Jon Thomas, an organizer of the new volunteer group Sapporo NAGARE, answered an email interview with Hokkaido Explorer ahead of the group’s first event set for Saturday, May 2 (details can be found on the event listings page).
First, can you tell us a little about yourself?
My hometown is Buffalo, NY — recently listed at #3 of all the cities in the world for best food towns. We also get a lot of snow like Sapporo, but make up for it with the some of the friendliest, heartiest folk. Growing up on the borders of Canada and America, in a Native American family, I was much in the mix of cultures and histories of a diverse people of the area. Living in Sapporo for the last seven years, I have welcomed the opportunity to embrace the people and city as much as possible and hope to continue to spread my wings and fly as high as possible. I teach for a university, the Hokkaido government, a superglobal high school and enjoy photography, writing, and cooking among many other hobbies. Let’s make Sapporo and Hokkaido as bright as possible
How would you introduce Sapporo NAGARE to someone in a few brief sentences?
Sapporo NAGARE is a wonderful idea and group set up to make the community brighter and to bring smiles and laughter to everyone who comes out – that being so, it is still hard to fully put into words how meaningful and unique the group is. Each person has a story or experience as a foreigner living in this quaint and often curious country, and vice versa for Japanese who have been abroad or involved with foreign people. We share, learn and find new ways together to involve ourselves with the rest of the community that might be seeking people like us.
How did the group get started?
Passing thoughts, introspection and reflection, missed chances and future hopes that were distilling in my mind … I mean, when someone lives in ‘a far-off land, by themselves’ so to speak, they get to thinking about everything, right? In my case, from the day I arrived by ship to Hokkaido I felt like this was Home. That feeling grew with the experience of peaceful traditions and culture and the beautiful mountains and nature surrounding us — a lot of which are shared in my own Native American Indian culture. But inside of me, there was something missing, the land and people have so much to offer — so much kindness in sight — but in reality not quite so present in daily life for foreigners. So I started to think, envision, plan and finally that plan began to manifest last year after participating in volunteer work and events around Sapporo.
What challenges have you faced in getting things rolling?
Well, I hate dwelling, or when people get caught up in the downsides of everything, but I can say that the even the most positive of intentions and values the group is based on have been questioned a bit. I guess when you say you “want to make changes” in any kind of setting, especially uniform ones, you are more likely to hear reasons it is hard than to hear “oh, that’s great, let’s see what else is possible to get it going”. Also, people are somewhat reluctant to trust new people and try new things — I would say that is the biggest one — and keeping positive is the best tool against it.
How do you see NAGARE standing out from other volunteer groups?
Like I said, we are genuinely unique in that a truly diverse group of Japanese and Foreigners are coming together and sharing. “Sharing” or “Communication” is a value held in many ancient or traditional cultures — it means speaking from the heart and learning from each other. Even at our group meetings, we have individuals who speak their hearts and minds as to life experiences.
This current time we live in, especially in Japan’s baby-boomer / X / Y generation culmination, really needs this kind of base to grow from if we are to welcome and become fully integrated, international perspectives in the future. Personally, I have learned more and identified more with the members in just a few meetings than I have from my own somewhat seclusion as a foreigner here over the years. And we all want to share this through Community Events each season. I would say that is standing out, right?
How can community members get involved in the group?
It’s quite easy actually, but it all comes down to their choice. For starters, they can come to a meeting and listen and talk with us, enjoy some games and hear one of our cultural presentations that we have been doing each time. In addition to group meetings, there are community events that we will be advertising, too, throughout the year on Facebook, Hokkaido Insider newsletter, and some other government and community supporters such as [Hokkaido Explorer]. And the best aspect is that you can speak English or Japanese as we have bilingual members who are ready to support! How can it get any better than that?!
What kinds of events do you hope or expect to see in the coming months?
Well, our first, spring event of the year will be coming soon — and we are inviting all people, families, and (exchange) students. It will be a blend of fun games, language, cherry blossom stroll, picnic and all out good time – it’s called “Makomanai Park Sakura Walk & Picnic”. All events are aimed to bring smiles and laughter and get people sharing with each other.
During the summer, perhaps July, we are likely holding an event in Kita-ku with the support of the Kita-kuyakusho and perhaps a few other organizations. While the plans are still in the works, I would like to have another outdoor event so we can enjoy the sunny weather. It ought to be pretty big, and hopefully like a kind of mini-festival, but only time will tell.