Travel Log 12 – “Service” – by Ryan Flagg, Tokyo, Japan

For this assignment, I took the train one day from my school in Yotsuya to a small street in Akihabara. There I met Satomi Degami, Volunteer Coordinator for the non-profit organization Second Harvest. Second Harvest is ultimately a food safety net. They provide safe and nutritious food in order to help those in need in the event of both national and personal emergency. I was able to talk briefly with Satomi, but because the week I visited was midterms and she was busy doing work, I was provided a helpful booklet that covered the group’s mission statement and information on what they do to help serve the community in Tokyo. Second Harvest’s goal is make sure everyone has enough food. Their tagline, “Food for all people,” makes this point clear. They believe that working with the community, volunteers and food donors such as Walmart Japan, Suntory, and Dole, to name a few, will help to provide individuals and families who lack food security. According to the booklet, in 2015 an estimated 4,022,649 meals were delivered to people across Japan. They hold a Harvest Kitchen every week with a little under 100 volunteers coming out to Ueno Park to help. They also provide groceries through different programs such as a direct pickup, food boxes and their mobile pantry. Second Harvest is probably best known for and chiefly executes their mission through their food bank. “Each month we distribute fresh, frozen, and nonperishable food to 260 welfare agencies, NPO’s, and faith-based groups in Kanto area as well as members of Second Harvest Japan Alliance.” On top of all this, the organization spends time to educate the community by going around to do research and perform public speaking sessions.

I think in terms of the way Americans communicate versus how Japanese communicate is very different. In my experience in the US, communication is a lot more laid back, and a lot of people don’t really care how you act in public. Here in Japan, gestures like posture, using your hands in conversation and even the art of silence are all held in high regard. For example, a common thing you’ll see is people putting their hands in front of their faces and bowing. This shows a level of respect and kindness towards others. It’s something you would commonly do if you were to say “arigatou” for example. The main difference I find in being quiet is fascinating to me. You’ll rarely come across someone who’s obnoxiously yelling or wooping all over the place (IE; the masses of Quinnipiac students that leave Toad’s every Saturday). The act of over-talking and talking too much is sometimes seen as disrespectful. Exchanging of business cards and credit cards is certainly a different aspect of culture compared to America. In the US, if you were to hand someone your business card or credit card, you’d do it almost nonchalantly. In Japan, this process is actually a lot more of an involved process between the two parties. You’ll hold the card with both hands, and will transfer the card to someone holding out both of their hands. It sounds complicated, but it’s a lot easier to explain in person. I think I’ve definitely adapted to Japanese communication, and often think that Americans can learn a lot about this way of life. The key, I’ve found personally, to being a successful member of Japanese society, is simply having respect.

While I think doing service projects and helping out the community studying abroad or in another country is important, I don’t think it’s necessary to get a full experience. You can learn about your host culture in a ton of different ways. I think of community service as something similar to a Swiss Army Knife. You go to another country with all of these different tools in which to either help out the community or learn about the community, and doing service things like working at a food bank, for example, is just one tool out of many. I’ll be honest in saying this experience meeting with Satomi and seeing what Second Harvest does didn’t change anything about me personally, but it did make me confirm the idea that in many places in the world among all walks of life, people look out for each other and are always looking to help the fellow human. In terms of oimg_activity05.jpgur definition of a Global Community, it’s totally a unifying thing when people come together to accomplish goals and work toward the greater good for mankind.

“Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve.” -Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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(Photos taken from Second Harvest’s website: http://2hj.org/english/)

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