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Sacramento Group To Help With Japan Tsunami Relief

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(Sacramento, CA)
Friday, February 24, 2012
The meeting was at the home of the team's oldest member, 75-year-old Betty Hirata.
"…have you eaten yet? Are you in a hurry to go (laughter)? What I mean to say is can we eat or do you want to speak?"
We do both…as we speak about the upcoming trip and eat a lunch of sandwiches, chips and soda. Hirata says she's eager to leave for Japan and get to work.
"I'm not a young chick. But I've handled tools and I'm strong and healthy and so I figured 'I think I can do it…I will go.'"
Hirata is going with five other team members. On this day, the team is meeting about packing the right gear for the 13-day trip.
"Today we'll be kind of making sure that we all have enough warm clothes. The weather is much colder there now."
That's team leader Yuri Kimura.
All of the team members belong to the Sacramento Japanese United Methodist Church on Franklin Boulevard. The church offered to send volunteers right after the tsunami. But eight months passed before their offer was accepted.
Kimura speaks Japanese and has been in contact with the Tohoku Disaster Center in Japan - the group organizing relief efforts.
"When I last spoke with them they had been doing continued outdoor work despite the cold weather. They're doing some painting of some cottages. They were working on an individual's home to still continue to clean the tsunami debris and dirt off of one of the floors."  
0217SM FLYERWith all that cleaning and light construction work, Kimura expects each day to be a challenge - and not just physically…
"I anticipate as I translate for the team and talk to individuals about what they experienced, what they felt, how their recovery  has been I think that will be the most emotionally challenging for me."
That emotional challenge for Kimura and the rest of the team began last March when news of the tsunami was first broadcast.
CNN report on tsunami...Male Anchor: "We're watching a live tsunami hit Japan. If you're watching us from around the world here on CNN, that is what you're watching…
"Seeing trucks and boats and things just wash along…you know, from the ocean…it was unreal. I was just in shock for quite a while…"
Team member Mary Nakamura…
"And at some point I just, I couldn't really watch it too much because it was just flooding all sorts of emotions just seeing the images and seeing how devastating it was and how helpless many people were because of the natural disaster." 
Team leader Kimura says she first got word of the disaster from a friend's text message.
"My parents live in Tokyo and I have some friends and family in Japan and (my) definitely immediate concern for their safety…everyone's safety." 
Kimura says she's familiar with the region hit by the tsunami…having traveled there four years earlier.
"To wonder what had happened to some of those towns and the people that we had encountered on our journey, it was…I think the hardest thing was staring at the TV and not being able to do anything. And so I'm glad to be able to go and help and to see with my own eyes the recovery and to remind people that we have not forgotten."
For 75 year old Betty Hirata, the motivation to help tsunami victims, in the middle of Japan's bitter winter, is rooted in her heritage.  
"To think that something like this has happened to our ancestor's country, it was very hard to see it on TV. So, I'm all ready. It's going to be cold but I've got all my gears (laughter)."
When Hirata and the other team members return home, they'll share stories and photos of their time in Japan at an event on March 11th - the one-year anniversary of the disaster.
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