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It’s beginning to look like Christmas
Let me tell you about one of the warmest gifts I received from Santa Claus.

I’m Đỗ Minh Hạnh, a 3rd intake student in the MBA program. That gift is the evening I have spent with the children, Community Cafeteria staff, my friends, and my senseis. This activity was different from others I had in this 4-month-internship in Japan because it was a social activity. And it was more special to me because it has many meanings to me.
The first thing is the social meaning of it. One evening, we received an email from the International Program Office (IPO) as usual. However, this email’s content was not about any company visits or class schedule, but a volunteer activity organized by the Community Cafeteria.
I knew a real issue existing in Japanese society that people here might not have sharing time with others because of their busy lives. The lack of sharing moments, especially among family members, might affect the children’s emotions and perspective. This happens not only with children but also older people. As the increasing of lonely children and the elders, a community cafeteria (“Kodomo Shokudo” or “Kid’s cafeteria”) project was organized in many places in Japan. The Community Cafeteria is one of those. I used to participate in this kind of volunteer activity in Hanoi, which was also cooking meals and supporting edible food disposal from restaurants for the unlucky children, labors, and elders in Hanoi’s poor area. So, this information provided by Mizuno san at IPO attracted me. I felt like I want to contribute something to the Japanese community.
Our mission was to cook Vietnamese food for 50 people! What a number of people I have never cooked for in my life! “Mission impossible!” Also, there was one dish I have never done without Vietnamese prepared ingredients – Chè. We needed to cook it from raw ingredients that could only be gotten in a Japanese market. Any mistakes could not be accepted! No waste foods could be allowed!
Fortunately, everything happened smoothly. Thanks to the very supportive help we got from Akasaka san, one of the Community Cafeteria founders, and Mizuno san, our dishes were completed! They said, “Great.” People were excited when seeing our dishes. Many people said “delicious” after they ate the dishes we made. We completed the mission of cooking for 50 people with the new recipe!
Besides, the contribution to this project came from individual volunteers and companies, both private and government sectors, also joined. They cooked and provided stuff for the food bank, so attendants could bring a small present back home after meals, which were edible food disposal from donor companies.
The second and also the warmest thing I got was the friendly treatment from the children here. Although the cooking mission was completed, another task accidentally came. Thùy Trang and I were asked by Tokuo Hoshina san, a Japanese picture book author, to read his new books in Vietnamese. You know, even a small thing as telling a story in front of some Japanese kindergarten and primary school children was still thrilling me. My heart was quite skipping a beat when I told a story in front of many Japanese children in Vietnamese. It was like this, instead of telling them “Owarimashita” – “The end,” I said, “Wakarimasuka?” – “Do you understand?” – Of course, they could not understand Vietnamese 🙁 The reason for this might be because it reminded me of my kindergarten time. Although my heart bumped a lot like that, I also passed this storytelling “mission”!
After that silly moment, I could not imagine that I had created any excellent impression on these children. However, I believed that thinking of mine was wrong when I received many “Arigatou” – “Thank you” from mothers of the children, from the Community Cafeteria staff. And especially, I never forget the actively “bai bai” and high five I received from two small girls when we farewell to come back to the dormitory after dinner.

Phuong and Thuy Trang wearing as Santa Claus.jpg
Trang san telling story

That Friday evening, I shared with my friends, Mizuno-san, Community Cafeteria staff, IPO staff, and sensei, and especially, the children there, really brightened up my day after a hard day of study. Those warm-hearted moments of laughing, sharing, and contributing to some things are the greatest gifts I have received for this very first Christmas far from home. Those are the precious things I received from kind Japanese people. I have had chances to meet in this four-month- internship.
Thank you, Mizuno san, Akasaka san, Maeda san, Sakakibara san, the Community Cafeteria, a lot for inviting us to join this meaningful activity. Thank you for supporting us. Thank you, my friends, for sharing this moment together, em Quân, chị Huyền Trang, chị Phương, chị Thùy Trang. Thank you, Matsui sensei and Hương san, for your support and caring! I have had a delighted moment from the people there and the lovely friendly kids who brought me back to my childhood. I would never forget this memory in Japan.
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas;
Soon the bells will start,
And the thing that will make them ring is the carol that you sing.
Right within your heart”.
From “It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas” – Songwriters: Meredith Willson