See more photos in "La Carmina and Sebastiano Serafini: Fundraising for Japan in Los Angeles."
Sebastiano Serafini, otherwise known as Seba, is a multi-media personality in Japan. He has modeled for a variety of labels, including Paul Smith and h. Naoto. Last year, he played Luca on the Japanese TV series Nijonjin no Shiranai Nihongo. Recently, he co-founded HOPE, a t-shirt fundraising project for Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief, with fashion company Like Atmosphere. Along with writer and fashion blogger La Carmina, he occasionally contributes to LA Weekly.
On the Sunday following the earthquake, Seba arrived in Los Angeles. I had picked him up from the airport and we chatted a little bit about what had happened when he was in Tokyo, but we didn't discuss his experience in detail until the following week, after Seba was back in his native Italy and Carmina had returned to Vancouver.
Seba was at a meeting in Tokyo when the earthquake struck.
"Everything started shaking and everyone left the building and went out onto the street," he recalled.
"Everybody was screaming and nobody knew what was happening at that time," Seba continued. "Most of my friends who have lived in Tokyo for some time said that it's very common that earthquakes happen, but so strong of one, it was the first time that happened."
"It was very late at night, our time, Pacific Time," said Carmina, who was in Vancouver on the day of the earthquake, preparing for a work trip to Japan the following week. "I came back from dinner and saw that a lot of my friends in Tokyo had put up statuses like, 'Wow, what a giant earthquake!' or 'Apocalypse! Did you feel that?'"
Neither Seba nor Carmina felt any cause for alarm at first. The phone lines were down, but that's a common side effect of an earthquake. It wasn't until nighttime in Japan and morning on the North American West Coast, when they began to see images of the tsunami and realized that this wasn't a normal earthquake.
For Seba, the concern was raised that night, he said, "because the aftershocks kept going for the whole night."
"It never stopped."
Seba couldn't sleep. So, he checked the television and Twitter, and that's when he began hearing about the earthquake and tsunami victims in Sendai.
"It wasn't just the earthquake, it was the tsunami," he said. "Most of the people died from the tsunami, not the earthquake."
Seba mentioned that one of his friends died in the tsunami.
"We couldn't even wrap our heads around it," said Carmina. "First the earthquake, then the tsunami... it was too much to handle."
On top of that, there was the threat of nuclear meltdowns.
Seba had called the Italian embassy and was told that he should try to leave the country. He had also heard from his mother that people were leaving Japan to return to Italy. The second time he called the embassy, though, he was told he could stay. However, other foreigners in Japan were trying to get back to their home countries. It was confusing.
"What we were seeing is a lot of our friends who are foreigners were trying to leave and were already having problems," said Carmina. "They couldn't find flights to Europe, so that was another reason why I thought maybe it was best if we tried to get [Seba] out of here."
Two days after the earthquake, Seba realized that he had to leave. However, trying to get a flight from Tokyo to Europe was no easy task.
"If you tried to go through a Japanese travel agent, it was impossible," said Carmina. "So, what we did was call my travel agent, who is in Canada, and said 'What can you get? Is it LA? Is It Hong Kong? Is it Italy?'
"At this point, we were thinking, let's just get Seba out of here, who cares where, ideally a place where he knows some people, even Vancouver, but really, whatever flight he could get."
Seba was able to get a direct flight from Tokyo's Haneda Airport to Los Angeles International Airport.
"Los Angeles was a great option," said Carmina, noting that Seba had first visited the city last December. "We had such a good experience and met a lot of supportive people, so we thought that if he comes to LA, we can harness all of these great supporters and do something for Japan here."
Carmina flew down from Vancouver to meet Seba and they spent the following week working on ways to help Japan from abroad. They collected donations for Doctors Without Borders at clubs like Mr. Black and
co-sponsored endorsed fundraiser events at Q Pop and JapanLA.
After one week, Carmina returned to Vancouver and Seba was able to fly to Italy.
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"Right now, I'd rather stay with my family in Italy, at least for a few weeks, because they are very worried and I haven't seen them in a long time," said Seba. "At some point, I need to go back [to Tokyo]."
Seba is currently facing a situation that has perhaps affected other non-Japanese residents of cities affected by the earthquake. Should he go back and, if so, when?
"Many things have changed. Many live have changed," he said. "But, for the people who stay in Tokyo, they're trying to stay normal because they aren't planning to leave. I can understand that. "
He continued, "I need to go back because my life is there, but, I guess, even with my job...I don't think it will ever be the same."