Students launch campaign for Japanese disaster relief

What started as an Internet campaign branched into the Bull Market Wednesday, as students hosted a fundraising effort to help the northeastern coast of Japan recover from a devastating earthquake and tsunami earlier this month., a website founded by 2010 international affairs graduate Francis Maraj, was launched hours after the natural disasters hit Japan and specializes in T-Shirt sales to raise money for relief efforts.

The black “I love Japan” shirt sells for $15 and the white version for $13.50. But instead of the english word “love” it displays the Japanese character.

Maraj said he passed his concept for the shirts, which can be ordered nationally and internationally online, on to the site’s graphic designer, Drew Rosier.

“We can’t go to Japan physically, so we thought this would be the best we could do here in Tampa,” Maraj said.

Including T-shirt sales, the Save Japan Now group raised more than $100 at Bulls Market Tuesday. Yet, the Internet has proven an invaluable tool to the students of Save Japan Now beyond T-shirt sales.

Haruka Uebuchi, a junior majoring in education, said when she was unable to get through to her family with phone lines down in Japan, she turned to the Skype website to communicate with them.

“I tried to call my family, but many phones weren’t working,” she said. “Skype was working so I talked to my friend (in Japan through Skype) and my friend called my family.”

She said her family was on the southeast portion of the island when the disasters struck.

Tatsuya Murakami, a professor in the College of Anthropology helped out at the fundraiser, holding up a Japanese flag to attract donations from students passing by. Murakami said his family experienced tremors while in their home on the island of Hokkaido, which he estimated was 100 to 200 kilometers away from the location of the earthquake.

“I had some family and friends in the affected area,” Murakami said. “I’ve heard back from them so they’re OK, but they don’t have water or gas.”

Like Uebuchi, he was able to communicate with family through Skype and was doing so as the disaster first unfolded.

“My friend and I were (using Skype), with my family and they got an earthquake,” he said. “We told our family to leave the house.”

Murakami waved his arms up and down to mimic the effects of the earthquake that he watched through his computer screen half a world away on March 11, the day of the disaster.

While and Skype have served to help Japan either by raising money or by helping USF students and faculty get in touch with family in Japan, Tomoyuki Iwai, a junior majoring in international affairs, said connecting with family and friends through the Internet did not come without problems.

“After the accident happened, the electricity is out, so they cannot even use the Internet,” Iwai said.

On March 21, gained its first sponsor in USF World, which has contacted Maraj to create a number of custom T-Shirts with the USF World logo.