Taipei, March 5 (CNA) Like hundreds of Japanese students, Kazuki Furugen came to Taiwan about six months ago to study Chinese and increase his competitiveness in an increasingly globalized world. Instead, he ended up ditching his Chinese-language textbooks to plan a party to thank Taiwan for its generous donations and support following the devastating earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 last year. "I was in Canada at the time of the quake but was told that Taiwan donated a lot of money and offered timely help. I really wanted to show my gratitude," the Okinawan said in simple Chinese. Taiwan donated a total of US$243 million to relief and reconstruction efforts last year alone, more than any other country in the world. "I searched the internet and there wasn't an official thank-you party from the Japanese authorities, so I simply thought I might just throw one myself," Furugen said. "My father said he would like to organize one, too." When the 22-year-old international economics major set foot in Taiwan last July, he enrolled in an intensive Chinese course at a language institute on the outlying island of Penghu. But motivated more by the idea of forming a team of friends to organize his party, the Okinawan packed his bags and left school in November last year and toured around Taiwan, wearing a white T-shirt that said "Arigato Taiwan," or "Thank you, Taiwan." His eccentricity, as well as sincerity, caught the attention of passers-by and unexpectedly helped him collect about NT$169,716 (US$5,316) in donations from Japanese supporters who read his story on the front page of a Japanese newspaper. Showing about 30 handwritten thank-you letters and a box of handmade ornaments made by an 83-year-old grandmother living in the disaster area, Furugen said his mission was to "form a bridge between donors and recipients." "I want to let Taiwan know how grateful Japanese people are," he said. Iroha Kabashima, who has been in Taiwan for nearly a year, staying with a family friend to learn Chinese, met Furugen by chance on the street and decided to join his campaign after witnessing Taiwan's response to the disaster. "When I saw people bowing and asking for donations for Japan at the Taipei International Flora Exposition last year, I was so moved," the 21-year-old said. She has also been impressed by the friendliness of the people here, saying that her host mother treated her like one of her own children.
Before returning to Shizuoka in April, Kabashima said she felt the urge to repay the kindness of Taiwanese people and volunteered to help out. Isao Ueda, a senior advertising expert who has been in Taiwan for 26 years, provided free advice to the students on how to set up the bash. "These are kids who wanted to do something but had no idea where to start or who to go to for help," Ueda said. With Ueda's experience, the team put together an afternoon of outdoor events to be held for free at Danshui on March 11, a year after the earthquake and tsunami ripped through northeastern Japan. Besides trying on traditional Japanese summer kimonos, or "yukata," that have been donated to Taiwan by quake victims, people can enjoy traditional Japanese drumming by an ensemble flying in from Fukushima and a performance by a local Japanese kindergarten. Also, 5,000 small sheets of colored paper will be provided for those interested to learn how to fold origami cranes, a way to offer blessings in Japanese culture. The cranes will be posted on a 5-meter by 5-meter map in the shape of a heart with the outlines of Taiwan and Japan in the middle. The translated versions of letters written to Taiwan by Japanese disaster victims will also be displayed. (By Nancy Liu)