Crowds of people surrounded booths where volunteers sold sushi and teriyaki burritos. They folded paper cranes and cheered on Costa Rican bands as the groups played in front of a Japanese flag.
The number of attendees at Sunday’s fundraiser for “Día Arigato: Ticos por Japón” (Day of Thanks, Ticos for Japan) surpassed all expectations by officials. With less than a week of planning, organizers managed to attract anywhere between an estimated 6,000 and 10,000 participants to the event for earthquake-ravaged Japan at downtown San José’s National Culture Center (CENAC).
“It’s much much more than we expected,” said Tomoya Yamaguchi, the cultural events coordinator at Japan’s embassy in Costa Rica. “We expected almost 1,000 people. I think we had more than 10,000. Ten times more than [we expected]. It’s unbelievable.”
The event was created to raise money for victims of the earthquake and tsunami that hit the island nation March 11, which has left approximately 18,000 people dead.
Entrance was free, but at times the line to go inside the CENAC wound around corners hundreds of meters away. Costa Rican Red Cross workers accepted donations at the entryway. Vendors sold Japanese food, books and even origami designs for small donations. Costa Rican musical mainstays like Federico Miranda and Editus played free shows. The event was also a showcase for Japanese culture. Groups screened anime (Japanese animation), displayed manga (comics) and demonstrated Japanese martial arts. A man dressed as a samurai posed for photos with event-goers.
Yamaguchi said all proceeds from the event will go to disaster relief in Japan through the Red Cross. He said the embassy will know how much the fundraiser brought in by Wednesday.