I’m not on the most typical co-op. Sure, I’m in Tokyo, Japan, the biggest city in the world, but that’s not what makes it unique. This is my fourth co-op, and unlike any other co-op I have done, I don’t have any co-workers for my job. I don’t have office hours, or even an office. But I do have a job, and that is with Jambo International, a grassroots fundraising organization dedicated to supporting environmental protection and human development. They do this in a variety of ways, but the main way is through hiking trips that are held each week around Tokyo. Participants pay ¥1000 yen (that’s about $10 U.S.) and half the money goes to a charity that promotes human development and environmental protection. The other half goes to the hiking leader. Other Jambo activities include volunteer garbage pickup along rivers, cooking classes, and English classes. David is also in the process of self-publishing a book, a daily spiritual reflection and meditation book that mirrors his own philosophies and approaches to the work he does at Jambo.
Jambo International is the loving work of David Howenstein who founded the organization in 1996. His motto, and the motto of the organization is, “Having fun, doing good.” So my ‘work’ at Jambo doesn’t often feel like work. I am encouraged, although not required, to go on the hiking trips every week. A major project I’ve worked on is interviewing Jambo members for the website, which is in need of a major overhaul. I’ve helped out in some of David’s English classes, and I spend a lot of time on the internet trying to figure out a way to haul this tiny NPO into the 21st Century with an online presence and some contact in the NPO world.
There are no typical days for me at Jambo, just as there are no typical weeks, but let’s begin with one of my first Jambo events. June 26, not four days after I arrived, I joined Jambo for a hike on the Miura Peninsula, south of the city in Tokyo Bay. The first thing you need to know about my boss David is that he has boundless energy and an adventurous spirit, two qualities that make him an excellent hiking leader and friend to have in a new city. We arrived at Higashi-Zushi at about 10:15 where we met about 40 other fresh-faced hikers ready to follow David wherever he took us. People who were new to JAMBO introduced themselves in English. David gave directions first in English than Japanese. There were mainly Japanese people there, but also people from the United States, Canada, England, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Scotland.
After introductions and housekeeping, David took off and we trailed behind, chatting in Japanese, English, and broken versions of the two. Soon we were headed into the mountains, with lush green trees and weeds all around. The trail was often muddy and I learned the Japanese words for “slippery” and “muddy.” Also, “climbing up the stairs” and “humid.” It is the nature of language study and the intensity of the hike that I remember none of those words now. And it was an intense. We scrambled up rocks, down 45 degree angles, through tiny bamboo groves and a beautiful cedar forest.
At about 12:30 we stopped for lunch at the shady top of one of the many small mountains we climbed. Some people pulled off their shoes, or reapplied sunscreen and makeup. There was the gulping of water and cooling off all around. I took off my hat and earned a gasp of surprise from the women around me for my short hair. (So short!)
Miki, David’s partner and all around amazing human being, packed a bento, Japanese lunchbox, for David, herself and me and like any good millennial I took a picture. Omelet with vegetables, some pork, salad, cheese, and of course a rice ball. Miki has many talents, but at the top of that mountain I could have kissed her for her wonderful cooking. After lunch and a rest we still had about 4 hours to go, although I did not know it at the time. More scrambling, up and down, on narrow paths covered in brush. I thanked my excellent hiking boots and the person who had bought them for me last year. We stopped at intervals for water, covered in sweat but keeping up good spirits. Finally, at about 4:30, we arrived at the town of Hayama and walked through the town to water. We stopped at a convenience store for some much-needed sustenance. Some were ready to go home and took a bus before we got to the ocean. By the convenience store I was tired and hungry and more than a little surly.
We turned a corner and there it was: the ocean. It was so beautiful I just stood and gaped while my fellow hikers went to find a toilet. The water was heavenly, warmer than it ever gets in my hometown in New England, even at the height of summer. While others stayed huddled on the beach I splashed around, floating on my back, letting the water wash away my grumpiness from before. We stayed on the beach until sunset, and reluctantly went back home, loathe to leave this beautiful place behind.
After a day like that, it can be hard to get into do the projects David has assigned me which can mean a lot of staring at a screen. Free wireless internet is rare in Japan, and although I bought a wi-fi hotspot shortly after arriving in Tokyo, I spend a lot of time in Starbucks to take advantage of the free internet there. The only other place with consistent, free wi-fi is McDonalds, brought to you by globalization and capitalism. I assure you that is the only reason I go to Starbucks or McDonalds. I didn’t travel 7,000 miles to have exactly what I could at home but with a Japanese accent.
Tokyo is a very safe city, despite my father’s ever-present concerns that I’m going to be kidnapped. It’s common practice to find your seat first when you go to a café, leave your things at your seat, and then order at the counter. People leave bags, wallets, cellphones, computers, even children, unattended without any fear of theft. I dump my heavy computer at a table and go up to the counter to order. I order a café latte (that’s kah-feh-rah-teh in Japanese) and thanks to the number of times I’ve been there I now know how to order coffee in Japanese. Well, in my version of Japanese, which involves a lot of hand gestures, nodding, and apologizing, as well as some stuttered words.
My latte always has a heart in it, and I admire it for a moment before turning to my computer and digging in. Along with trying to increase Jambo’s nonprofit networking presence online, I am helping David with his book, formatting, a little proofreading, and research on the best and easiest ways to self-publish. I’m on my bum at this Starbucks for four hours staring at my computer, so I’m relieved when it’s time for me to pack up and go meet David to give him an update on my progress.
The next day I meet up with a Jambo member as a part of my interview project. I always ask to go to them, since it gives me a chance to see different parts of Tokyo. Jambo members come from all over the world, and are a diverse group. I have met a Japanese man who works with the disabled in Yokohama, an Indonesian software engineer, a nurse who loves English even though it’s not practical for her job, a Japanese language instructor, a blind woman who can smell the difference between the leaves and the flowers during the cherry blossom season, a mother of three who was inspired to start Jambo Kids! with David last year, the president of the Koto-ward volunteer organization preparing for the 2020 Olympics, and many others. Thanks to this project I have met and had wonderful conversations with many people. We find a quiet café to talk in, or a bench, and I take out my notebook and turn on my recorder and we talk about Jambo, how they found it, why they like it, why it’s important. These interviews and pictures will go up on the website eventually as a part of its overhaul.
I’m on my own a lot, freeloading off Starbucks wi-fi whenever I can, and using a portable hotspot device when I can’t. I do work in parks, coffee shops, at home, and on random benches sometimes. It’s a little lonely; I don’t really talk to anyone all day, unless I meet up with David or Miki, or I have an interview that day. But, all this gives me a lot of flexibility and I have gotten to see lots of the city. Yesterday I walked along a canal near Kiba, in the east of the city, a beautiful strip of park with ponds, waterfalls, jungle gyms, flowers, and benches. Tokyo is an enormous concrete city; it’s not particularly beautiful, but there are also these sweet little jewels of green that you can stumble upon. They are like five-minute paradises you can pass through before rejoining the bustle.
I am writing a blog about my travels and adventures here in Japan. You can follow along at portraitofayoungnerd.wordpress.com. You can follow Jambo International on their Facebook page or their MeetUp site.