April 25 – Sharing Aloha with Those in Need

A short visit to Sendai begins with exchanging gifts and ends with a commitment to continue sharing our aloha spirit.

Tohoku University Hospital Vice President Tooru Shimosegawa presents Duane with a certificate of appreciation.

Photos: Courtesy Tohoku University Hospital

When Ken Niimura and I arrived at the Sendai Airport, the first thing we noticed was the distinct smell of seawater that had been stagnant for way too long. As we made our way through the airport, we could see there were minimal services available and most things were being done manually. Considering that a destructive wall of water had swallowed the airport just 45 days ago, things were not as bad as I had feared.

Fortunately, Mr. Takekawa from Tohoku University Hospital met us with a van because Ken had a giant suitcase and duffle bag filled with candy from Hawaiian Host. I also had two large boxes, one with Big Island Candies cookies and one from Russell Yamamoto with Lion coffee.

From left facing camera, Ken, Duane and Caoli present an aloha shirt signed by event attendees, a proclamation from the Hawaii State House of Representatives and gifts including Big Island Candies, Hawaiian Host Chocolates and Lion Coffee.

After brief introductions, we began the 45-minute ride to the hospital. Once there, we were greeted by a number of administrators who escorted us to the third-floor meeting room. Caoli Cano was there to meet us as well. There were also reporters from two newspapers, including The Mainichi Daily News.

Before departing Hawaii, we were told that the meeting in Sendai would have to be very short so I really hadn’t prepared to say anything. Imagine my surprise as the meeting began when I was asked to speak. I decided it best just to speak from the heart:

"We are here from Hawaii with aloha. Aloha means "hello" from the deepest part of our hearts. It also means "I love you" from the deepest part of our hearts. Whether we are Japanese, Filipino, Hawaiian, Korean or Caucasian in ancestry, we all are saddened by the pain, suffering and trauma the Japanese people have endured. We organized the With Aloha fundraiser not for ourselves, but for the thousands of people who wanted to reach out and help our brothers and sisters in Japan. We have brought to you gifts from Hawaii generously donated by Hawaiian Host, Big Island Candies and Russell Yamamoto who purchased the bags of Lion Coffee. Please share them with the hospital staff who we know has worked beyond the call of duty in these difficult times. We also have a Hawaii State House of Representatives proclamation signed by Speaker Calvin Say and by Vice Speakers, Joey Manahan, Mark Hashem and Pono Chong. Please accept these gifts, with aloha."

Vice President Tooru Shimosegawa then spoke on behalf of Tohoku University Hospital. He expressed his heartfelt gratitude for our donation and gifts. He was amazed at how quickly we organized the fundraiser but more importantly, how quickly we got the money to them. Our donation is the first outside funding they have received. They have not received any emergency funds from the Japanese government nor have they received anything from relief organizations. They truly understand and value the people of Hawaii’s aloha spirit and presented us with a certificate of appreciation. They also gave us a tour of the hospital and treated us to lunch at a nearby restaurant.

On the way back to the airport, we stopped to take pictures of the devastation. The pictures don’t begin to tell the full story. What they do tell us however is that there is still much work to be done. We look forward to continuing our With Aloha efforts so that the next time we visit Sendai, things will look – and smell – like the Japan we know and love.