Last night, I was in Academy Sports + Outdoors checking out their collection of stability balls when I happened upon their section of NFL jerseys…particularly an Aaron Rodgers jersey. Enticing as it was to acquire the jersey for $89.99, I passed on it. Though Rodgers is my favorite NFL player, I think I’ve personally outgrown NFL jerseys. But, in the moment, I thought back to all the NFL threads I’ve worn and in the course of those recollections, I came across this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: the Japanese orphanage visit.
How I first came across this moment? A couple of weeks after I returned to Tokyo from my stint in Iraq, I decided to do some community volunteering to bolster my upcoming Enlisted Performance Report. I stopped by the Airman & Family Readiness Center and saw that they were doing an outreach to some orphans in nearby Tachikawa. After asking some questions about it, I figured it was a good deal so I signed up. Along with a van of other servicemembers and some dependents from Yokota, we made our way to the Shisei Daichi Children’s Home in Tachikawa. Beforehand, the AFRC had advised us that the children liked American sweets so I racked up on Little Debbie cakes and Keebler cookies from the commissary. I figured the least I could do was let them eat like true American kids for a while. Once we arrived, we situated ourselves in a big room. About 5 minutes after we arrived, the doors opened and out came about 20 kids, running to whichever American they could see. The kids all ranged from ages 4 to 12 and they were all so excited, so upbeat. It was hard to imagine that these were orphaned kids. Being one of the few volunteers that brought snacks that evening, all of the kids flocked to me at some point during our 2 hours there. I played a few games with them like beigoma (a game with spinning tops), janken (a Japanese form of paper, rock, scissors), and tug of war. A majority of the youngsters got a thrill out of the piggyback rides I gave while others simply wanted to wear my chain. As the clock neared 9pm and it was time for us to go, I spent a good 5-6 minutes just giving hi-fives to them. They were literally in a single-file line, waiting for a chance to slap my hand.
What it meant to me then? It was my first time ever in an orphanage…and my first time interacting extensively with the local kids in Tokyo. Their excitement, their happiness was unreal. I had read about orphanages in books and magazines, seen them on TV and the depictions weren’t always the best…a bunch of sad kids in even sadder situations. But the kids at that orphanage changed my perspective. I visited 3 more times during my stay in Japan and though I had a lot of fun, they didn’t match up to that first time.
What it means to me now? It’s been 7 years. Some of those kids are in high school now. All are in their teens. If I saw them today, I probably wouldn’t recognize them nor would they recognize me. But that doesn’t take away from the experience. It was a great moment that night in Tachikawa. I simply expected to just stand around and give Japanese orphans some Oatmeal Crème Pie and Star Crunch cakes. Instead, I came away with one of the marquee experiences of my 3 years in Tokyo.