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By Arlynne Criste

Two weeks ago, people kept asking me the same question: so what did you do during Golden Week? In Japan, Golden Week is a string of four national holidays that is considered to be one of the longest vacation periods of the year. For Japanese people, Golden Week creates a rare opportunity to take a nice long break from their hectic lives. Many people travel with friends and family, while others rest a little closer to home.

However, not everyone in Japan finds Golden Week relaxing. For some, it marks one of the busiest seasons in the year.

AIKOM volunteers along with one of their many new friends (Photo by Kieu Anh)

AIKOM volunteers along with one of their many new friends (Photo by Kieu Anh)

This past Golden Week, several Abroad in Komaba (AIKOM) students and I volunteered at an International English Camp hosted by the Recovery Assistance Center of Miyagi (RACM), a non-profit organization dedicated to supporting residents of the Tohoku region. The two-day camp offered a rare opportunity for Japanese elementary school students to speak with foreigners and improve their English. While the camp stressed English conversation practice as one of its key points, our main goal as volunteers was to create a fun, supporting environment for the children, some of whom came from Sendai.

Overall, I enjoyed my camp experience. But as anyone who has ever dealt with young children knows, keeping up with them is hard work. For two days straight, we volunteers were run ragged trying to keep our students in order. We had to cook, clean, and sometimes, pick up dirty laundry off the bathroom floor. By the time we boarded our five-hour bus ride back home, my body ached so badly that I ended up dozing off soon after I hit my seat.

When I woke up from my nap about two hours into the ride, I could not help but notice our bus driver. He looked tired—bags under his eyes. I wondered to myself just how often he had to deal with a noisy group like us. How much did he have to drive during holidays, when people are traveling the most? As I sat there sore and exhausted on that bus, I realized just how much people work so that others can relax during the holidays.

On May 7th, the Japan Airlines Group (JAL) announced a 1.7% increase in domestic travelers compared to last year’s Golden Week season. Similarly, the Wall Street Journal predicted a large amount of foreign visitors arriving during the holidays, citing the weaker yen as a major draw. Taking this into account, one can only imagine how busy retail and service workers were with the influx of vacationers this past week.

On top of this, I noticed numerous places holding Golden Week Sales in order to increase traffic into their stores. At Kichijoji, Baskin-Robbin’s special 31% Off Deal created lines that went right out the door. According to a Japanese friend of mine, many opportunities for part-time jobs emerge during Golden Week, possibly in response to the larger crowd of customers.

BBQ dinner. Cooking for all those hungry mouths was no easy task. (Photo by author.)

BBQ dinner. Cooking for all those hungry mouths was no easy task. (Photo by author.)

This is not to say that holiday periods are bad for putting extra stress on workers. After all, vacations are essential. Take English Camp as an example. Some of the children came from temporary housing. Some lost half of their family two years ago in the Tohoku Earthquake. Like more typical Golden Week activities, such as shopping or traveling with family, the camp offered the kids some much-needed reprieve from their harsh day-to-day realities. And regardless of whether you are businessman or a stressed-out student, people need breaks in order to maintain their emotional and mental health.

Many children showed up to have fun for the weekend. (Photo by author.)

Many children showed up to have fun for the weekend. (Photo by author.)

But at the same time, a lot needed to be done in order to create and sustain such a healing environment. For English Camp, it required not just the efforts of the volunteers but also of the NPO members, the bus drivers, and the lodge staff. And while we English Camp volunteers worked hard over those two days, our work amounts to nothing compared to those who run these camps for a living. The fact that we had the time to volunteer at all indicates an amount of privilege that many others did not have. We chose to work during Golden Week—some others did not have that luxury.

So next Golden Week, be sure to treat your servers kindly while you enjoy yourself. By putting off their rest until later, they play a huge role in making sure that you can relax during the holidays.

Arlynne Criste is an AIKOM exchange student from Johns Hopkins University. 

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One thought on “Behind the Scenes: Volunteer Work During Golden Week

  1. Pingback: Behind the Scenes: Volunteer Work During Golden Week | Art by Cleto Criste

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