For Japan: Our Sister

Members of the Atsuki Tokusatsu Community in Jogjakarta collecting donations for “Jogja Care for Japan” –  Picture courtesy of Atsuki Tokusatsu Community

Looking Back at How Indonesia Responded to Japan’s T?hoku Earthquake

March 2011: In the streets of Jogjakarta some unconventionally dressed young Indonesian men and women carry boxes marked “Jogja Care for Japan”. There’s a boy in a bright red vest, blue shorts and a straw hat, and girl dressed in a Japanese school uniform. They are ‘cosplayers’ (costume players), collecting donations to send to Japan.

On 11 March 2011, Japan was shaken. There was first the magnitude 9.0 earthquake that hit the T?hoku region, followed by a devastating tsunami. The earthquake and tsunami were Japan’s deadliest, with nearly sixteen thousand people from twelve prefectures perishing. Over two thousand five hundred people have not yet been found.

The earthquake and tsunami was soon followed by another calamity. Regular and emergency cooling systems at the Fukushima-Daiichi nuclear power plant were damaged, leading to meltdowns that have had significant consequences for the people and agriculture of Fukushima prefecture. In the wake of the ‘triple disaster’, foreign governments acted to provide support in various ways. The Maldives, for example, sent 600,000 cans of tuna to Japan. Children around the world sent postcards to Japanese children with messages of moral support. Among those postcards were a thousand from children in Indonesia.

In the weeks after 11 March 2011, I observed in Malaysia, where I lived at the time, various groups of people raising funds and seeking to show their support for Japan. For many weeks near my local supermarket I saw a booth at which passers-by could donate money and fold origami cranes, which would be sent to Japan. With support from The Sumitomo Foundation, I was able to collect stories from across Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam about what different people did to support Japan at this time.

In Indonesia I collaborated with filmmaker Mahatma Putra and photographer Tasha May to interview Indonesians from an array of backgrounds and with some fascinating stories. Among these were members of the Atsuki Tokusatsu Community in Jogjakarta, who raised funds by taking ‘Cosplay on the Road’. Cosplay is an activity originating in Japan, which involves dressing up as characters from Japanese anime and tokusatsu (live action anime). Aryo Ari Wahyoyo and Muryadi Saputra were among those collecting donations in the streets of Jogjakarta. With the money they collected, and a thousand origami cranes, their community folded, they sought to present Japan with ‘a sign of gratitude’ for its cultural contributions. Muryadi noted, “If the cosplayers in Japan did not exist, there wouldn’t be any anime, tokusatsu, or cosplay.”

Muryadi Saputra

Muryadi Saputra in cosplayer attire. He is dressed as a Kamen Rider. Photograph taken by Tasha May

Muryadi’s and Aryo’s efforts were part of a larger event initiated by Megarini Puspasari. Mega, as she calls herself, studied in Japan and cofounded the hoshiZora Foundation, which seeks to give Indonesian street children greater access to education. She spoke of her fondness for Japan, where she has friends as a result of her years of study there. She also noted the thanks that the Foundation owes to its many Japanese benefactors, including the Nippon Foundation, which assisted with start-up costs.

Mega described how, following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, she developed the idea of a charity concert, Jogja Care for Japan. The event came to involve a wide array of people and groups who were keen to express their support for Japan. In describing people’s participation in the event, and how it impacted on those there, she said.

… it was extraordinary, the people who came for the concert. Even though the preparation was only two weeks, there were so many people who attended and a representative from the Embassy of Japan came too. And we had a teleconference with a friend in Japan to tell us live how the situation was there, how the people were dealing with the situation. And it was not only for Japan, but for us it was a lesson too…that although Japan was facing a disaster, they were surviving. They didn’t fight over food, they queued, didn’t loot and so on. It was a lesson for us. So there was a mutual benefit.

Mega - For Japan: Our Sister

A screen shot from the short film For Japan: Our Sister, by Mahatma Putra and Julian CH Lee. Available on YouTube.

Whereas some of those interviewed had lived in Japan, there were other surprising connections. Ardini Suryati, Head of the Salman Al-Farisi School in Bandung told of how the inspiration for her school came from the Japanese book Totto-chan, which tells the story of how a young Japanese school girl benefits from going to an unconventional school after being expelled from another school. Mr. Mohammad Ridwan of that school described how their activities in the classroom in support of Japan were designed to help children “arouse their empathy with other people.”

Totto Chan

The cover of Totto-chan, a Japanese book that has had great influence in the field of education. Image taken by Julian CH Lee

In addition to activities in Indonesia, there were those who gave direct on-the-ground assistance in Japan. At the time of the earthquake, the Muslim charitable organisation Dompet Dhuafa had an employee in Japan working to establish a branch there. Mohammad Sabed Abdi Lawang of Dompet Dhuafa described how the employee’s presence was a “blessing in disguise”, as he was able to mobilise Indonesians in Japan to render assistance in temporary accommodations that housed displaced people.

Rokhima Rostian was also there at the time, a lecturer at Universitas Gadjah Mada. She was in Sendai and experienced the enormity of the earthquake. Although evacuated, she soon returned to lend a hand along with some other Indonesians. “Besides helping people, we made Indonesian food every weekend and distributed it in the camps.” And with a view of helping Japanese children through this difficult period, “We played a lot of Indonesian games with them.”

We found the stories that we collected to be compelling and heart-warming, and they said a great deal about the closeness that many Indonesians feel with Japan. While for some the bond was a result of having lived and made friends there, others shared a worldwide appreciation for Japan’s culture. Furthermore, as Indonesia is familiar with the hardships caused by natural disasters, it was no surprise that one of the things that came through was a sense of solidarity with those in Japan in this respect. As Reni Ekifitriati of the hoshiZora Foundation noted, “We need to help them. Especially when there was the earthquake, because we’ve experienced that too.”

To see some of the people described above telling their stories, including Muryadi Saputra who was interviewed in full cosplay attire, watch the short documentary on YouTube, For Japan: Our Sister.

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Julian CH Lee is a lecturer at RMIT University where he teaches International Studies. He has published several books, including The Malaysian Way of Life and Thinking Through Malaysia. He writes a regular column for a Malaysian magazine, the B-Side.


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