PACIFIC PALISADES (HawaiiNewsNow) - Eighty-nine people, including three from Hawaii, recently traveled to tsunami-damaged prefectures in Japan to help with the physical recovery, as well as the emotional one.
The humanitarian effort -- called "Flight of Friendship Goodwill Mission" -- was planned by folks in Oregon. Tom Sugita of Pacific Palisades on Oahu says he learned about it from the United Japanese Society and the Internet, and immediately signed up.
"The ocean is about two miles down. The debris came all the way up," he said, while showing this reporter photos.
Tom Sugita says it's an experience he'll never forget. As powerful as the images on television are, the 74-year-old still wasn't prepared for what he saw during his recent goodwill mission to Japan.
"The areas that we saw, which we had to pass every day, I would say probably 80% has not been touched yet because they really don't have enough manpower and equipment," he said. "It's so massive, it's mind-boggling."
Sugita and two other Hawaii residents were among a group of caring citizens from the US and from within Japan to travel to the hardest-hit areas to assist in various relief projects.
"Work in itself was very, very hard for everybody," Sugita said. "But nobody complained. We all went there for that particular mission."
The volunteers carried bedding and household appliances into 84 newly-built portable housing units in Kesennuma, which will help more than 300 disaster survivors move out of emergency shelters.
They also worked on clearing a stream in Ishinomaki of branches, roofing materials, fish nets, clothing and other debris.
"In Japan, streams and rivers are very, very important to their livelihood and their enjoyment," Sugita said. "It was filled with debris that came up from the harbor."
The group also visited the 13 remaining students of an elementary school in Ishinomaki. The children received bags filled with stuffed animals, Hawaiian Host macadamia nuts, letters from Palisades Elementary students and other goodies.
The principal was deeply touched.
"No matter how much money you give to Japan, I think the monetary part is secondary," Sugita said. "I think the human part is more important."
Sugita says the other two Hawaii residents who took part were Brenda Nomura, an educator at Leilehua High, and former Cherry Blossom princess Tiffanie Masutani. Each participant paid for his or her own expenses.