Christmas in Japan

Christmas in Japan

Posted on December 26, 2004
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christmas in japanMerry Christmas 2004 from Kyoto

The weather has turned cold here and the faint smell of kerosene wafts through the halls of our large old Japanese house. Being used to central home heating as an American, it bothered me at first to use numerous kerosene fan heaters spread throughout our house when I first came to Japan 8 years ago because I was not used to the inconvenience or odor.

Funny how time changes as now, every fall, I gleefully take the heaters out of storage, clean them and fire them up for the first time. That once offensive odor now conjures up warm feelings and images of my children scampering to the tree each Christmas morning to find out what Santa has brought them…. And yes, Santa comes to Japan even without chimneys!

Now that our Christmas Party is over things have slowed down a bit and soon even I will have a few days off to enjoy the precious gifts that God has bestowed upon me. Of course every year is busy, busy with meeting our organizational goals, exchanging culture, and helping alleviate as many social ills as time allows us. But this time is important to me, because I can reflect over the past year, plan for the future year and spend time with my kids. This always reminds me why I left the business world to leave a more meaningful inheritance for my children.

As I have begun to reflect, I could not help but think how complacent we as people become as we lead our busy lives throughout the year. And how we forget to marvel at the truly amazing things that occur around us. Just as the kerosene becomes part of the background of my winter life, and I ignore all the health and safety hazards, even creating a certain fondness, so we begin to take comfort in the complacency that comes with the incessant hustle and bustle of work, play, getting to the kid's soccer games, concerts and marathons.

In Japan, we have "bonenkai" this time of year. It is literally a party to forget the year. I think this kind of thing helps fosters his complacency as we tend to want to forget this year and get after the new year. Though this year has been one of the most challenging of my life, I certainly don't want to forget it. I want to reflect on it and grow from the experiences, failures and successes for the future.

This year saw the birth of our new social outreach, "Second Harvest Kansai" in March. Working in conjunction with Second Harvest Japan (formally "Food Bank Japan") and my great friend and mentor Charles McJiltion we managed to negotiate for, receive, and distribute aprox. $500,000 US worth of foodstuffs to needy individuals and organizations in the Kansai area of Japan. After talking with some of our staff, I realized how we have become busy with meeting organizational and personal goals and leading busy, busy lives that we may have failed to marvel at what an amazing thing we were able to accomplish working as a team.

Each person doing many different, seemingly unconnected things have created something much greater than the sum of its parts. Of course each of us has handled different tasks and put in different amounts of time but in the end, approximately 20 volunteer staff, working an average of 40 hours for the year managed to acquire and distribute that many tons of food. Individually what could we have accomplished? Maybe $500 per person in charitable giving for the year? Compare $10,000 to $500,000 and you can see the synergy of working as a team with a common goal.

To understand why I think it is amazing, lets think about the math. $500,000 divided by 20 staff members means that the value of each staff membes efforts for the year averaged aprox $20,000 or aproximately 500 dollars of relief per volunteer man hour. That is amazing and we need realize how amazing it is! Working as a team, having solid goals, and having a core of people dedicated to achieving those goals, has produced a great harvest for the year 2005. I think that part of the reason for the complacency is that sometimes our motivations get obscured by the routine nature of our tasks.

Everyone that helped contributed equally vital parts of our growth. But I am sure that when teaching a child Kanji, or passing our flyers, or cleaning up after an event, it is easy to focus on the task at hand and forget what we are working together to achieve. Perhaps more of our staff need to have the opportunity to see the toothless smile of gratitude of a hungry grandma upon receiving a warm meal, seeing tears of gratitude from someone who has never been had anything more than a dirt floor to sleep on when they receive the keys to a new home, or the witness the smiles of children receiving the first Christmas present of their life. I think that these kinds of experiences can help us realize the responsibility we have to the less fortunate. And I think it can help us appreciate the weight of our activities. I hope as our activities continue to expand that you will have more of these opportunities over the coming year.

One of my prayers for 2005 is that I can see more through the eyes of a child, that I can feel free to be amazed by the things around me that are truly amazing that we often take for granted. I hope you will join me.

Barry K. Wyatt


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