2011, we’ve existed to support people orphaned by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Over the years, that support has taken many forms, such as home-stays in the UK, summer schools in Japan, and cultural exchanges.

Looking back, I can say our charity grew up alongside the orphans who are now happy, confident adults. They are entering a new chapter in their lives – and so are we because this year, 2023, is the last year of our charity.

There are three reasons which have led us to this decision and sharing them will hopefully help you understand why this is a bittersweet occasion for us.

Reason number one brings us a lot of joy: the people we’ve been supporting don’t need us anymore. Some of the orphans we have known since primary school age have now grown up and are going to university or getting jobs.

When we close, our funds will be divided between this group of young people. Some of them will use it to buy a plane ticket to England for a holiday. Others will use the money to go on a trip in their home country with the people they care about.

This summer one of our longest-standing beneficiaries, Maria-chan, returned to England using her own money to visit us. The charity team met up with her and took her on sightseeing to places like Windsor Castle, also we went to see the musical Moulin Rouge in London’s West End.

まりあちゃん had a wonderful time and she told us that she would be coming back to the UK regularly, as we feel like family to her. Us charity members feel the same, so the relationship will continue long after the charity closes. She hopes to get a visa one day so she can live and work abroad.

Last year, with the help of your donations the charity sponsored Maria-chan to take part in a prestigious hair styling course at Vidal Sassoon Academy.

Since then, Maria-chan has landed her first job at a hair salon in Tokyo! She’ll be starting work as a hairdresser in the busy Ikebukuro area of Tokyo from next April. We are so proud of her for getting this job in the industry she wants to work in. And without the charity’s help she might not have been able to do this, so she really wanted to say thank you to everyone here.

Doki Doki Festival donates all its profits to our charity – something which I’m sure all of you will agree is amazingly generous and I think deserves a round of applause – especially to Andrew who organises Doki Doki.

I’m afraid I’m going to have to change the mood because reason number two brings us a great deal of sadness: Akemi Tanaka is no longer with us. She passed away from cancer in 2021, and as well as missing her as my mother, friend, and teacher, we miss her as a leader. We miss her vision.

Some of the orphans along with our charity lead in Japan, Sumika-san, have visited Akemi’s cemetery to do grave rites, which are so important in Japanese culture. Recently my family also remembered her at Obon, the Japanese Ancestor Festival.

Then, reason number three comes down to timing. The timing feels auspicious.

In Japan, there’s a belief that life goes in 12-year cycles. It matches the number of symbolic animals in the Zodiac. As we’re back in the Year of the Rabbit we have now completed a whole 12-year cycle since the Great East Japan Earthquake.

So, all that remains for me to say is thank you for your support. For both coming here to listen to my talk and attending Doki Doki Festival to celebrate Japanese culture, just like Akemi would have liked. All of the orphans who are now adults in Japan thank you too.