To Japan, with love

Chico club works to aid devastated country

Teachers Keiko Tokuda (left) and Michelle Martin have a passion for Japan and are helping organize a local effort to aid the country.

Teachers Keiko Tokuda (left) and Michelle Martin have a passion for Japan and are helping organize a local effort to aid the country.

Photo By Vic Cantu

Helping hand:
Donations taken in by CJFC are bound for the American Red Cross—Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief. Checks should be made payable to Chico Japan Friendship Club, C/O Tri Counties Bank, 780 Mangrove Ave., Chico, CA 95926. The American Red Cross Tax ID is: 53-019-6605. For more info, contact Michelle Martin at 894-3548.

Keiko Tokuda has lived in Chico since 1997, when she came here as an exchange student. Her heart is here, but her family is in her native Japan, so of course she’s been worried lately.

Like countless others over the past couple of weeks, her mind has been fixed on the devastating earthquake and tsunami that ravaged the country, left more than 20,000 dead or missing and hundreds of thousands homeless, and created the worst nuclear-radiation danger since the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986.

Tokuda’s parents and two brothers live in Japan, but far to the south, on the island of Kushu. However, they live near the largest active volcano in the country, Mount Aso, which is constantly bubbling and steaming. She was afraid the 9.0 quake might aggravate the volcano. Fortunately, Tokuda’s family has reassured her that all are safe.

Here Tokuda is an organizer of the Chico Japan Friendship Club and teaches Japanese at both Chico State and Butte College. She and others from the club are now mobilizing to help bring much-needed medical aid and relief to the survivors. The CJFC is holding a series of events and benefits, with a goal of raising $10,000 by May 1 for the American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami Relief Fund.

Tokuda said the fundraising was just getting off the ground but that already several local businesses had offered up help, including Haley’s Martial Arts and Dragon Graphics.

“We’ll have a better idea of how well we’re doing by the first week of April,” she said.

The CJFC is a loosely knit club that includes various local groups and is organized by several people, including Michelle Martin, who teaches Japanese and Spanish at Pleasant Valley High School.

Informally founded about two years ago through Facebook and personal contacts, the club of approximately 100 members develops connections among those interested in pretty much anything related to Japanese culture.

“Since this terrible disaster, our membership has increased very quickly,” Tokuda added.

Members of the CJFC meet two or three times a month for a Japanese conversation hour at Chico State’s Student Services Center. Approximately half of the members are people of Japanese descent, of whom many are students from Pleasant Valley High School, Butte College and Chico State.

The group has already begun collecting donations, and the efforts will continue through April at display booths, origami folding sessions, and a Japanese movie night, all on the Chico State campus, said Tokuda. They also have a donation table and bank account at the Tri Counties Bank located at 780 Mangrove Ave.

Some of the other projects in the planning stages include sales of T-shirts and wristbands. The group is working on getting a booth at the downtown Thursday Night Market, which starts up April 7. Members are also planning an event featuring the donated talents of the Kent Family Magic Circus, and Martin is seeking donations of books, CDs and Japanese crafts for a sale the group will organize at the Butte County Library. (The dates of those events have yet to be determined. Updates can be found on the club’s website at or on Facebook under Chico Japan Friendship Club.)

Martin first became interested in Japan when she taught English there for two years after college. Despite all the bad news about the tragedy, Martin cautioned that focusing too strongly on the negative aspects is not productive. She mentioned that psychological help is being offered to students at Chico State. Martin feels a great sense of purpose planning the different events and fundraisers. She and other club members are also available for speaking engagements and PowerPoint presentations about Japan to help in the fundraising.

For her part, Tokuda is grateful to be part of such a powerful drive and is amazed by the outpouring of support from both businesses and individuals.

“In some ways I am in shock and feel helpless,” Tokuda said, “but it is really good to know that people here in Chico care so much.”