In the season of goodwill, the Club’s Connections group is fostering the spirit of giving.
For all its societal stability and economic might, Japan is one of the least generous nations in the world when it comes to offering a helping hand.
This year’s World Giving Index ranks Japan 139th out of 142 countries. The Charities Aid Foundation-commissioned report reveals that only 21 percent of Japanese adults surveyed had helped a stranger in the last month, with just 17 percent having volunteered and 16 percent having donated money.
At the opposite end of the table, Indonesia was ranked top for the sixth straight year, with the United States in fifth spot.
Member Lina Raffone, who oversees Connections’ fundraising efforts and the Club’s charitable partnerships, says Japan’s less-than-impressive showing reflects social attitudes.
“People [in Japan] often believe it is shameful to ask for help, as they feel they must be responsible for their own mistakes or failures,” she says.
Philanthropy has been a cornerstone of Connections’ activities for many years. While the group holds fundraisers throughout the year, the holiday season is an important time for raising awareness about those in trying circumstances in Japan.
As part of a long-running partnership with Sanyukai, Connections collects items for the Tokyo homeless shelter each November. This season also means the launch of Connections’ annual Be an Angel campaign.
This initiative, which runs through December 13 this year, sees Members donate Christmas gifts to children living in local Salvation Army-supported homes.
Colonel Stephen Morris, commander of the Salvation Army in Japan, says the program, in which children request items through an online wish list, brightens the lives of many children in their care.
“[Kids] understand the value of giving and learn the joy of giving to others through the experience,” he says.
Morris says he is grateful to Club Members, whose contributions have helped Connections furnish two new Salvation Army homes.
“The Tokyo American Club membership is an international group, many of whom have experience with the Salvation Army in their home country and understand the value we bring to the overall community,” he says.
Another longtime recipient of Club support is Animal Refuge Kansai (ARK), a nonprofit with a kennels for rescued animals in Hyogo Prefecture. Each December, Connections and the Library run a donation drive for pet food, treats and toys. This year’s program launches on December 3 at the Library’s Holiday Storytime and runs through December 31.
Image of ARK founder Elizabeth Oliver (far right) with Connections members: Donna Beeman
The donations will go some way to helping ARK with its running costs. The shelter requires around ¥140 million a year to operate, but annual donations since 2020 have averaged just ¥100 million.
“Practical contributions from the Club, whether in donations or volunteer help, are very valuable to ARK,” says Elizabeth Oliver, who founded ARK in 1990. “[This support] helps us take in and care for many animals who would otherwise die on the streets or be killed by the local authorities.”
Oliver says Japan’s philanthropic environment contrasts sharply with that of her homeland.
“Charitable giving in the UK has a very long history, stretching back to the Middle Ages,” she says. “During the First World War, many people, especially women, joined charitable causes in hospitals or food kitchens as men were fighting on the front. I guess most households in the UK support charities in one kind or another, as volunteers or by making donations.”
Despite the picture painted by this year’s World Giving Index, Connections’ Raffone sees positive changes in Japanese society.
“With the lifting of Covid restrictions, more people are able to do in-person activities, and this has helped increase volunteering in general,” she says.
In particular, she has seen a surge in participation by younger people, including high school and university students, as well as company employees who dedicate their weekends to volunteering.
As Japan slowly grows a culture of charitable benevolence, Raffone believes the Club can be a powerful force for change.
“Club Members are a diverse and influential group,” she says. “I hope their valuable experience and knowledge can be used to help those in need in Japanese society.”
Be an Angel
Through December 13
ARK Donation Drive
Words: Kiana Cook
Top Image (l–r) Colonel Stephen Morris and Colonel Wendy Morris of the Salvation Army with Connections’ Lina Raffone: Yuuki Ide