MARINE CORPS AIR STATION IWAKUNI, Japan -- Giving back is a common act of kindness for many people during the holidays and for the Marines of Marine Aircraft Group 12 aboard Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, this Christmas was another opportunity to practice this tradition.
As part of giving back to the Japanese locals, MAG-12 Marines collected 777 cans of food from their unit holiday party to distribute to those in need, Dec. 23, 2014.
“We needed a Santa Claus, so the non-commissioned officers came up with an idea to use a canned food drive to vote for the Marine who’d impersonate Santa Claus in the MAG-12 party,” said Cpl. Matthew Ahn, a chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear defense specialist with MAG-12. “Every can was one vote and after about a week’s worth of donating, we took the final tally from the bins and made our Santa selection.”
With the huge turnout of donations, Ahn worked in tandem with the Japanese American Society to find organizations that would accept the donations.
“The Japanese people are not accustomed to things like donating and charities because it might relate to religious activity,” said Natsuko Matsumura, a volunteer with JAS. “We see many religious based charities and since most Japanese people do not have strong religious lifestyles, we don’t have as many organizations available to do this kind of thing.”
With the 777 cans of food, Ahn and Matsumura found three organizations to distribute to, including the 62 year-old Akebono children’s home in Nasake Sima, Yamaguti, Japan, which received the largest donation of 400 cans.
“This helps reinforce our good nature, not just as Marines, but as Americans in general,” said Cpl. Ruben Salinas, resident Marine Air Ground Task Force planner for MAG-12.
When Ahn, Salinas and Matsumura arrived to the island via a small ferry, a crowd of children who reside at the home ran up to the dock, waving and welcoming the generous guests.
“When we met with the Japanese people, they were very shocked that we had something like this,” said Ahn. “It was just awesome being able to put cheer in somebody’s heart.”
Guests, workers and children celebrated all day eating homemade food, playing interactive games, listening to traditional Japanese Kamishibai stories and enjoying festive and comical skits performed by the adults and children.
“Doing things like this gets Marines out of the barracks to see a different side of Japan,” said Ahn. “A lot of Marines get lonely this time of the year. This brings cheer to their hearts and keeps Marines feeling better doing this for other people.”
Donating became a tradition that shows the large generosity many people share throughout the year, a tradition that jumps from country to country for those in need.
“I’ve already had several people from different units come ask me about the canned food drive and how they could participate,” said Ahn. “I mean, who doesn’t like to give during the holiday season.”
To spread more holiday cheer, Ahn, Salinas and Matsumura split up the rest of the cans to donate to two other organizations the next day, including the Kings Chapel Elderly Home and Miyoshi City Social Welfare Organization in Shikoku, Japan.
Donations like these help link Marines and locals to each other’s diverse traditions and build stronger bonds necessary for both nations to coexist.
“I’m quite surprised with the success we had,” said Salinas. “I would definitely encourage anybody else to put something similar together, not just during the holiday season, but anytime of the year … just go for it.”