Though it was an ocean away, the devastating earthquake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis that ravaged northeastern Japan in March 2011 struck Hawaii in the heart.
People all over the world grieved over the magnitude of the tragedy, but it was Hawaii’s unique social, cultural and economic ties to Japan that prompted an unparalleled statewide response that raised more than $9 million over the past year.
“This one really hit home,” says Coralie Chun Matayoshi, CEO of the American Red Cross Hawaii State Chapter. “For Hawaii, this was practically a local disaster.”
TV images of unimaginable destruction briefly dazed Hawaii’s people, but then they quickly set to work. Within 24 hours, an Aloha for Japan campaign coalesced as a statewide effort under Gov. Neil Abercrombie, coordinated by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor. The name, logo and collaborative tone of the effort came from the GRP Home coalition of T-shirt makers, spearheaded by entertainer and entrepreneur Grant “Lanai” Tabura. By involving 160 Hawaii organizations – including banks and credit unions, insurance and telecommunications companies, schools, restaurateurs, food distributors and entertainers – the coalition raised more than $8 million in six months.
“This was by far the most money raised for disaster relief from Hawaii for outside of Hawaii,” says Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz. “I think it was one of the most extraordinary stories of generosity in Hawaii’s history.”
Most of Hawaii’s donations went to two organizations, the Red Cross’ Hawaii chapter and theJapan-America Society of Hawaii. The Red Cross received more than $4.6 million from Hawaii donors, Matayoshi says, and distributed the money to a matrix of rescue and relief organizations, including the Japanese Red Cross. JASH reported that it collected more than $4.2 million from corporate and individual donors, and from a slew of Aloha for Japan fundraising events.
A separate initiative by I-Lion Hawaii School, an Oahu branch of Sendai Ikuei Gakuen school in Japan’s Sendai region, raised funds for victims in that area.
Among the biggest fundraisers was Lei Day for Japan on May 1, which marshaled the talents of top Hawaii chefs and entertainers. Another successful program was JASH’s Rainbow for Japan Kids, which raised $320,466 so children who lost relatives in the disaster could come to Hawaii for R&R. The first group of 20 children arrived in Honolulu during August for a two-week respite. A second group of 25 arrived in December and a third group was scheduled to arrive this month.
About 4,000 companies and individuals have contributed to fundraising efforts through JASH, says Ed Hawkins, president of the society.
As it had in 2001, following the deaths of Japanese crew members aboard the Ehime Maru off Diamond Head, JASH galvanized support from the many Japanese cultural, social and business associations in Hawaii. “This is our strength,” says Hawkins, who visited Japan three times last year. “We can take a tragic event and, through our networks and relationships, we can make something good out of it.”
Abercrombie and Schatz were among the officials who hunkered down in the state’s Emergency Operations Center in Diamond Head crater throughout the night of March 10, monitoring tsunami damage in Japan and the threat to Hawaii.
The next day, after the all-clear sounded, they put on their suits and called on Japan Consul-General Yoshihiko Kamo to express condolences for the lives lost and offer support for the recovery.
Seven weeks later, Kamo told Hawaii lawmakers at the state Capitol: “It is my pleasure to note that, during this past month, you have made us local Japanese deeply impressed by your kindness and thoughtfulness. I will take it as my important job to let as many Japanese as possible know how much the people of Hawaii helped and cared about us.”
E Komo Mai
Hawaii residents not only opened their hearts and wallets; many opened their homes to victims of the Japanese disaster, too.
The all-volunteer Aloha Initiative mobilized families on Oahu and Maui to host survivors from the hardest-hit regions for three to 11 weeks. Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa, honorary chair of the initiative, says the program gave victims “a place to heal, a place to rest.”
Regan’s family was among 150 who created homespun relief for more than 100 tsunami victims.
The lead organizer was Keith Regan, who is managing director of Maui County. He says he and his wife and two friends from California, Keith and Lynn Powers, started thinking of different ways to reach out to people affected by the tragedy.
“Everyone was holding fundraisers and sending money, and we wanted to do something with a human touch,” he says.
About two weeks after coming up with the idea for the Aloha Initiative, Regan got a call and a pledge of support from then-First Hawaiian Bank CEO Don Horner and the bank’s foundation.
“With that kind of support, we said, ‘We can do this. We can give people a chance to escape for a while,’ ” Regan says. In April, Regan traveled to Japan to meet with coordinators who would select needy families from the earthquake and tsunami-ravaged region. The first home-stay guests from Fukushima arrived on the Fourth of July.
Lt Gov. Brian Schatz watched disaster-weary families get off the plane to a warm welcome. “It was just so touching,” he says. “We were all crying.”
