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Park City relief heading to Japan

For the past five weeks, Park City teacher and Tokyo native Keiko Ito has been tirelessly collecting funds and new clothing for the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan.

Ito, known as "Miss Keiko" to her students, has been busy calling and emailing contacts in Japan to secure a way to get the goods to the right people.

Meanwhile, Park City has risen to the occasion. A total of $5,740 has been collected into a community bucket and was given to Ito last weekend.

Also, local schools and other organizations donated new clothing that will be shipped or carried to Japan.

On Monday, Ito took a cashier’s check and other donation checks to the Red Cross, which, in turn, will send the money to the Red Cross in Japan.

Ito, who originally planned to leave on Saturday, May 14, has bumped up her departure to Friday, May 13, in order to secure a seat on a bus heading to Sendai, which was hit hardest by the March 11 disaster.

Throughout the fundraising, Ito discovered some interesting things about her native country and about herself.

"It’s been an introspective time for me to see how my country works," she told The Park Record. "It’s been interesting to find out about volunteer efforts there, because the culture is so different.

"Here when Hurricane Katrina hit, people just decided to go and help," she said. "They hopped on a plane and were gone. When they arrived in New Orleans, people accommodated the volunteers."

In Japan, however, anyone who wants to be a volunteer has to register with the local authorities or be a member of a pre-approved organization, Ito said.

"Just a kind heart, in itself, doesn’t get you an opportunity to help," she said.

One of the incidents that necessitated the red tape involved people living in Japan who wanted to help, Ito said.

"They just up and went to help without realizing there was no food, water or lodging for them," she said. "The local municipalities had an influx of people arriving to help, but couldn’t accommodate them. It created a problem because the government was not only having a tough time providing for the victims, but also it found itself trying to provide for the volunteers who didn’t think ahead."

Another cultural difference is the fact that the Japanese have a hard time accepting charity, without a sure way to return the favor, or they lose face, Ito explained.

"In Japan, if you do something for someone, the ones on the receiving end feels obliged to give you something back, and a batch of cookies doesn’t cut it," she said. "It can’t be homemade. It has to be an honor gift and wrapped beautifully and nicer than what you gave. If they can’t do that, they are offended.

"Japan is a country that built itself relatively quickly after World War II," Ito explained. "It became one of the strongest nations in the world in a very short time, and the citizens and their Samurai spirit took pride in that, and while the pride is commendable, it can also get in their way."

Ito, who is taking 40 pounds of donated clothing to Japan, was even told handing out T-shirts and sweats was going to cause some embarrassment.

"So I suggested we gather the kids, and, since I’m a teacher, we would hold a ‘Have Fun Speaking English’ session, and when we finished, I would say, ‘Thank you for playing,’ and give them a shirt."

Regardless of the cultural walls Ito faced, she never stopped trying.

"I didn’t want to give up, because my students here are so important," she said. "I want them to know where their money went. I want them to see a picture of a Japanese child wearing a sweatshirt that was donated. I want them to see the results so they would want to help do something for someone else in the future."


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