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Japanese students return the favor

October 11, 2013
By Tony Phifer

The Japanese Student Association, inspired by memories of Americans helping their country in time of need, banded together to support CSU's flood victims.

Natsumi Habara, left, and Nami Oguni and other members of CSU's Japanese Students Association helped raise more than $600 for CSUCares.All seemed well in Nami Oguni’s world on the afternoon of March 11, 2011. She was ordering food at her favorite American-style fast food restaurant, KFC, in downtown Tokyo, and preparing to dine with friends.

Suddenly, the floor began to shake. Restaurant displays crashed to the floor, and patrons began to scream. Unable to stand up, she hit the floor amid the violent vibrations.

“The shaking felt like it lasted forever,” Oguni said. “I thought I was going to die.”

Oguni and her friends had just experienced the first wave of destruction caused by the Tohoku earthquake, a massive temblor off the coast of Japan that registered 9.0 on the Richter scale. It triggered a massive tsunami that left 15,883 dead, injured thousands of others and caused more than $250 billion in damage.

Terrifying experience

With trains unable to move and communications wiped out, Oguni had to walk nearly 20 kilometers (12-plus miles) through the rubble to get to her home in the Tokyo suburbs. Her family had no idea if she was alive or dead until she arrived several hours later.

“It was a terrible experience,” she said.

Hundreds of miles away in Hiroshima, in southwest Japan, Natsumi Habara was not directly impacted by the historic quake. The damage in Hiroshima was minimal compared to cities on the eastern side of the island nation, but the disaster affected all Japanese.

“My family was OK, but it was hard to deal with because so many people died and so many lost their homes,” Habara said.

Vivid memories

Oguni and Habara didn’t know each other at the time, but both were struck by the generous outpouring of support from around the world – particularly the United States – as the recovery process began. So, after they arrived in January at CSU as exchange students and watched recently Colorado struggle to recover during the worst flooding in the state’s history, they were moved to action.

This note accompanied the money raised for flood victims by the Japanese Students Association.Oguni (president) and Habara (vice president) convinced fellow members of the Japanese Students Association to raise money for CSUCares, which provides immediate disaster relief support to CSU students, faculty, staff, and retirees.

“We were shocked when the flooding took place,” Oguni said. “We remember what it was like when the tsunami hit Japan. The American people helped Japan recover, so we wanted to help the people of Colorado.”

Fundraising, Japanese style

With guidance from Mako Beecken, a Japanese instructor at CSU for more than 20 years and the JSA faculty adviser, the students set up a table at the Lory Student Center seeking donations. The event, unfortunately, was a complete bust.

Beecken made some suggestions and loaned students some of her authentic Japanese games and clothing. The students, with Habara donning a kimono, set up a booth requesting donations to play the games. It was a huge hit, and JSA raised more than $665 dollars in four hours.

“I experienced the 1997 flood here in Fort Collins, when my office was totally destroyed, so I know what people are going through after the recent flooding,” Beecken said. “I’m so proud that our Japanese students found a way to help victims here. I think they did a wonderful job.”

Donations still needed

To date, CSU has helped 33 families affected by flooding, with more aid applications coming in. Although the CSU community, including organizations like the JSA, has been very generous the fund is almost depleted. You can help by donating online to CSUCares.