Kids from Tohoku get some Christmas cheer

by Mami Maruko

Staff Writer

Elementary school children from the Tohoku region and Tokyo gathered Wednesday at a Tokyo hotel to decorate Christmas trees with sweets to cheer up young survivors of the March 11, 2011, disasters.

Sixteen kids from Tokyo and five from Tohoku completed four small Christmas trees in the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Tokyo in Minato Ward, with the help of Masaki Okazaki, the hotel’s deputy head patissier. Okazaki is this year’s world champion of the International Confectionary Art Competition “Le Mondial des Arts Sucres” in Paris.

Under the theme “Kizuna and Hope,” the Christmas trees crafted from cedar driftwood from July’s heavy rain in north Kyushu were colorfully decorated with cream, candy canes, gingerbread man cookies, marshmallows, chocolates and gummy bears.

“I enjoyed communicating with kids from Tohoku, and decorating the Christmas tree together — especially with the candy cane that I really like,” 8-year-old Ebba Lee from Nishimiachi International School said as she joyfully licked the candy cane in her hand.

The hotel held its first Christmas charity event last year to help Tohoku in collaboration with the nonprofit organization Kids Earth Fund. Children from Tokyo elementary schools — Nishimachi International School and another private school — wrote Christmas card messages to raise the spirits of the children in Tohoku. The cards and 1,000 presents gathered mainly from hotel guests were handed to children in Watari, Miyagi Prefecture, by staff of the hotel and Kids Earth Fund in time for Christmas.

Jurika Konno, 11, of Watari, said she had a really hard time after the natural disasters but managed to regain her spirit when she received the Christmas presents and cards last year.

“I’m very grateful to the people in Tokyo,” she said.

Natsuki Ogata, 11, also from Watari, agreed: “I received presents such as a ball, doll and a handbag, and I loved them all.”

A picture with a big Christmas tree drawn by Tohoku children was handed as a token of gratitude to the Nishimachi International School students.

The trees will be part of the “Forest of Sweets” area in the hotel’s lobby from Thursday through Christmas Day.