My first job after leaving school at 16 was an apprenticehsip with Sony. Part of it was a Radio and TV repair course in Cardiff Skill Centre where we used to repair TVs for £1 and videos for £2. Cheap as chips but hey, we were learners and the trade-off was we might just blow your gear up beyond repair.
It was 1985 and I remember one woman who brought in a remote control car, not our regular gig but we said we'd give it a go. It got passed around everyone and no-one could do anything with it and ended up with our instructor, the illustrious Bob Russ who also couldn't fix it.
Bob wasn't known for suffering fools gladly and knew a thing or two about customer service. When the woman came in to pick it up, he told her it was beyond economical repair as it needed an expensive chip that was only made in Japan. She told him her husband often went on business trips to Japan and asked for the part number of the chip so he could pick it up next time he was over there.
He looked at her, threw her busted toy car in the bin and said, "Well, if he goes to Japan on business he's probably got enough money to buy a bloody new one!" and walked off.
That was in 1985, the height of the bubble era in Japan and to us in Wales, all Japanese were mega-rich. It's something I've been thinking about a lot lately after reading a discussion about the validity of donations to Japan. Despite the devastation, for many, and probably quite rightly, charity begins at home. Although Japan is nowhere near as rich as it was back in the 80s, the government will everntually be able to rebuild (again) at the staggering estimated cost of 25 trillion yen ($309bn; £189bn). The problem is it's going to take a long time for the frighteningly beauracratic government to reach the people where help is needed quickly.
I've been helping out where I can with an NPO called Second Harvest Japan who are building close relationships with other NPOs and NGOs up in the affected areas. Needs vary wildly between locations and acting on up to date information is vitally important. Some places need canned food, other places need water, other places blankets, other places dried milk for babies... other places just need everything!
Today I met Yoshida-san from East Wind Ministries in Sendai. He's the guy in the white jacket above outside the 2HJ Tokyo office, going through a pretty detailed list of stuff they needed. We loaded it onto his open-top truck within about 20 minutes of his arrival and off he went on the 6-hour+ trip back up there to drop it off tonight.
He said that needs change daily but in the rural communities around his area, since the government are focusing only on people in the official evacuation centres, relief supplies there are for the most part sufficient. He was however very concerned about the people who were living in the same rural communities, but who have not lost their houses. These people are still living in their homes but have no heating, are unable to buy food, and since they still have a standing house, cannot register with the evacuation centres. These "home refugees" get no official aid that's delivered so he and his team are basically going door-to-door dropping off supplies.
This is why I think a donation to Second Harvest Japan, for those who have a bit to spare, is a worthwhile excercise. These guys can make sure exactly what's needed, gets exactly where it needs to go, very quickly.
To give you some background on Ishinomaki and Minamisanriku, read this poweful piece by Rob Gilhooly for The Japan Times.