A message to the JustBento community

As you know, Japan was hit by a devastating earthquake on March 11, 2011. The epicenter was off the north-eastern coast of Honshu, the main island of the Japanese archipelago. Much of that coastline has been destroyed. Thousands are dead, more are still missing. There are supply-line problems due to destroyed harbors and damaged roads (now gradually getting solved) that are causing more people to suffer and even die. And there's the ongoing, serious situation at the Fukushima No. 1 (Daiichi) nuclear power plant.

I was lucky not to have lost anyone I knew personally. One of our forum moderators, Loretta Takahashi, was not so fortunate. I don't want to get into specifics to protect her privacy, but suffice it to say her husband's family is from the directly hit area. (Loretta, her baby and husband live in London, UK by the way in case you're worried about their own safety.)

Our other moderator Bronwyn Carlisle is based in New Zealand (where she witnessed the Christchurch earthquake devastate her country), but she's busy with real life too. Life does go on, even in Japan, as usual for most.

As for myself, I am planning to fly to Tokyo on the 28th (I'd already planned to go then prior to all of this), to check up on my mom and sister and niece and nephew, to meet friends and relatives, and to see what I can do in any way to help. I'm also going to be stopping or at least slowing down my Twitter news/commentary stream then.

So, for the time being, I'm going to close the forum to any new member applications, so that existing members can chat without having to bother with any potential spammers and such. Approving of comments by non-registered/not-logged in members may also be a bit slow. I hope you all understand.

How you can help Japan

Several members of the bento blogging community have been raising funds via their Bento4Japan project. There are lots of great bento items up for auction! My publisher, Kodansha USA, is donating more copies of my Just Bento Cookbook too (the first one is already gone). Please go over there to take a look, and bid if you can - or even consider donating an item for auction.

If you would rather donate to a cause directly, I have a page of ways to donate over on Just Hungry.

Earlier on, I went along with some news stories, most notably in this New York Times opinion feature, that Japan did not need donations, that it needed other help. Events since them have convinced me that the devastation in Japan is so widespread that money is needed, if only to cover funds for things that the officials do not deem to be essential. For instance, I've heard some reports from people confined indoors at shelters and so on that they are desperate for books to read, coloring books for the kids, something to occupy their minds and pass the time instead of sitting around watching the news on TV or allowing dark thoughts to flood their minds. Since there are still serious transportation problems, please donate money to known organizations, not goods, since they will know best how and where to send things.

There is a way you can help Japan besides donations though. Nuclear energy and radiation are scary subjects about which the ordinary person, including most mainstream journalists, have little to no knowledge of. I've gotten some rather ridiculous questions about the safety of Japanese food that they already have in their kitchens or shopping at Japanese grocery stores. There are even some random cases of people worrying about their bento box orders from Japan.

If your favorite bento box seller is still operating as usual from Japan, they are well out of the affected zones anyway. And besides, many sellers aren't even based in Japan. Please use your common sense, and continue to support these vendors. Do you really want to lose access to your favorite bento box things?

Also, please do what you can to try to inform people who are being misinformed. Tell them to check first-hand or official sources. (Example: currently the U.S. FDA is stopping all shipments of fresh produce and dairy products from 4 prefectures in Japan - that have had similar restrictions placed on them already by the Japanese central government. Some news sources in the U.S. and elsewhere have blaring headlines saying "U.S BANS FOOD FROM JAPAN". Misleading to say the least even if (in many cases) the actual article says exactly what the real situation is.

I should note here that the area affected is not a big exporter of food. It consists primarily of small-scale farmers, supplying fresh produce locally and to the greater Tokyo metropolitan area. (If you are worried about friends or relatives there, they are already well informed and taking precautions, avoiding the vegetables being warned about and so on. People there are relatively calm, if understandably concerned for real reasons.) Not much in the way of fresh produce from Japan makes it to to export channels anyway since there's such a high demand locally. None of the fresh produce at your local Japanese grocery store is likely to have been shipped from Japan, let alone the affected area. (In the U.S. a lot of Japanese vegetables are grown in California for instance.) However, and I repeat, as a general principle it's good to get into the habit of checking where your food, especially fresh foods, come from anyway. In the global economy we live in now, this is really inevitable unless you just want to bury your head in the sand.

As for processed foods manufactured, the ones you see in stores now are as safe as they ever were (though much of "Japanese" processed food that is exported is not actually manufactured in Japan). The ones you may see coming in to ports now are being scanned by the U.S. and other government authorities, probably (and admitted to in a couple of cases) as much to assuage public concern as anything else. Besides, things like green tea grown in Japan simply cannot grow in the area due to to climatic conditions. They grow in the west and south, well out of any danger.

I know that I will not be able to convince everyone of the safety of food in Japan. But if you are a fan of Just Bento or Just Hungry, you probably know a lot more about Japanese products and their very high quality standards, than the average person. Use your superior knowledge to try to educate people around you if you can.

Thanks for reading. I hope to get Just Bento back to regular programming very soon.

Filed under: