The article first appeared in The Star Online, May 11, 2011.
SENDAI was the nearest major city to the 9.0 magnitude undersea megathrust eathquake which happened on March 11. Colin Shafer had been there visiting a friend two months prior to the disaster. At the time, he had noted it as a pleasant enough town with about as much as to offer as your average business hub. “It was close to some hot springs,” offered the 28-year-old Canadian who lectures locally, teaching World Issues, Georaphy and Psychology at Taylor’s College in Subang Jaya, Selangor.
Photography happens to be Shafer’s thing. Throughout his travels around South-East Asia, he has always enjoyed snapping up images to capture memories of the beautiful things he comes across.
He had no idea some of the simple pictures he took depicting various unassuming locations throughout the city would turn out to be some of the last ever taken at those spots.
The Mediatheque centre his Japanese friend had taken him to for example, though not completely battered by the quake and ensuing tsunami, is one of the buildings that was partially damaged – you can find live footage of it trembling during the earthquake on YouTube.
Like he had done for previous disasters and campaign issues (the floods in Pakistan and Burmese refugees), he decided to sell prints from his trip to the country to raise money for relief work.
“I think the main idea of why I like doing this is that as a photographer we are constantly ‘taking’ (photos).”
“So this is a way of giving back to the places you capture in those photos, and it’s also a great way to allow Japan to help itself in a sense, because I’m simply bringing people on a visual adventure there through the photos.”
His students at Taylor’s were always happy to lend a helping hand, in the past he has managed to raise over RM1,500 for various causes.
This time, however, getting a particularly rambunctious friend over to help prepare the prints ended up with a night of ideas being tossed around for a roller-coaster ride of increasing ambition.
The result of that evening is Sending Love To Sendai, which happens May 15 at the LoyarBurok Community Centre in Bangsar, KL.
This community event packed with local bands, artists, Japanese food, drink, haikus and vintage video games is intended to be as much a mini celebration of all things unique and interesting about Japan as it is a fundraiser.
“It will be a little taste of Japan, and everything that’s happening will be fun but also relevant in creating positive change,” he says
Aside from the original idea to sell his photos, a whole host of other photographers have climbed on board, the result is an eclectic exhibiton featuring Japan from a variety of lenses.
“People coming shouldn’t expect to see pictures of destruction and death, because the exhibition is about showing a positive side to a country that’s very interesting and beautiful.”
He points me to June Low – the friend he holds responsible for the recent turn of events for more information, and she tells me about the new additions.
“The other contributors are Ben Liew, Faisal Ariff, Cheryl Hoffman and Chi Too,” she says.
Each took photos during their respective trips to the country and offer their unique insights into Japanese culture.
“Colins photos for example capture the beauty of these areas, and I believe serve to immortalise them somewhat, whilst Ben’s music photography captures the diverse indie music scene in Tokyo,” she says, adding that Ben too is a musician and will be playing under one of the bands at the event.
“He related to me that musicians over there (Tokyo) worked a lot harder than musicians here and seem to make more sacrifices in life to focus on their music.”
“That dedication shows when they perform, and is captured in the photos, so it’s good insight into a specific section of Japanese society.”
The timing of the event is apt, as it coincides with the recent launch of popular blogging site LoyarBurok’s community centre.
Low does some writing for the blog, and managed to secure the space which is dedicated to hosting community events.
“I would say that the LoyarBurok rakyat centre was set up to make things happen!”
“Although this event has a Japanese theme, being a fundraiser for Japan and all, it’s really not just about Japan – the fact is there are people out there who are not doing so well and we should help them because we can, its a trend that should be encouraged.”
Her take on the event is that fun environments filled with positive energy are better for fundraising than those with a more serious theme, she proceeds to list out what will make this one just that.
“Definitely the performances!”
“We have a great line up – Reza Salleh, Azmyl Yunor, The Rollin’ Sixers, Ben’s Bitches, Cat’s In Love and a special performance by the Tom Jones of Malaysia, Tony Warren!”
“We even managed to get sponsors EHQ Projects for sound and lighting, so it’ll be one of those rare occasions where the sound quality will be awesome!”
If you’re lucky you might get to witness Miss Malaysia 2010 Nadia Heng, who is emceeing the event, get into a sumo suit.
“There will be inflatable sumo costumes in the sumo room, you’ll also get to take photos with people clad in traditional Japanese costumes and eat delicious food from Sushi Tei, and there’s a lucky draw with amazing prizes, like crates of Asahi beer, sake, gift vouchers and so on.”
“It’s going to be a hoot and a half!”
The fundraiser will also be an opportunity for Malaysians to show their solidarity with their contemporaries across the sea. Translators will be present to help write messages in katakana and there will also be specially designed postcards, the printing costs of which have been absorbed by the designer so 100% of the proceeds go to Japan.
“And there will be a booth where you can record a video message with the help of a translator and it will be uploaded onto YouTube straight away,” Low adds.
The entire event proceeds will go to the Japanese Red Cross, after being channeled through the local Red Cross who will be present with their donation box.
The public will therefore have the option of donating cash, buying photos (which will be priced from RM25 to RM100) or postcards.
“ We will also be selling sushi, drinks, and some CDs that have been donated by some of the artistes. The Red Cross will issue official receipts for each purchase.”
Sending Love to Sendai kicks off at 6pm May 15. Head on down to Pusat Rakyat Loyar Burok, 3-4, 4th Floor, Jalan Bangsar Utama 3, Bangsar Utama, Kuala Lumpur to get a slice of the action, buy some gorgeous photographs and do your bit for the recent Japanese earthquake tradgedy.