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Japanese ties help drive relief effort

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    Junior Kekuewa played guitar and sang yesterday at the “Unshakably Yours and Hands Across the Ocean” benefit concert for Red Cross disaster relief for Japan. The concert took place in the courtyard at Restaurant Row in Honolulu.

An Irish bar, a military spy agency and a T-shirt company are helping.

So are a cupcake maker, a Kaneohe golf course operator and a Latin business group.

In the wake of the devastating earthquake, tsunami and nuclear catastrophe in Japan, hundreds of Hawaii businesses, nonprofit organizations, government agencies and individuals are stepping up to raise money for the victims.

While Hawaii donors historically have been known to open their hearts and wallets during times of major disasters elsewhere, this response seems different, largely because of the deep cultural, economic, historical, political and social ties between the two places, many involved in the latest effort say.

"There’s always an outpouring of good will," said Ed Hawkins, president of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii, which is involved in a large-scale relief drive, called Aloha for Japan, involving dozens of organizations. "But with this in Japan, it just seems like it’s over and above all the others."

The links between the state and Japan date to the 1800s and pervade virtually all aspects of modern-day Hawaii, starting with the makeup of the islands’ population of nearly 1.4 million people.

Roughly a quarter of Hawaii residents identify themselves as part or full Japanese, the highest percentage by far of any state in the country, according to 2000 census data. Many of those residents are descendants of the first Japanese who immigrated to the islands as plantation laborers in the 1880s, and many today still have relatives in Japan.

Hawaii’s tourism industry, the No. 1 economic driver here, also caters heavily to Japanese visitors, who account for about 20 percent of the market and last year spent nearly $2 billion here. The industry already is seeing a softening of that market because of the ongoing disaster.

The economic ties also extend to ownership interests in Hawaii hotels, insurance carriers, retailers and other companies. In 2006, the latest year for which data were available, Japanese investments in companies that had at least 50 percent foreign ownership totaled $4.2 billion and accounted for 15,000 jobs, according to the 2009 State of Hawaii Data Book.

Japan likewise is a key trading partner for some Hawaii companies. In 2010, Japan was the state’s top export market, representing about $148 million in business, according to census data. Hawaii imports from Japan last year totaled $285 million, making it the eighth-largest market, the data show.

Cultural connections also run deep here, reflected in language schools, chambers of commerce, religious organizations and other civic groups and events that draw from their Japanese roots.

Many Japanese-Americans have leadership roles in those organizations and in political and government circles, likewise contributing to special ties between the two places, officials say.

"That’s why (the relief response) has been quite heightened," said Wayne Ishihara, president of the Honolulu Japanese Chamber of Commerce.

As of Friday, the Hawaii chapter of the American Red Cross said it had received more calls from people and organizations wanting to help with the relief campaign than after any other recent disaster, including last year’s earthquake in Haiti.

Coralie Matayoshi, the chapter’s chief executive, said more than 80 groups and companies have offered to help — and the list keeps growing daily.

"We’ve just been inundated with calls," she said.

In the week after the disaster struck, the local chapter received donations and pledges of at least $250,000, and that figure is expected to grow as more fundraisers are held, Matayoshi said.

Among the companies and organizations that have held events or are planning to do so in conjunction with the Red Cross are Mulligans on the Blue, an Irish restaurant and bar in Maui; the Joint Intelligence Operations Center at Pearl Harbor; Fairy Cakes in Aiea; Olomana Golf Links; and Crazy Shirts Inc.

The last presented a check last week to the local chapter for $35,000, one of the largest donations Crazy Shirts has ever made, according to Mark Hollander, the company’s CEO. The money was raised by selling hundreds of limited-edition T-shirts specially made for the relief effort.

Hollander said he began discussing ways his company could help after seeing the initial television footage of the destruction in Japan. He realized the disaster would touch customers, employees and others throughout the Crazy Shirts family.

"The connections between the two places run very, very deep," Hollander said. "We wanted to do our best to step up as quickly as we could."

Mulligans on Maui also stepped up, in part because its clientele includes tourists from Japan, according to Teresa Zaballa, restaurant manager. Owner Michael O’Dweyer decided to donate a portion of proceeds from T-shirt sales on St. Patrick’s Day — the biggest event of the year for the bar — to the Red Cross, Zaballa said.

"Everybody’s concerned about what’s going on," she added.

Jose Villa, president of Latin Business Hawaii, a nonprofit group, said his organization donated about $600 from a recent mixer. Villa said the decision was made after he and other board members saw the magnitude of the devastation and how the victims responded so orderly in the face of such dire conditions.

"This event caused universal pain," said Villa, who lived in Tokyo for seven years in the 1970s and ’80s. "It has touched everybody."

5 radio stations raise $28,000

The five Big Island radio stations belonging to New West Broadcasting Corp. raised $28,000 Thursday for American Red Cross Japan Earthquake and Pacific Tsunami relief.

The stations conducted a 12-hour broadcast from three KTA Super Stores locations staffed by on-air personalities, station management and staff, and volunteers from the Red Cross, Waiakea High School and the broader community.

“The generosity of our Big Island community never ceases to amaze me,” Chris Leonard, New West president and general manager, said in a statement.

Safeway stores accept donations

The Safeway Foundation has begun a statewide program to raise disaster relief funds for the people of Japan, to which Hawaii residents can donate by check, credit card or cash.

Customers can donate at checkout stands in all Safeway stores in Hawaii.

The foundation, the philanthropic arm of California-based Safeway Inc., will make a $100,000 contribution and match all employee donations. Funds raised will be given directly to relief organizations.

Give $1 or more, get free doormat

Monetary donations for the Salvation Army’s Japan disaster relief effort are being collected at American Carpet One. The company will give donors who contribute $1 or more a free doormat while supplies last.

The American Carpet One store at 302 Sand Island Access Road is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Bank waives fee for wire transfers

American Savings Bank announced it is waiving all fees for its consumer customers sending wire transfers to Japan though April 15. 

All of ASB’s 57 branch locations across the state are also serving as collection points for monetary donations to the Aloha for Japan relief fund, which is part of a coordinated, statewide relief effort to benefit victims of the Japan earthquake and tsunami. Checks should be made payable to Aloha for Japan.

ASB has contributed $50,000 to the fund and has pledged to match up to $25,000 in employee contributions made through April 15.

JTB Group will provide 100M yen

The JTB Group announced it will donate 100 million yen (more than $1.2 million) to support victims of the disaster in Japan. “This stricken area is one of (the) important regions for the travel industry,” JTB said in a statement. “JTB will contribute 100 million yen in total as a relief and condolence money.”

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