“They looked shocked and depressed,” Regan adds. “You could see on their faces they really weren’t sure what they were getting into. But within a couple of weeks they were smiling and laughing and enjoying themselves. They were renewed.”
In fact, Hawaiian Airlines says its overall donations last year to Japanese relief topped $262,000 in cash and more than $15,000 in free and reduced-rate air travel. Japan Airlines says its contributions totaled between $200,000 and $400,000, and it is commited to flying 200 more survivors to Hawaii this year.
Tsunami Debris Not All It’s Cracked Up to Be
Someone may have warned you that tons of Japanese tsunami debris are headed toward Hawaii. The advice from University of Hawaii ocean scientists: Look on the light side.
Principal investigator Nikolai Maximenko and scientific computer programmer Jan Hafner of the International Pacific Research Centerin the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology at UH-Manoa are continually updating computer models of ocean currents.
While those currents are becoming more and more predictable, the movement of tsunami debris is not, because objects of different shapes and buoyancy are affected differently by winds. “There are so many unknowns, depending on the shape of the objects,” Hafner says.
Last October, The Associated Press reported that as much as 20 million tons of floating tsunami debris could arrive on Hawaii’s shores by early 2013.
But UH scientists tell Hawaii Business that 20 million tons was an estimate of all the oceanborne debris from Fukushima. Not all of that is still afloat. Much of the heavy debris has sunk or will sink and other bits will wash up somewhere else, Hafner says. “Only a fraction of that amount will reach any beach on any shore.”
Back in October, AP reported that a Russian ship had observed a massive field of household appliances and other tsunami junk floating in the Pacific between Japan and Midway Atoll, at the far reaches of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The sighting confirmed the computer models of UH oceanographers, which had predicted tsunami debris would flow to that part of the Pacific.
Debris that could be tsunami-related reached the shores of Washington State in December, Hafner says, but models suggest that junk from Fukushima is not likely to reach Hawaii until December 2012 or early next year, though some light, wind-driven debris could reach here sooner.
If the main “cloud” of debris stays on course at 40 degrees north of Hawaii, its southern flank could touch Hawaii, he says. “If we see some lighter stuff regularly, it could mean some heavier stuff is behind. Some of it could pose a hazard to small boats.”
Economic Fallout in Hawaii
The economic impact on Hawaii from Japan’s worst natural disaster was not as far-reaching as initially anticipated.
Within hours of the catastrophe, Starwood Hotels & Resorts in Hawaii saw a group cancellation of 2,000 guests. But hotels coaxed their travel partners to keep bookings in place and, within weeks, there were signs that the impact on Hawaii tourism would not be as severe or as long-lasting as might be expected, considering the magnitude of the disaster.
“This came at a tough time, on top of a global recession,” says Hawaii Tourism AuthorityCEO Mike McCartney. “Our initial expectation was the number of Japanese visitors would be down by 45 percent for the year. In the end we were down about 5 percent and visitor expenditure from Japan was actually up by 8.1 percent.”
“We’re close to a record year and we feel blessed,” McCartney says.
He says the multiple crises in Japan proved to be a defining moment for tourism planners. The HTA quickly agreed on nine ways to respond – a combination of immediate, short-term and long-term actions, including pumping an additional $3 million into Hawaii’s global marketing to attract tourists from other parts of Asia, and from Australia and Canada.
Those efforts paid off with a slew of new flights from Down Under and North America, and, toward the end of the year, new service to and from Japan by Hawaiian and Delta airlines, McCartney says. Working with Japanese tour organizers, Hawaii tourism officials found ways to bring Japanese factory workers and farmers here in what became the new reality of altered work schedules and charter flights to replace reductions in scheduled services.
“This lit a fire under us and, in the end, we realized we are more global than even we thought we were.”
New car sales in 2011 were up 4.4 percent in Hawaii over 2010, but the Japanese crisis did hinder sales of a few popular Japanese car models because some automaking factories and parts suppliers had to shut down. Servco, Hawaii’s leading Toyota dealer group, says its hybrid vehicles took the biggest hit, says Rick Ching, president of Servco Automotive. “We felt the effect of that well into the fourth quarter of last year. With the start of the new year, though, we are back to pre-tragedy inventory levels for all of our vehicles.”
Some charities also took a hit. In the weakened economy, the massive outpouring of donations for Japan dampened other charitable giving. “The funding pattern shifted as a result of the giving program for Japan,” says Lisa Murayama, president and CEO of Hawaii Alliance of Nonprofit Organizations.
