Bouncing Back

Bouncing Back

As Japan emerges from the pandemic, new Connections President Vanessa Thomas shares her aspirations for the group.

Arrriving in Tokyo from Singapore five years ago, Vanessa Thomas felt disorientated.

“When I first came to Japan, I felt like I had kind of lost my sense of purpose. My husband was working, my children were at school and I didn’t know what to do,” she says. “Tokyo is not very easy because I don’t speak [or read] the language. And I had lost friends after moving. Connections really gave me a sense of purpose, and it’s a way to dig a bit deeper into life at Tokyo American Club. It was a natural path for me.”

Connections’ lineup of enrichment classes and tours provides a way for its established members to pursue interests and newcomers to acclimate to life in Japan. Thomas began with these before moving into fundraising with the annual International Bazaar and Decor! sales events.

Back in Connecticut, she had been a part of the Junior League of Hartford, an organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism and improving communities, so Connections felt familiar.

Last year, she became the group’s vice president and now, with Olivia Smith’s pending departure from Japan, Thomas is leading Connections as its president.

With so many of Connections’ offerings curtailed during the pandemic, Thomas is keen to reinvigorate the group’s activities, including its charitable initiatives.

“Everything just shut down. We had planned Decor! [in 2020] all the way up to the week before, and then we had to cancel it because of the state of emergency,” she says of the challenge of planning fundraising events in a pandemic. “So we learned to be really flexible and how to pivot.”

By adapting and hosting social events and raffles, Connections has been able to continue to raise money, with ¥6.3 million earmarked for 12 local charities this year.

One of those is Minato Kodomo Shokudo, which provides meals and food to children and struggling families in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. Members can support the organization by helping prepare food bags every third Wednesday. Thomas, 54, hopes to offer more opportunities for Connections members to assist in community projects as restrictions ease.

“You feel like you’re doing good, and these activities provide a whole other layer of learning about the community, whether you’ve been here for three or 30 years,” she says.

Growing Connections will also take center stage this year. The demographics of the 550-member group have changed, and Thomas believes the group can broaden its appeal.

“We have a really fresh and innovative team, and outreach is going to be our focus with, hopefully, many new people joining the Club,” she says.

Noting that Connections was formerly the Women’s Group, Thomas says the group has many more men among its membership than it once did, reflecting the rise in male trailing spouses.

“It used to be primarily for arriving expats to get together and build friendships. But now we have not only these expats who are here for a few years but also more long-term residents,” she says. “I’ve learned so much more about Japan by being part of this group.”

For more information on joining Connections, visit the Connections page on the Club website.

Words: C Bryan Jones
Top image by Kayo Yamawaki: Vanessa Thomas (far left)