A while ago I had one of the most humbling lessons of “Japanese economy live”. Through the alumni group of Pepperdine University in California USA I spent half a day volunteering at Second Harvest in Ueno. For those who do not know Second Harvest Japan: It is an NPO, who distributes food to soup kitchens, orphanages, the elderly, emergency shelters, single mothers, the homeless, migrant workers, and many others. According to their website Second Harvest Japan (2HJ) does not pay for “new food”, because there is already an ample amount wasted for them to draw from. 2HJ collects food that would otherwise go to waste from food manufacturers, farmers, and individuals, and distributes them to people in need. 2HJ is the nation’s first food bank.
Did you know that more than 650,000 people in Japan lack “food security”, the access to safe, nutritious food through socially acceptable channels (based on 2HJ website). At the same time, the Tokyo the capital of “mottainai” is throwing away more than 6,000 metric tons of food every day.
Honestly I did not know what to expect from volunteering, I simply reserved an afternoon trying to give back to the Japanese society. In the Ueno Park we met, where in our case our first job was to give out freshly cooked food for almost 600 men. Yes, correct, I did not notice any woman in the long line of people. Plus, yes, there was a huge long line of people, who are truly in need for food. As preparing and giving out a lot of food is rather work intensive, I had not much a chance to observe. From what I saw the people in need did not behave or dress truly different to the neighbour sit next to you or me on the subway. They were mostly blue colored male workers between 40 and I guess late 60s, some at an age or stage in their life, when guessing age becomes very difficult.
After all the food was given out, we headed to the food preparation place in Akihabara to clean up all the used utensils, pots and plates. All the actions done were nothing truly special, but I felt honored having an opportunity to help, plus becoming truly grateful for what I have in my life.
I can truly recommend everyone to take part as a volunteer with 2HJ and I can guarantee you it will be a positive, unforgettable experience. Furthermore next time on the train, remember the guy beside you might be actually in need for food. You never know…
Brought to you by Sibylle Ito (シビル伊藤)