Brits helping out in Japan

Written by Sterling Content
May 26, 2023


Written by Sterling Content
May 26, 2023

PechaKucha Tokyo and the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) marked the coronation of King Charles III with a special event on May 8, which featured a welcome by British Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom CMG.

As part of The Big Help Out, an initiative in the UK to raise awareness of volunteering and provide opportunities for people to make a difference in their communities, Britons volunteering in Japan gave presentations in the PechaKucha format, which uses 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each. Devised by BCCJ members Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein of Klein Dytham architecture, PechaKucha is active in over 1,300 cities around the world.

The organisations represented were Refugee Empowerment International, Knights in White Lycra, Tokyo Spring Homeless Patrol, Parkrun, Ukishima Sculpture Studio, Tokyo Yamathon, Maggie’s Tokyo, British School in Tokyo, Activating the 44 Values and Home for All.

An estimated 100 million people have been displaced as of 2022, said Jane Best of Refugee Empowerment International (REI). They had to leave everything behind through no fault of their own, and have lost family members, livelihoods and their self-respect. But only 4.9 million of them are seeking asylum; most want to stay near home, within their own culture, to lead a normal life and have opportunities for a future, she added. REI funding provides opportunities for refugees “to rediscover, rebuild and eventually return” with resilience and determination, she said, adding that REI provides “a hand-up, so refugees can take control of their lives. They do not want hand-outs.”

Rob Williams introduced Knights in White Lycra (KIWL), an amateur sport-based fundraising group of all ages and abilities seeking to get fit and give back. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the organisation, which began to raise funds for those affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. In 2016, KIWL pivoted to raising funds for children in care in Japan, partnering with Mirai no Mori (offering outdoor programmes) for three years and now with You Me We (offering digital education). In addition to its flagship annual 500-kilometre cycle ride, the group holds a walk around the Imperial Palace, a running challenge, a golf day, a futsal tournament and even a pub quiz. Since 2013, KIWL has raised ¥126 million for survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami and marginalized children in Japan.

Marie-Claire Joyce spoke on behalf of Tokyo Spring Homeless Patrol, a group of volunteers who distribute food, drinks and essential items to the homeless in Shinjuku, Ueno and along the Tama River. Although figures released in April 2023 estimate there are 3,000 people of no fixed abode in Japan, including 660 in Tokyo, the group believes there are many more as homeless people are regularly asked to remove their shelters and belongings, thereby making their number difficult to record. Patrol members get together in the evening to make bento boxes, muffins and other items for distribution. Joyce appealed for donations such as canned food, rice, snacks and batteries, as well as more volunteers.

Parkrun representative Roger Berman shared his experiences with the Tokyo chapter of the global initiative, which was launched in the UK in 2004. Designed for runners, joggers and walkers to come together to create a happier, healthier planet, the charity holds free, weekly, timed, five-kilometre events that are open to anyone. Today, eight million people are part of Parkrun globally, including at locations around Japan, including 35,000 volunteers who organise the local events. In Tokyo, tourists from all over the world are among those who take part, said Berman, adding that participants have noted the “physical and mental support” from others during the run, as well as the “social atmosphere afterwards.”

For Kate Thomson of Ukishima Sculpture Studio, art connects people as it transcends linguistic, social and demographic boundaries. She has helped to build bridges between Japan and the UK such as by making the trophies for the BCCJ’s British Business Awards and organising the Iwate Art Festival UK98 with her husband and fellow artist Hironori Katagiri. With eight exhibitions, the event was the largest showcase of contemporary Scottish art outside Scotland. The pair have also organised several group shows including Postcards To Japan, a travelling exhibition of hundreds of visual messages of support to the people of Tohoku following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and its sister exhibition Postcards From Japan, by 22 Tohoku-based artists responding to the disaster, which toured the world.

Tokyo Yamathon involves teams walking around the JR Yamanote line (totalling 40 kilometres) to raise money for charity. Representative Joe Pournovin shared how the initiative has grown from 110 participants who raised ¥120,000 for Oxfam in 2010 to 1,200 participants who raised more than  ¥40 million for children’s charities in Japan and overseas in 2022. Last year’s event attracted sponsorship from multinational companies who sought to increase employee engagement and foster team-building, showing that “a genuine passion to help others through what you do will unlock doors,” said Pournovin. Tokyo Yamathon’s 2023 target is to welcome 2,000 participants and raise ¥7 million for charity.

Maggie’s Tokyo representative Yukie Kurihara introduced Maggie’s, a UK-based charity founded by Maggie Keswick Jencks to provide free cancer support and information in centres across the UK and abroad. Maggie’s Tokyo opened in 2016 to become the charity’s second affiliated overseas centre after Maggie’s Hong Kong. With a modern yet homely environment and a garden featuring seasonal plants, the centre is designed to provide professional support to people living with cancer, as well as their family members and friends, including the bereaved, under the Maggie’s principles of “with kindness, with courage, with each other, with integrity.” The service is free and provided by fundraising efforts, which Kurihara encouraged people to support via the Maggie’s Tokyo website.

British School in Tokyo (BST) staff James Sewell and Nora Yamada shared how students and staff at the British School in Tokyo serve others to “benefit not only the local, national and global community, but also the children through challenging experiences.” Projects to date have been numerous and varied. Year five’s young enterprise project raised ¥250,000 for global children’s charity UNICEF by conceptualising and manufacturing products to sell. In the Onigiri Action project, ¥100 was donated to people experiencing hunger worldwide for every onigiri drawn. Over the past 10 years, the BST has also helped to fund new schools in Cambodia and, on a trip to Fiji to support biodiversity, a BST team discovered a new species of butterfly—thought to be the first species of butterfly uncovered in 40 years.

Regional revitalization consultant Adam Fulford shared his efforts in Activating the 44 Values, a set of lifestyle practices that made Japan’s rural communities sustainable until community bonds were weakened before the arrival of modern conveniences. These values are “the beating heart of sustainable community life,” he said, adding that he hopes people will be inspired by “the power of traditional culture” to maximize the resourcefulness that is essential for the long-term success of any community. He noted that Japan’s 47 prefectures “contain a rainforest of cultural value that is burning, and called on everyone to extract that value before it is lost for good.”

Mark Dytham introduced Home for All, a non-profit organisation that builds community spaces for people affected by disasters. The Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami caused the collapse or partial collapse of 380,000 buildings and damaged 700,000 more, resulting in the need for temporary homes. Dytham worked with other architects to design buildings that could bring residents of these new communities together. The first was Soma City Home for All, a children’s play centre, as outside background radiation levels were too high for outdoor play. It was funded by donations and more than 50,000 children have visited the centre in the past 10 years. Home for All also supported the creation of 72 buildings in Kumamoto following the 2016 earthquake that shook the city.

Support for speakers

The event showed video messages of good luck and encouragement from Tom Parker Bowles, son of Queen Consort Camilla, and actor William Roache, who plays Ken Barlow in UK soap Coronation Street. Musical accompaniment, meanwhile, was provided by Morgan Fisher, member of pop band Love Affair and, later, rock band Mott the Hoople. Fisher brought the house down with renditions of the respective bands’ UK chart-topping songs “Everlasting Love” and “All The Young Dudes.”