In Search of Hope

by margaret zhou

In the wake of a devastating earthquake and tsunami that have resulted in 13,700 deaths and with a remaining 14,000 people missing as of April 15, there are many who lack all notions of morality, sympathy, and humanity, and openly state that the natural disaster was Japan’s “payback” for Pearl Harbor or a “message from God.”

According to, television writer Alec Sulkin’s tweet that read, “If you wanna feel better about this earthquake in Japan, google ‘Pearl Harbor death toll’” was re-tweeted by over 100 of his followers within the first four hours after he posted it. There were enough twitter posts making similar comments to make “Pearl Harbor” a popular trending topic on Twitter. Hundreds of Facebook users posted similarly hurtful status updates.

These comments are so ridiculously ignorant, racist and spiteful that they don’t even merit a well thought-out comeback, but immediately upon reading them I wanted to ask their writers if they remembered those two atomic bombs the great old red and white blue dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For the record, the combined death toll that resulted from the two bombs is conservatively estimated at 225,000, while the Pearl Harbor death toll is listed at 2,700 (11,000 fewer deaths than resulted from the earthquake and tsunami). Besides, there is no legitimacy in the notion of “taking revenge” on an entire population of people for the actions of their government. And finally, how can one compare the motivation behind an act of war to an act of nature, which is completely apolitical and unmotivated?

But there’s more. On the March 14 airing of his radio show, Glenn Beck announced in his characteristically incoherent style, complete with obnoxious belly chuckle and all, that “I’m not saying God is, you know causing earthquakes…But I’ll tell
you this: There’s a message being sent. And that is, ‘Hey you know that stuff we’re doing?’ Not really working out real well. Maybe we should stop doing some of it. I’m just saying.”

Despite Beck’s plain stupidity, many of his followers and equally ignorant and insensitive religious conservatives continued to offend the Christian faith by making similar statements. One girl’s YouTube vlog in which she praised God for “shaking
Japan” and waking up all the non-believers caused intense controversy and debate. A few days later the girl “came clean” in another video where she stated that her comments were meant to be a joke. It doesn’t even need to be said that something is seriously wrong when the sudden loss of hundreds of thousands of lives and the condition of families who are now homeless, jobless, hungry and traumatized are seen by some as appropriate topics for “jokes.”


Damage and Devastation

To gain a better sense of the ignorance and lack of humanity behind the “Japan deserved it” rhetoric, we need a complete picture of what the Japanese people have suffered since the quake. The 9.0 magnitude quake hit Japan on March 11, and generated a 10 meter high tidal wave that washed away houses, cars, infrastructure, people and even entire coastal villages. The search for more than 14,000 missing people continues among rubble. Hundreds and even thousands have been placed in evacuation shelters, where health resources and basic necessities are scarce.

According to the Huffington Post, “The quake and tsunami also damaged the critical cooling system at the Fukushima
Dai-ichi plant, which overheated and began spewing radiation into the environment.” As a result, radiation has been found in milk, water, and 11 types of vegetables grown in areas around the plant. Tokyo residents are storing up on bottled water and basic necessities, leaving supermarket shelves across the city bare. According to the Post, some supermarkets have even
imposed a buying ration to prevent hoarding.

In addition to the fears caused by radiation leaks, survivors of the quake also have to deal with the anxiety of aftershocks that continue to damage infrastructure. Hundreds of aftershocks, some measuring up to over 6.0 magnitude, have been reported in the five weeks since the quake.

According to Aljazeera News, “Many now complain of a queasy sensation where they feel that the ground is swaying beneath their feet even when it is not – a condition blamed on confused inner-ear balance receptors and a heightened state of anxiety.” For the many people now living in evacuation centers, the horror of the disaster that destroyed their homes and caused the death of family members is relived with every aftershock.


Berkeley as a Ray of Hope

In the face of such devastating conditions, people around the world have mobilized to provide aid for Japan. Here at Berkeley, dozens of student organizations have been holding donation drives, and putting on events and showcases to raise money for the relief effort. A “Japan Relief” store that sold hand-crafted clothing, bags, jewelry, along with an array of pottery, second-hand items and baked goods, was set up on the corner of Telegraph and Parker. The funds raised at the store were sent to the Consulate of Japan in San Francisco. After raising over $20,000 in just four weeks, the store closed temporarily until further notice.

The Cal Japan Club has organized a Relief Committee specifically designed to raise donations. The Relief Committee has
joined up with the larger “Hope for Japan” project, which is being lead by Students for Japan committees in universities and colleges across California.

According to Hikari Kato, a member of the Relief Committee and a representative of Hope For Japan Project in Northern
California “The purpose of the project is to enhance uniformity by raising the same slogan, sharing the same poster, sending the collected donations to Japanese Red Cross and sharing information among different campuses. By doing so, we expect to raise public awareness of the disaster and our activities.”

In addition to fundraising on Sproul on Mondays and Wednesdays, the Relief Committee has been collecting donations at
Farmer’s Markets around Berkeley and on the corner of Ashby and College on Fridays. Wristbands are also being sold for $2. Members of the Relief Committee are mostly international students from Japan, and they say that donating money
to charity organizations is the best way for students to help the people in Japan.

In an interview at the Farmer’s Market on MLK and Center street, Relief Committee member Daiki Matsuura commented on
Japan’s history of earthquakes and the current situation in Japan: “Japan is famous for earthquakes, we have been trying to prepare for this disaster but you can never prepare enough for this.”

Matsuura also said, “[Hope for Japan’s] goal is to raise $100,000, so far we have raised about $60,000. There are people around California involved in helping us.” Another member, Hiro Ohisa, said that some of the strongest supporters donated over $100. According to Kato, the Berkeley students of the Cal Japan Club Relief Committee had raised $5,019.75 themselves as of April 14.

The members of the relief committee were hopeful that they would reach their target goal of donations. When asked whether
they had experienced any negative attitudes toward Japan while fundraising, they said they had not. Overall, they expressed gratitude and optimism in response to the great support they have been receiving from the Berkeley community.