My CIP project at NicoNicoTomato isn’t the first volunteer experience I’ve had at a hospital. It’s also not the first volunteer position I’ve had with children or in a foreign language I’m not comfortable in. Throughout all my different experiences in America however, my time at NicoNicoToma has been strangely unique and similar to them all.
In a very basic sense, NicoNicoTomato is very….Japanese. As obvious as that is, the famous “customer service”, attention to detail, and efficiency I found and expected everywhere in Japan came to life in a new form within the hospital setting. My previous encounters with volunteering, medical-related experiences, and kids in general were never very organized or based on anything further than the pure essentials of the job. Flowers, snacks, and games were always secondary or a means of killing time. Without me who would wipe the tables down, wheel the patients, or run through basic vocabulary? These tasks, however menial, made me feel like an integral part of the system I participated in, and although I knew NicoNicoToma would be fundamentally different from everything else I had been through, I was caught off-guard once I realized how exposed and inexperienced I was in this new form of contributing.
Once I started inserting toy after toy into plastic bags, taking time to match the most suitable ribbon color with the content inside, I slowly began to realize that the goal of NicoNicoTomato picks up after all the basic work I had done in my other jobs and volunteering attempts. Perfectly gluing a paper bear’s paws to make it hug a heart seemed like a colossal waste of time at first, especially since I sucked at it. I was used to brushing over the details to get the job done, despite rough edges, and I was proud of it; but the other volunteers brought me down to their pace. NicoNicoToma volunteers are kind, seasoned, and deliberate. I began to see how the program pushed itself not to babysit the children or educate them, but to provide a childhood and memories. The painstakingly simple details mattered. The quality and care mattered. They were constantly changing the decorations and photographs in the children’s ward, creating an atmosphere of progress and relationships that I doubt many other long-term patients in the hospitals throughout Japan and the rest of the world are able to have. They appreciate the little sparks in daily life, and the constant waves of hard work NicoNicoToma puts into its little patients and events is one of the coolest personal accounts I have of watching and experiencing some very positive aspects of Japanese values first-hand. I am still really shy and embarrassed when speaking with Japanese people, but I am glad that I have these small, steady revelations in NicoNicoTomato that provide a new way for me to experience Japanese society and giving in general.