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Visiting Japanese Students Run Marathon For Disaster Victims PDF Print E-mail
Written by San Fernando Valley Sun   
Thursday, 22 March 2012 04:43

Daichi Sato

Ryo Ota

Fourteen visiting Japanese high school and college students, who came to Los Angeles to participate in the L.A. Marathon and the LA Big 5K (the warm up race for the marathon), were honored and toasted at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in downtown Los Angeles on Monday, March 19.

The students, who were sponsored by the Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Ashinaga, were here in part to help raise funds for the victims of the several Japanese towns in the Tohoku region devastated by earthquake and tsunami floods on March 11 last year.

Ashinaga is seeking to raise 3.5 billion yen ($45 million) toward the construction of a "Tohoku Rainbow Home" by 2014 in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, and four other satellite facilities along the coast hit by the tsunami, for children who lost parents or guardian in the March 11 disasters.

According to its web site Ashinaga – the name is inspired from the 1912 American novel "Daddy Long Legs" – got its start over 40 years ago, reaching its current form in April 1993 under original founder and current President Yoshiomi Tamai.

Since the "Association for Natural Disaster Orphans" (the predecessor of today's Ashinaga) was established in April 1988, the organization has provided scholarships of 27,527,180,000 Japanese yen (approximately $280 million) to 28,719 orphaned students, including children who lost parents in the Great Hanshin Earthquake in January 1995. In addition, 21,567 orphaned students, with Ashinaga's support have graduated from high school, college, vocational school, or graduate school (as of March 31, 2010).

One of the students Ryo Ota, ran in his first ever marathon. Speaking through an interpreter, Ota said he only "seriously trained" for a month before the March 18 race, but still managed to turn in a very impressive time of 2:33.41, and was the 15th finisher.

Of course you don't run that fast and that long without paying a price. "Today I am aching all over," Ota said.

But it was important for Ota, whose family home was partially destroyed during the disasters, to be a part of the fundraising effort. He said while the running of the marathon was difficult, he doesn't think it will be the last time he does it.

"Because I had the opportunity to run for my people, I feel very grateful," he said. "I would love to do it again, if I have the opportunity to do so."

Another student, Daichi Sato, who lost his father last year, ran in the 5K. Like most of the other students, Sato, 18, found the experience of visiting the U.S. uplifting.

"Going to Dodger Stadium was the most exciting part," said Sato, who plays baseball back home, with the help of an interpreter. He and the other students also toured.

He said except for losing his father, he was lucky; his hometown was safe. "All we have are rice fields. But the town next to us (Ishinomaki) had it pretty bad."

Among the donations Monday was a check for $20,143.88 by a private group from Orange County. The students – who arrived in Los Angeles after a 15-hour flight on March 13 – returned to Japan on Wednesday.

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Last Updated on Friday, 23 March 2012 00:18