Flowers for Japan
SONOMA FLORAL DESIGNER Maki Aizawa is making Mother's Day bouquets and offering a workshop in Ikebana, the ancient art of Japanese flower arranging, to raise money for her hometown of Sendai, Japan.
On March 11, Maki Aizawa could only watch in horror as news reports flooded in revealing the city of Sendai engulfed in a storm of chaos and rubble after the 9.0 magnitude earthquake, centered just 81 miles away, and the subsequent tsunami devastated Northern Japan. The televised images held little resemblance to the city she knew, where she was raised, where her mother and many friends still lived, where she took her young son to attend school each fall.
"I just couldn't believe it was Sendai, my hometown," the Sonoma resident said. "Seeing the images on TV, those were the places where I grew up."
Aizawa, an award-winning floral designer, is holding a series of fundraisers around Mother's Day, in honor of her mother, to support shelters and schools in Sendai. On Saturday, May 7, she will offer a workshop on Ikebana, the ancient art of Japanese floral design, at Ramekins Event Center from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. She will also be selling Mother's Day bouquets, which can be delivered if ordered by May 3 or picked up on May 8 at the Collection, 521 Broadway, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
As soon as she heard news of the quake, Aizawa immediately began trying to contact her family, but telephone and Internet connections were down. The silence was deafening. She could only wait, and watch, and try to process the massive suffering that enveloped her home country.
"It was terrifying," she said.
Finally, she got word from her sister, who lives in Tokyo and cares for their sick father, that her mother was OK. It was several more days of agony before she finally received an email directly from her mother.
"She wrote, 'It's been hard, but I'm okay.' That was it. I didn't know where she was, I didn't know what she was doing," Aizawa said.
True to her character, what Aizawa's mother, Tsuyo Onodera, was doing was taking care of her community. Onodera was driving when the earthquake hit and was one of the lucky ones not to sustain any injury. After checking on her apartment, which was in disarray but still standing, Onodera got back into her car and drove the 30 minutes to the school she operates where she knew there was an industrial-sized rice cooker.
"She had this huge rice cooker so she started cooking 30 pounds of rice for the 200 people that live in her apartment complex," Aizawa said. "My mom was doing whatever she could to help the people of Sendai."
For days, Onodera made the drive back and forth to the school to continue providing food for her neighbors. She became something of a local hero. When there was an eight-hour wait for gas, strangers on the street would see Onodera in line and give her gas so she could go and cook rice for hundreds of survivors, who were still establishing shelters with no electricity, no gas and no water.
"She also made shelters and orphanages at her school," Aizawa said. "It's not just my mom, there are many people who are doing these things to rebuild."
While her immediate family was safe from the mass destruction, some of Aizawa's friends were not as lucky. Many of the students of her mother's kimono school, where Aizawa grew up, lived in areas impacted by the tsunami and were found dead or are still missing.
"I grew up with those ladies and many of them are from the coastal towns. I would visit them during the summer. Those towns don't exist anymore," she said quietly.
Aizawa was at first cripplingly overwhelmed by the situation. She could hardly eat and spent long days in her house, watching every media report she could find on the situation in Japan. She felt the raw stab of fear every time one of the more than 400 aftershocks, some of which registered as high as 7.4 magnitude, hit the ravaged country. She lived with the constant anxiety that the nuclear reactor 50 miles from Sendai would suffer a meltdown.
"I couldn't function for like a month after the earthquake," she said. "Every day I'm in tears when I read the news reports."
After watching her son's classmates at Presentation School raise more than $2,000 for Sendai with a competitive "coin war," Aizawa discovered a renewed sense of empowerment. She wanted to do something, anything, to help her home country. Honoring her culture and her craft, she decided to share her knowledge of Ikebana, or Japanese floral design.
"I just feel like I have to do something, I have to make myself useful," she said. "Money cannot really replace much, but if I'm involving hundreds of people here, that's a lot of awareness."
During the May 7 workshop at Ramekins, participants will learn the art and technique of floral design while also making a bouquet to take home. The cost is $100.
Professionally, Aizawa only makes flower arrangements for events and weddings, but for her fundraiser she will design Mother's Day bouquets that range in price from $25 to $250. She will provide complimentary delivery in Sonoma for those who order before May 3, otherwise the flowers can be picked up at the Collection, 521 Broadway, between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Sunday, May 8.
To register for the class or order a bouquet, visit www.violaflowers.com/japan-relief or call 935-1775.
Proceeds from the event will go directly to the shelters and some of the more than 290 schools that were destroyed in the earthquake. Aizawa is working particularly closely with the elementary school in Ishinomaki, where 70 percent of the students were killed when the buildings collapsed around them during the quake. "We want to reach the children who lost their friends and family members," she said.
Aizawa has also partnered with a friend's nonprofit, the Synthesis Foundation, to use its tax identification number if anyone needs a tax deduction receipt. A full 100 percent of the proceeds given to the foundation will be sent back to Aizawa, who will send the money directly to schools and shelters.
Aizawa is also focused on the long-term relief efforts. Along with several other parents at the Presentation School, she is working to develop summer camps and cultural activities to both educate Sonomans about Japan and raise money for quake survivors.
Every fall for the past few years, Aizawa has lead tour groups through Japan. She said that, as of yet, no one has canceled their trips, and so she still intends to go back to her home country this fall.
While she usually brings her young son so he can attend school and spend time with his grandmother, she said the threat of radiation is too great and she will leave him at home.
But she is still eager to see the devastation with her own eyes and do what she can to help in the rebuilding process.
"I am planning on visiting those shelters, those people," she said.