“Even though I am Japanese…” – Profits from fried fish cake sales at 2014 Jeju Olle Walking Festival donated to Sewol ferry families

This story and accompanying images were originally published in the Korean language on Oh My News by Kim Jin-seok (February 14, 2015)

Last November in a booth at the 2014 Jeju Olle Walking Festival there was a man with a hearty smile and the disposition of a friendly neighbour.

He made fried fish cakes and his name is Chihara Mitsuaki.

Mitsuaki is chairman of the Amakusa Shiro Tourism Bureau, which is on one of the Kyushu Olle routes. He is also a cook so he brought the ingredients with him to make fried fish cakes that were in turn sold to festival participants.

After the festival he said he wanted to donate the profits to the Sewol victims families.

Three months later on Feb. 13, 2015, Mitsuaki arrived at Incheon Airport to make good on this promise.

After simple greetings there we went to Ansan together where the Sewol Memorial Center is located.

Chan-ho’s father, Jeon Myeong-son, who is also a representative on behalf of the families,  and Ye-eun’s father, Yu Gyeong-gun, greeted Mitsuaki.

Guided by the two Mitsuaki went around the memorial center with heavy steps. He left a message in the memorial book and took a white flower.

“She looks so pretty, she looks like me,” Ye-eun’s father said upon showing her picture.

“Very pretty,” Mitsuaki replied with a shaking voice.

They talked for some 30 minutes and during that time Mitsuaki donated profits from the fried fish cakes sales.

Chan-ho father’s heard about the Fukushima accident but he didn’t take any action. He just felt so sorry and was sure the people there would be having a hard time. Mitsuaki came in person so Chan-ho’s father felt appreciative of this. Yet at the same time felt a little shameful.

“From now on I want to live sharing other people’s sorrows and pain. Not only thinking. But doing actions too,” Chan-ho’s father said.

The fathers presented Mitsuaki with yellow ribbons, which have become a symbol of Sewol.

– What is the reason you visit here and donating the money?

While I was watching the Sewol reports it reminded me of my sister’s death in a car accident 30 years ago. At that time she was 17 years old. I could see my sister in my mind. So I became interested. I wondered what I could do for this accident. At that time I got to join the Jeju Olle Festival as a member of Kyushu Olle, so I sold the fried fish cakes and wanted to give the profit to the Sewol victims and families.

– It has been over 300 days since Sewol. How do you feel?

I was really surprised and it was more serious then I expected. When I heard the news in Japan I could not imagine exactly. As soon as I came into the memorial center and saw the photos of the victims I realized how large it was.

– What would you like to say to the victim’s families?

I remember my mother when she lost her daughter 30 years ago. I could not express with words about her sorrow. I also cannot forget my sister and in my mind she is always alive. Her smiling face will live forever in my mind.  I really want to say to them ‘please live well’. Even though it is difficult have strength. Whenever, wherever, the students will live in their father’s and mother’s minds.

– Do you have any thing else to say?

I am Japanese. No matter the nationality, whoever, whenever this can happen, but because we think it is not our matter that is why our interest diminishes. But the tragedy happened without any expectation so I hope everybody can join and help.  What Ye-eun’s father said keeps going around in my head. He lost Ye-eun and now he received 250 offspring, 304 families, and 460 relatives. If I hadn’t come here I wouldn’t have had anything in my mind. When I go back to Japan I want to let people around me know about this. Because there was a chain between Jeju Olle and Kyushu Olle I could come here. In the future I want to come back and help if possible. Lastly I hope that the 9 victims are found.


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