Japanese volunteer urges compassion

Updated: 2012-10-30 08:39

By Zhao Shengnan (China Daily)

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Despite the fact that attitudes toward Japanese living in China have changed dramatically since September, Kawahara Keiichiro, 28, is determined to continue volunteering in the earthquake-hit areas of China.

"I don't care about politics and the stupid islands thing," Keiichiro told China Daily. "I care about victims of the earthquake. People are people, and governments are governments."

The nurse from Nagano in Japan joined the disaster relief efforts shortly after an earthquake devastated Yiliang, Southwest China's Yunnan province, on Sept 7. He carried 55 kg of medicine and clothes to the victims, which he collected as he traveled by bicycle from Central China's Hubei province to Yunnan.

His volunteering coincided with Tokyo's "nationalization" of the Diaoyu Islands, which triggered protests across China. Keiichiro's actions caught the attention of both countries' media and also made his stay in China, the first stop of a world tour he began at the end of 2011, longer than expected.

Before the earthquake, Keiichiro had already gained some fame in China. In February his bicycle, which he was using to travel the world, was stolen, but returned to him after three days in Wuhan, Hubei province.

Grateful to the local people who helped to find his bicycle, Keiichiro attached a piece of cardboard to the back of his bicycle reading: "Thank you Wuhan. Thank you China. Go Go Japan," in Chinese.

But the kindness Keiichiro experienced when he first arrived in China started to change in August. For three months Keiichiro sometimes could not buy any water or food as Chinese shop owners refused to serve him, and he was forced to lie about his nationality to protect himself.

On Sept 17, Keiichiro wrote on his Weibo, a popular social micro-blogging site in China, that in Guiyang, Guizhou province, a crowd of local men surrounded him and yelled at him after identifying him as Japanese.

"Many Japanese friends have asked me to come back to Japan, but I don't want to. I have medicine and I have a responsibility to save people in Yiliang," he said.

Keiichiro said he wanted to show there is one Japanese person who is kind and working hard for people regardless of nationality. "Then maybe someday, if some disasters happen in Japan, Chinese can offer help, too. This is a good way to help each other.

"I will continue my world tour plan some day, but now I have so many things to do in China. So now, I am not going to leave," he said.