Close your eyes. Remember the place where you grew up. All your childhood memories, with friends, siblings, neighbors and family. The laughter, the tears, the freedom of being a kid and not having a care in the world. Now imagine, suddenly, dramatically and tragically all of this is ripped away from you. You still have the memories, but that place, the place you recall all those memories being created, the place you call home, vanished.
The catastrophic March 11 earthquake and tsunami swallowed up entire villages on the coast – one of those being Ofunato. My friend Kimie was brought to tears as she watched footage of her home town, Ofunato, northeast of Tokyo, completely disappear. A very strong, proud woman of Samurai decent.
Ofunato is rarely reported outside of Iwate prefecture, which is known as the Tibet of Japan. Not lucky enough to have visited this area of Japan when I was living there, my friend Kimie provides me with distinct imagery by describing her hometown as “sparsely populated, sleepy, little hamlets and towns with beautiful sea views scattered from north to south along the coast.” The area is best known for it’s beautiful coastline. Kimie attempts to put into words the loss of her home town, “it is so heartbreaking to see the places you grew up in, and fondly remember, disappear so suddenly. All the familiar places are no longer there, only distant memories of the places where we played laughed and cried.”
Kimie probably isn’t aware of this, but I’ve always viewed her somewhat as this savior. It could be weeks or even months since touching base, and when I do, she’s always helping me regain my faith and hope in humankind. Whether it’s with her outrageous advice, anecdotes on life, or her interesting and entertaining past escapades, or the pureness of her helpful hand. At times of crisis, somehow she always pops up to offer that helpfulness that only she can. She’s always thought-provoking, brutally honest and raw. I think that’s what I love most about her, only she can get away with the sentences that exit her mouth. Aside from this I’ve always looked at her as an inspiration, constantly pushing herself to be fitter and fitter and if I’m in half her shape when my 60’s roll on, I’ll be pretty pleased with my efforts. Ever so reliable, strong and fit both mentally and physically, reduced to tears for days on end, unable to function as normal. Unable to reach some family members, including her sister and husband, she feared the worst. Luckily, they’re both still alive but those harrowing days of waiting, and living with the “unknown” status of their lives and the disappearance of her hometown will be dark days that stay with her forever.
Kimie’s sister was found alive, she now has nothing but the clothes she wore on March 11. Along with the majority of those in Ofunato, she was made to be homeless and totally dependent on relief goods. Even now, over a month after the Earthquake and tsunami she still needs the daily necessities to get by. It doesn’t help that it has been a very cold and snowy spring year. At the moment she is left with not much other than overwhelming sadness, with sight of recovery being a very long way off.
I have a true love, deep understanding and respect for Japan, Japanese people, and their culture. Never did I believe that in my lifetime would I see Japan appearing like a war-torn country. After spending some time living, learning and attending university in Japan, I have many good friends who live there and my immediate concern was for them, their families and a very close friend who was back visiting at the time. For me, much like many others, the images of the events from March 11 are burned in my memory forever, along with that horrible feeling of not knowing whether friends are alright. We’ve all heard the tragic realities, a whole town of 10,000 people disappeared, the total number deceased believed to be more than 25,000 people, radiation 20 times the normal level, the number of victims reaching so high that there was not enough fuel for traditional cremations.
It has been estimated by the Japanese government that the damage from the March 11 earthquake and tsunami is around 25 trillion Yen ($US 309 billion). What scares me more than this figure is knowing how the Japanese government and leaders work, I’m expecting that this figure is much higher than publicly stated.
On the 1 month anniversary of the first devastating and major earthquake and tsunami, Japan was dealt another cruel blow as they were again hit with another earthquake. A few weeks on from that and Japan needs our help now more than ever. With other events now emerging and the media focusing less and less on Japan, it’s easy for everyone to “forget” about just how much they still really need our help.
Everyday since the tragedy I have seen opportunities for creatives and brands to use their creative powers to raise much needed money for Japan and their people. I know us Aussie’s have been hit with our own natural disasters this year and we have all been digging deep. We have been involved in raising much needed money for the Red Cross Relief for Japan which is fantastic, however there has been something missing.As great as it is that the likes of Sandra Bullock and Gwen Stefani amongst others have donated $1 million (USD) to the Red Cross Relief for Japan, and as much as many more of us would have liked to, not many of us have a handy million dollars laying around to donate.
Japan’s economic prowess has seemingly worked against it in terms of individual donations. According to an early tally by the Chronicle of Philanthropy, donations to nonprofit Japanese relief organizations reached about $25 million within the first four days post the crisis, a total far below the more than $150 million raised to assist Haiti for the same period last year.
I’m calling out to all creatives, whatever your craft. Lead from the front, use your creative minds, artistic abilities, your brands equity to get Australia excited and pumped up to take action to help Japan in whatever way they can. Everyone can help, let’s make it fun for them to do so. As months pass and the media frenzy quiets down further, that’s when Japan and their amazing people will arguably need the most support. It’s a long, very slow road back. We know Aussie’s are generous with the support and relief aid we provide and many of us have helped already.
In response to the disaster, people from all over the world, organisations and companies have stepped up in all kinds of ways. With fundraisers, relief efforts, charitable projects and using their creative powers in interesting ways to not only help but get the people in their country helping. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lack of the visible efforts for the public to get involved in here in Australia. It’s the large movements that are lacking in Australia, the big brands aren’t getting involved in the ways they should be and getting the Australian public involved, the greater use of this sporting nation should be utlised further to raise funds. Sure some creatives are creating fantastic initiatives, but most Australians are unaware of it and are therefore not getting involved. There are plenty of creatives who are helping quietly, which is great also. But we need some loud calls to take action in order to get Australian’s involved.
It’s fair to say 2011 has been a year of devastating natural disasters. Here in our own backyard, we’ve had our own battles and have been digging deep to help. I know there are some people who have openly voiced that they’re tired of the “guilt trip”, the donation can shakers, and there are those who are struggling themselves.
There’s a time where Lance Armstrong’s yellow “Livestrong” wristbands were purchased, sold out and worn proudly by millions globally. This initiative, by Nike and their ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, not only gained global popularity, but sold 70 million wristbands globally to raise funds for Cancer research. Not surprisingly the wristbands were particularly adopted by athletes. There was a time where I would not be able to spot an athlete or athletic person not sporting one. Sure, it helps that Olympians were sporting the wristbands during the Athens Olympics at the time. Presidential candidates were onboard and the yellow wristband was a visible contrasting item against their typically dark suits and it helps that celebrities, musicians, the acting world and Oprah were all onboard also. Perhaps the success of this initiative is what encouraged Lady Gaga to design ‘Pray for Japan’ bracelets with all proceeds going to relief efforts.
in Australia we are missing those big movements in response to tragedies and that’s where I believe all us creative people can enter and make a difference. I’m hoping to see more creative strategies here in Australia to motivate giving.
Australian creatives have copped their fair share of criticism for being too ‘safe’ with creative executions (regardless of the origin of the true cause of this). This is a chance where the client, Red Cross Relief for Japan, will not interfere with your creative execution and your target audience, the Australian people are looking for and open to being part of a movement to help. Just give them something to respond to, get excited to be a part of and proud of their contribution.
Take a moment. Get thinking. Be creative and find new strategies to inject everyone with the desire to be compelled to take action and help.