Illustration by Rachel Edelstein

Santa Cruz has sent $5,250 in support to its sister city Shingu, Japan, after a recent earthquake left more than 11,000 people in the country dead.

Earlier this month, it was reported that Santa Cruz sent $3,000 in donations to Shingu. As of March 28, the number had increased to over $5,000.

Shingu is one of Santa Cruz’s five sister cities, or officially recognized partner communities across the globe. These relationships are intended to promote understanding and strengthen international ties.

The southern Japanese city has not been immediately affected by the recent tsunami and earthquakes in the northern part of the country, but Shingu’s domestic sister city Natori has been ravaged by the natural disasters.

Santa Cruz is indirectly helping Shingu send support to Natori through donations. Once they reach Shingu, monetary donations are used to buy food, water and petrol as well as funding emergency teams made up of firefighters, volunteers, and anyone willing to lend a helping hand in a time of crisis.

For Santa Cruz’s main sister city contact, Iwasawa-San, donations could not have come soon enough. He is thankful for the city’s concern and help.

“Recovery seems to be taking a very long time,” Iwasawa-San said in a thank-you letter to the city of Santa Cruz. He said that the donations have helped everything “from searching for victims to supplying various needs for survival and daily living.”

In a letter to former mayor Cynthia Mathews received earlier this month, Iwasawa-San said, “I heard that more than 60 countries set up humanitarian rescue teams to this area.”

The support is not one-sided. Japan’s consul general in San Francisco, Hiroshi Inomata, wrote Mayor Ryan Coonerty on March 14 to express his concern about Santa Cruz’s tsunami devastation, wishing the city swift recovery of its harbor and boats.

Current Santa Cruz city council member Katherine Beiers said that delegations are sent to Japan every year, and just as often, student delegations or the mayor of Shingu visit Santa Cruz.

“We have a really great relationship with our sister city,” Beiers said.

Lisa McGinnis, a member of the Santa Cruz Sister Cities Committee, said she was “extremely heartened by the overwhelming response,” with regard to Santa Cruzans’ support of Japan.

“Shingu’s relationship with Santa Cruz is one of the longest and strongest relationships of all Santa Cruz’s sister cities,” McGinnis said. “We are heartened by the generosity Santa Cruzans are showing their friends in Shingu and Natori.”

Overall, Santa Cruz has five sister cities across the world, and has been connected to Shingu for 37 years.  The relationship agreement was signed in 1974.

“The Sister Cities Committee was formed on the basis that peace can be achieved through person-to-person contact,” McGinnis said. “When you visit, for example, you stay in their homes, and they stay in our homes when they visit.”

These strong ties have made it especially hard for Santa Cruzans to see Japan in distress.

“They are all wonderful people and it’s sad that the people of Japan are experiencing this,” McGinnis said. “We’re all hoping for the best.”

Former mayor Mathews has been on several sister city delegation trips as city council member and as mayor. She has been in contact with multiple people, including her own host mother in Japan, since the disasters hit.

Yoshiko Umibe, Mathews’ host mother, wrote to Matthews on March 11, “It’s horrible. I can’t imagine that this is real. There is still no reply from one of my friends, so I can’t help feeling worried about her.”

Umibe thanked Matthews for her concern and assured her that everything in Shingu was untouched by the tsunami and earthquakes.

“Nobody plans for something like this,” Mathews said.

Mathews said she saw coverage on CNN of “a big black wave sweeping over fields.” She learned that this was in Natori. “[Santa Cruz] responded within a few days.”

Although nuclear radiation from the power plant explosion north of Tokyo has not presented a problem for Shingu as of yet, Matthews said, the people of Shingu are still concerned about this third blow to their country.

Wayne Nash, a Sister Cities Committee staff member, wrote in a letter to Cynthia Mathews on March 14, “So far everyone in Shingu is doing fine. However, we are a little frantic here at city hall as we get more news reports of nuclear fallout.”

With this looming threat and the rest of the country in shambles, Shingu citizens continue to send help and donations to their friends in Natori, and hope that any friends and family members who are still missing find their way home.

In a letter to Cynthia Mathews dated March 14, Iwasawa-San shared an old Japanese proverb to illustrate his feelings about the natural disasters and the large number of responses.

“Rain makes the ground firm, meaning some immense happening may give a good turning point for the future,” he wrote. “Sharing the experience of this disaster with sympathy can lead us to reconsider issues of life and death and each view of life.”