Want to help Japan disaster victims? Here’s how

It was more than a week after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami before I finally made a financial donation to the efforts to help the victims.

If you wonder why I didn’t just sit down and write a check in the first day or two, you must be reading this from outside of Japan. The Japanese banking system – unlike that of, say, the United States – does not include personal checking accounts.

For most purposes, the system manages to function. For example, when people receive a phone bill or a utility bill, they are likely to take it to a convenience store and hand it to the cashier with the correct amount of cash, and receive a receipt in return. Or they may set up an arrangement with their bank to have their bills paid via automatic withdrawals from their account. Both options are very convenient. And there is no check-writing involved.

But for payments that are not regularly recurring transactions, things get a little trickier. To write a check in the United States or elsewhere, all you really need to know is the other party’s name – and your own physical location is irrelevant. For a one-off transaction in Japan, you have to travel to a bank or post office in person to do a transfer, and you will need to know not only the other party’s name but also their account number. This can slow things down considerably.

If you are in Japan and are wondering how you can financially help, read on for instructions on how postal money transfers work, including the account numbers of the Japan Red Cross Society and the Yomiuri Light and Humanity Association. I’ll also mention a few other international fund-raising efforts at the end of this post.

I decided that I would channel my donation through The Yomiuri Light and Humanity Association  (Yomiuri Hikari to Ai no Jigyodan) after the following announcement ran in The Daily Yomiuri:

The Yomiuri Shimbun and the Yomiuri Light and Humanity Association are accepting cash donations to aid residents of areas affected by the massive earthquake that struck eastern Japan…
Donations will be delivered via local governments and other institutions. Cash can be sent by postal transfer to account No. 00190-8-72319, account name “Yomiuri Hikari to Ai no Jigyodan.” Please write “Higashi-Nihon Kyodai Jishin” in the postal transfer form’s message box.
Donors are asked to pay the postal transfer fee. Only cash donations will be accepted. No goods or materials can be accepted.
The names of donors will be listed on The Yomiuri Shimbun’s regional news pages. If you want your name to be withheld, please indicate so in the message box.
For details, phone the association at (03) 6226-7633.

This announcement contained all the information I needed to make a donation, but I still had to get to a post office during their normal business hours to complete the transaction. (You can also donate by bank transfer: details here.)

At the post office I visited in Tokyo, there was a stand near the door that held postal transfer forms, called “hiraikomi toriatsukaihyo,” that were already partially filled out with the names and account numbers of several Tohoku earthquake-related charities, including the Japan Red Cross Society and the Central Community Chest of Japan. I requested a blank form at the counter, and filled it out with The Yomiuri Light and Humanity Association’s details.

For a model of how to fill out a hiraikomi toriatsukaihyo, see the image at the top of this post. (Click on the image to enlarge it.) You’ll have to write most of the information twice because the post office will keep the larger left-hand portion of the form while tearing off the smaller right-hand portion to stamp and hand back to you as a receipt.

I paid the amount I wanted to donate, plus a 330 yen processing fee. (Disclaimer: I don’t know whether this fee is a set amount or whether it varies with the amount of the transfer, but if I wait until I have perfect information I will never get this blog post out.)

The image above shows what the top of a pre-printed form for the Red Cross looks like, and what the top of a form filled out for The Yomiuri Light and Humanity Association looks like. Note the way the digits of the account numbers are distributed in the boxes. Also note that – according to the guy behind the counter of the post office I went to – it is acceptable to write the recipient’s name using the Roman alphabet.

This morning’s Daily Yomiuri ran a brief article that told me where my money went:

The Yomiuri Shimbun and the Yomiuri Light and Humanity Association have decided to send a total of 800 million yen in donations from around the country to areas struck by the March 11 earthquake.
The money–the first tranche of contributions to be disbursed to quake victims in our fund-raising campaign–comprises 200 million yen donations each to Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures, as well as 100 million yen each to Ibaraki Prefecture and the Central Community Chest of Japan’s earthquake disaster relief fund.
As of Tuesday, our national campaign had received a total of 815.7 million yen from about 19,800 individuals and institutions.

The Central Community Chest of Japan, by the way, is part of the international United Way organization. They are in the process of setting up an English-language donation page here.

Even if you are outside of Japan, there are still many ways to donate. One that I would strongly recommend if you are far away but have a little time to put into it is to find out whether your town or city has a sister-city relationship with a municipality in Japan. You may be surprised. These relationships get much more attention in Japan than I remember them getting in the United States, and it is not unusual for a single Japanese town to have sister-city relationships with counterparts in several different countries.

A U.S. government article that you can read here describes the way some Japanese municipalities came to the aid of their American sister cities after 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, and how the Americans are now returning the favor. (I don’t often find government documents touching, but I admit this one moved me.) U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos has mentioned many other such projects in his Twitter feed, which you can follow here.

If there is a sister-city relief effort going on in your town, you should consider getting involved. In doing so, you may be able to learn about a very specific place that you are helping, and perhaps you will even hear from specific people in Japan. It could turn out to be an enriching experience, as well as an opportunity to help.

Another option is to support charity the modern way: Go shopping. There are more charity auctions and ad-hoc benefit sales going on right now than you could shake a stick at. Most of these projects are legitimate, or at least well-intentioned, but I am generally skeptical of such efforts. Instead of buying trinkets that you wouldn’t otherwise spend your hard-earned money on, why not cut out the middleman and send the purchase price (or more) directly to a charity?

Having said that, however, there are two earthquake charity items that I do intend to buy – because I would be interested in them anyway. These are books. There are at least two projects that I am aware of that are currently working to publish anthologies of English-language writing about the earthquake, or about Japan in general, to benefit earthquake and tsunami victims. One of the projects is called Write for Tohoku, and you can read about it here. The other is the Quakebook project, which you can read about here. Both projects expect to have an e-book ready for purchase in the very near future, and contributors to the latter one include my esteemed colleague, the Reverend Paperboy.

If you want more ideas, you can read some Daily Yomiuri articles about giving to charity here and here, and a Japan Times article here. You can also see various charitable organizations rated here.

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