25 Years of Supporting the Community
The History of the Walkathon
May 22, 2016 marked a special anniversary for the foreign business community in Nagoya -- the 25th anniversary of the Walkathon. Since 1992, the American Chamber of Commerce, Japan, (ACCJ, formally ABCN, the American Business Community of Nagoya) has teamed up with NIS and the local business community to join in support of those in need in Nagoya. NIS has been involved from the first Walkathon, following the lead of the ACCJ as a co-sponsor and a supporter of the charitable causes that benefit from the event.
From the beginning, the goal of the Walkathon has always been two-fold. Besides the important goal of raising funds for charitable groups, there has always been an additional desire to nurture a notion of public service and civic responsibility at a local level through a fun, family-oriented event that provides awareness for charitable organizations and their causes. Recently in Japan, the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become more mainstream within the business sector, but in the 1990s, many in the foreign community in Nagoya felt that this concept of business and community joining on a grassroots level to support a local cause was not as publicly accepted as it could be. By introducing a version of this spirit of collaboration, the original ABCN members felt that the Walkathon was one way to give back to the local Nagoya community that was helpful and fun at the same time.
“In America, leaders of business give back to the communities where we do business. That being said, I want us to host an annual Walkathon.” So spoke Henry Gomez of General Dynamics (now Lockheed Martin), the first ABCN president. Gomez was the man with the vision and a call to arms for Americans and those internationally-minded living and working in Nagoya at the time.
In the early days of the event, the Walkathon became a unique way for young, foreign entrepreneurs to collaborate with corporate expatriates working here in Nagoya. Americans Robert Roche and Harry Hill met at the first planning meeting in December, 1990. “The early members of ABCN were champions of aerospace and experts in their field, but had little experience or knowledge of how to navigate Japan,” said Hill. “Finding a way to quickly organize a Walkathon became a sort of right of passage for us to prove to our older peers in the ABCN that although young, Robert and I were indeed able to make things happen.” Hill and Roche led a team of volunteer organizers for several years in planning and fundraising for the event, as well as much needed manpower on the day of the events from volunteer staff from their companies. They still provide a strong backbone of support today as one of the leading sponsors of the event.
“I remember in the beginning we felt that the Walkathon would be great for the community and we were enthusiastic about getting it going and having it in place for many years to come.” said Roche. “For the first few years it was a pretty intense project. We three secretaries quit every year for the first 3 years after the Walkathon was done!“
The first Walkathon was held at Meijo Park in 1992, featuring a walk that surrounded the symbolic city-center, Nagoya Castle, with about 200 participants from the ABCN and NIS. Also from that first Walkathon, long-time partner and supporter of the foreign expatriate community, Seisho Kondo, president of Kondo Sanko provided support from his company. More importantly, especially in the beginning, he personally attended planning meetings, giving guidance and advice in almost every facet of the event. Kondo often provided a much-needed cultural bridge between the desires of the foreigners organizing the event and the bureaucratic realities of hosting a large-scale public event in Japan.
The first NIS champion for the event was former headmaster Charles Barton, who, like Hill and Roche and others in the community, felt a strong need to give back to the greater Nagoya community and hoped to find ways for younger people to get involved in local charitable causes. Barton encouraged all NIS staff, students and parents to support the event, and NIS has continued this tradition. In addition to selling tickets and participating in planning meetings, over the years, NIS has provided a wide range of groundwork for support on the day of the event, from early morning set-up and water-station support, to late afternoon clean-up and almost everything in between.
After several years, the Walkathon began to outgrow its original venue at Meijo Park, and was invited to move to Tsurumai Park as part of the park’s 100th anniversary, where it was held for two years. The event has been held at Moricoro Park in Nagakute since 2011, which, as the original site of the Aichi World Expo, can host a larger group of people with both indoor (under-cover) and outdoor space.
The evolution of the event is evident in the increase in funds raised, the increase in both walkers (over 2,500) and the number of charitable organizations (now 26), the surge in level of support provided by student volunteers from local schools and universities, and in the rise in enthusiasm in general for the need to support the community.
What started as a brainchild of local foreign entrepreneurs and aerospace industry leaders as a way to introduce a fun way to contribute to improving the local community common in the U.S. has turned into an important source of support for charitable organizations in Nagoya. Just as important, the Walkathon provides a platform for organizations to showcase their work in the community and make important face-to-face connections with students, businesses and community leaders wanting to do something positive for the community.
Twenty-five years strong, the Walkathon has become a true international festival with food, music and games, in addition to a walk for charity of course. The main message, however, remains after all these years - that we all care about this wonderful community where we live and we should all be committed to making it a better place for everyone, including those in need of a helping hand.
(Official ACCJ Walkathon Site)