"Earthquakes strike Kumamoto, Japan.” For most people in the world, a headline like that might not get a second notice—just another natural disaster in an endless series across the globe.
For me, though, the headline might as well be: “Earthquakes threaten home, family and friends.” That’s how deeply I feel about our sister state.
Montana and Kumamoto became “sister states” in 1982 thanks to then-Ambassador Mike Mansfield’s vision. For Montanans who have visited Kumamoto or interacted with Kumamoto people in the ensuing years, the experience almost always has been life-changing. It certainly was for me. Put simply, there is no place in the world where being a Montanan means more; the level of hospitality and generosity that awaits a Montanan in Kumamoto defies description.
As president of the Japan Friendship Club of Montana, I’ve spent more than 20 years helping foster the Montana-Kumamoto relationship and reminding Montanans that Kumamoto is our sister state. Just one month ago, I was in Missoula—at Hellgate High School and the University of Montana’s International Culture and Food Festival—encouraging others to become involved in the relationship.
Today, with dozens dead and seemingly everyone in Kumamoto touched by the quakes, my thoughts—and those of my fellow club members—center on a simple question: How can I help? In the coming days, those of us in the club will seek answers to that question.
We can be inspired in our efforts by what we’ve seen in the past two decades. In 2000, with wildfires raging across much of Montana, Kumamoto’s citizen “Montana Club” raised almost $16,000 to help Montanans affected by the fires.
In March 2011, when the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis struck at Fukushima Prefecture north of Tokyo, Montanans responded with several fund-raisers over the ensuing weeks.
Now it’s time for Montana to show its support, caring and friendship for the one place on the globe where Montanans are welcomed and embraced just for being Montanans.
It’s quite possible that special fundraising events may be organized in the near future. Meanwhile, the Japan Friendship Club is working to arrange a bank account that can accept donations. For information, visit the Japan Friendship Club’s page on Facebook. All donations will be sent to Kumamoto prefecture’s relief fund, the Japanese Red Cross or another charity providing relief in Kumamoto.
Next year will mark the 35th anniversary of the Montana-Kumamoto relationship. As with past milestone years, it promises to be memorable. On behalf of the Japan Friendship Club, I pledge to make 2016 memorable—not with parties or speeches, but with acts of generosity and caring toward the residents of our sister state.