Italians join forces to aid tsunami-ravaged city in Iwate

by Maya Kaneko

Kyodo

Some 500 people in the city of Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, one of the areas worst hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami, earlier this month received a pasta, soup and wine treat provided by prominent Italian chefs from Tokyo.

The event, named Domenica Italiana (Italian Sunday), was part of the charity campaign “Italians in Japan for the rebirth of Tohoku region.”

Twenty-five volunteer workers including staff from such Tokyo restaurants as Elio Locanda Italiana delivered food as well as relief items to disaster victims at an evacuation shelter in Rikuzentakata.

“People enjoyed the food and some even asked whether they could take the leftovers home,” said Marco Staccioli, who started the charity project involving the Italian community in Japan. “In Italy, families get together on Sundays after attending Mass and eat food prepared by mothers. We named the event after such a tradition.”

Staccioli, managing director of MS Japan Service Co., a company based in Saitama Prefecture that imports and sells equipment for auto repair and maintenance, decided to offer support to Rikuzentakata as relatives of one of his sales staff were affected by the calamities in the city.

Most of the family of the salesman’s wife barely escaped the tsunami, and it took eight days before they were confirmed alive. One of the wife’s relatives, a 27-year-old firefighter, was killed by the tsunami while battling to stop tidal waves from reaching the area.

Staccioli, who drove to the city on the Pacific coast about two weeks after the disaster to deliver relief goods with Cristina Morini of the Italian Women’s Association in Tokyo, has since visited the area several times with items such as food, bicycles, gasoline and clothes.

In the city that had a population of 24,246 as of Feb. 28, more than 930 have been confirmed dead and 805 remain missing. About 3,400 houses were destroyed by the tsunami, meaning more than 70 evacuation shelters have had to be set up.

The campaign unofficially launched by Staccioli, a board member of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and Morini has garnered wide support from Italians around the country, they and chamber officials said.

Staccioli said his “batteries are charged” every time he visits Rikuzentakata, as he feels cheered up by residents who greet him in Italian and is impressed by evacuees who are “powerful, strong and well-organized” in the shelters.

The Italian Chamber of Commerce in Japan, which has about 170 corporate and individual members, has geared up for its largest support campaign for disaster victims since a major quake hit L’Aquila in central Italy in 2009.

“It is natural for Italians to offer charity every Sunday. We will continue to join forces to help people who lost everything,” Staccioli said.