Even for long-time Tokyo residents, there’s always something new to be found in the city—you just need to be willing to step out of your everyday routes with a sense of adventure. And when you can combine urban exploration with the chance to support charities, you’re getting the best of two worlds.
That’s the experience Tokyo Yamathon has been offering since 2010. Established by the International Volunteer Group, a non-profit organization (NPO) that runs fundraising and awareness events around Japan, Tokyo Yamathon is based on a simple concept: teams of three or four walk the entire loop of the Yamanote Line and must complete the circuit within 12 hours.
A nominal participation fee is charged, of which 100% goes to charity. Teams regularly set up fundraising pages to help them further contribute to the charities that Tokyo Yamathon supports. Over the years, the event has raised funds for organizations such as Oxfam Japan, Nadia Japan and Plan International. Since last year, Tokyo Yamathon has supported the Yokohama Children’s Hospice Project, which is dedicated to opening the first children’s hospice in the Kanto region. In its inaugural year, the event drew 110 participants and raised ¥129,000. In 2019, about 1,100 walkers raised ¥3.8 million.
Unique Club for a Greater Good
Koji Oishi, chief operating officer for Tokyo Yamathon, explained that while the event is based on a simple concept the influence it has on those who take part runs broad and deep. “It’s an opportunity to build relationships with members of your team, challenge your navigation skills and see another side of Tokyo.”
Mark Legard, the Tokyo Yamathon’s NPO advisor, went further: “You feel like a part of a unique club that only people who have taken part can understand,” he said. “There’s that slight smile of agreement that comes to people’s faces when they talk about having done it. No two Yamathons are alike. It is a great opportunity to connect with our charity partners and volunteers and become a part of their dreams and aspirations, too.”
Addressing the question of why more than 1,000 people would choose to spend a day on a walkathon, Operations Director Heena Sinha said that the answer is rooted in the transformation the event engenders.
“It is a passion to bring about positive change in the community around you, in a long-lost friendship or a relationship with a colleague you have been sitting beside for so many years. Also, a positive change within yourself that comes with that crisp feeling of taking up a challenge and finishing it.”
To find more NPOs and charities to volunteer with and contribute to, please have a look at our list of NPOs.
Engaging Corporate Employees
Tokyo Yamathon teams are often arranged by companies, who can also serve as sponsors. In this new working environment—where colleagues may rarely interact in person—an activity such as Tokyo Yamathon can help boost morale and a connection to the company, Chief Strategy Officer Mitsuhiro Honda pointed out.
“Employees are not just working for money; instead, they want to contribute to something and feel like a member of a community,” he said. “The Tokyo Yamathon is an excellent opportunity for employees to connect with their workmates, whom they might not typically be meeting face to face, with people from different departments and with those from different generations, such as senior board members.” He added that, because of the positive internal response they get from taking part in the Tokyo Yamathon, sponsor companies almost always repeat their support.
And for the organizations that receive funding through the event, the support is invaluable. Hisato Tagawa, director of the Yokohama Children’s Hospice Project, explained that once the hospice opens—which should be next autumn—it will rely on donations to fund the estimated ¥40 million in annual operating costs, as there is no institutional system that financially supports children’s hospices in Japan. “This is why support from the Yamathon means so much to us. In addition to its donations, it has helped increase our exposure to foreign-affiliated companies, which are quick in acting to solve social issues, have many fundraising ideas and are open-minded to ‘new’ initiatives such as ours,” Tagawa said.
Last year, the Tokyo Yamathon was scheduled for October 3 but was cancelled due to Covid-19. However, the 2021 Tokyo Yamathon is already being planned, and organizers are looking forward to sharing the event’s spirit of togetherness, exploration, and growth with another enthusiastic group of participants as they circle the city.