She adds that a second event in 2011 also diverted money that businesses might have donated to local charities. “The year began with Japan relief and ended with corporate spending on APEC,” she says.
Businesses Show Aloha for Japan
Early on March 10, 2011, 10 community-minded T-shirt makers, whose business is tracking new trends, were tossing around ideas to add juice to Hawaii’s global marketing effort. The merchandisers set a meeting to talk face to face the next day – Friday, March 11 – which turned out to be the morning after a powerful earthquake and tsunami flattened parts of Japan.
“We decided to meet anyway,” says Brian “BJ” Sabate, of Butigroove, who started folding T-shirts for his father’s business in the sixth grade and has been on his own since 2000.
Overnight, Kyle Shimabukuro, of HiLife Clothing, had created a simple but dramatic logo, Sabate recalls. “After the meeting, a bunch of us went to my warehouse and started printing shirts. We printed 600 and distributed 300 that day.”
Radio host and events coordinator Grant “Lanai” Tabura took Aloha for Japan shirts to TV stations that night in time for the 10 o’clock news. Sales started briskly, Sabate says, and, “It just snowballed.”
The coalition of Hawaii T-shirt makers called GRP Home Co. (pronounced “group home”) distributed between 20,000 and 25,000 fundraising shirts, which became symbols of aloha on both sides of the Pacific.
GRP Home members – the Aloha Army, Barefoot League, Butigroove, Fitted Hawaii, HiLife Clothing, In4mation brands – decided against printing any corporate logo on the shirt front. “A single palaka block and message was printed on the back to show unity for a greater cause,” Shimabukuro says.
From March to mid-August, the people of Hawaii coordinated hundreds of Aloha for Japan collection points, donation drives, concerts, art shows and other fundraising events through a single website, leaving the shirt makers to do their thing: make shirts. “We learned so much and we made such great contacts, some of us want to keep on working for the benefit of people in need,” Sabate says. “We are still donating and selling T-shirts.”
Hawaii businesses, large and small, collectively and individually, found ways to help.
Kurt Osaki, president of Osaki Creative Group, watched disturbing TV coverage of the massive destruction all night and early into the morning of March 11. At 5 a.m., he sent an urgent text to his friend and business partner, Duane Kurisu, founder and chairman of aio. The message simply said: “We gotta do something.”
Kurisu immediately set up the With Aloha Foundation, and a personal connection alerted aio to the situation at Tohoku University Hospital in Sendai. The teaching hospital was working around the clock to care for as many as 1,000 emergency-room patients at a time, while providing food, shelter and comfort to others who were stranded. “We were moved by what was going on there,” says Susan Eichor, president and COO of aio, the parent company ofHawaii Business magazine.
With Aloha organized an April 9 fundraiser at the Pagoda Restaurant and Banquet Roomsthat attracted more than 2,000 donors. Each gave $50 or more to enjoy food and entertainment provided free by concerned individuals, groups and businesses. The first check for the Tohoku University Hospital Relief Fund was for $150,000.
“Donations kept coming,” Eichor says. By year’s end, aio had donated a total of $220,000 to support the hospital’s heroic efforts.
Many Hawaii residents visited Japan to share their aloha in person. Among them were Lloyd Kawakami, president of Iolani Sportswear, and his sons, members of the family trio Manoa DNA. They delivered donations of food and water to shelters in Sendai and Miyagi prefectures, then entertained the evacuees.
After the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami damaged the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, Honolulu-based CBI Polymers donated a shipment of itsDeconGel decontaminant and services worth $250,000 to help remove radiological waste from the area.
CBI’s team entered the Fukushima Exclusion Zone in April to show the Japanese Medical Association and other potential partners that DeconGel could remove up to 90 percent of radiological isotopes in a single application (see a picture from the demonstration below).
In August, the U.S. Department of Commerce gave an Export Achievement Award to CBI, one of Skai Ventures’ companies, for its role in Japan’s cleanup and for helping Hungary cope with a disastrous chemical spill.
Five months after CBI’s Japan donation, team members returned to decontaminate outdoor areas of the Asahimachi Baptist School and Little Lamb Kindergarten, making it safe for children to play there again.
DeconGel is also proving its worth in the marketplace, says Galen Ho, CEO of CBI. The company had already made inroads into Japan’s nuclear energy, defense and public-buildings market before the disaster, but substantial sales had to wait until CBI built partnerships and until Japanese federal emergency funds reached the prefectures and remediation agencies.
By year’s end, things fell into place. “We saw a significant increase in orders from Japan in the last quarter of 2011,” Ho says. “We believe this is a reflection that the government of Japan is moving closer to commencing decontamination work on a large scale.”