Last Sunday – December 11th – I joined in the third annual Tokyo Toy Run 2011 version, where a group of bikers meet up in Tokyo and Ride out in convoy and in groups down into Kanagawa prefecture to deliver toys and other gifts to a couple of children’s homes, and then spend some time with the kids.
This year I thought I’d have some of my own drama the night before when I had to announce my 5.5 year old battery to be dead, and so I headed out to NAPS in the car at 6.30pm to pick up a new one, and give it a test run. The next morning I was up at 5.30am tying on bits of tinsel and such onto the bike, taking care again to make sure nothing was going to sit on the hotter parts of the engine but still look festive. I’d also managed to obtain a Santa suit from Don Quixote which actually fit not just me, but also go over the leather jacket and the Draggin Jeans. It’s still a mystery that many nations see Santa/Father Christmas as a jolly, large fellow, and yet most Santa suits are for people who weigh 60-70Kg. Indeed. I decided to attach the white beard set to my helmet, which worked much better than I expected.
I met up with a couple of riders locally at 6.30, and we were running in towards the meeting space in Odaiba. It’s a beautiful urban ride in, going past the docks and cranes and factories on the expressway as the sun comes up, and see the planes taking off from Haneda airport as we go under much of it, and then over the rivers on the bridges, getting another great view. Once again, the weather was great – we’ve always been so lucky for the weather on these runs.
We all met up with the other riders at the RicoLand Carpark, and it wasn’t a bad turn out with plenty of bikers, bikes, decorations and a couple of vans to fill with gifts. We then went through a quick run through of the plan, including the one stop we’d be making en route, and the groups we’d split into from there to go on to the two children’s homes. The runs are always great, and each year it seems to get smoother getting through the ETC toll booths, the gents in the booths seem that little less freaked out at a group of (largely gaijin) bikers, many dressed as Santa, trying to get on the expressway. It also reminds me how happy I am to have invested the outrageous sum into getting ETC fitted to my bike a few years ago.
On the road as a bike convoy is always fun, we just have to be careful to make sure we’re not stopping people getting on and off the freeway – sometimes not as easy as it sounds. One point of having this many bikes in one place is that the tunnels are deafening – the only way you know your engine is on is to look at your revs. We stopped at Daikokufuto, which is a service area in the centre of doughnut upon doughnut of roads, to meet up with a few more people, get our photos taken with a lot of very curious people who themselves were on trips – including with small dogs with santa coats…
From there we split into two groups, and again I went with the group for the Chigasaki Farm children’s home, and whilst we may have taken a wrong turn, we did get to the venue not too far behind schedule, after a run through historic Kamakura, and along route 134 along the beach which was fantastic – riding along looking at Enoshima to your left, and Mt. Fuji in the distance to your right: fantastic.
The venues, the children’s homes are really where the days start – rolling in as a group, all bikes and vans and filling up the small parking areas, then meeting the kids, playing sports and really getting to know them. As I’d been here twice before (the Toy Run last year, and a BBQ we did this last Summer) it was was great to see some familiar faces and catch up with what was going on – some were even getting jobs and going out into the world, which is great.
For once I missed the sports, but chatted with a lot of the kids, had photos taken with the smaller kids with the rest of the Santas, and once the pizza we ordered for the event arrived, sat around for a while talking, playing Uno and enjoying some of the gifts we’d brought. I should say, Chigasaki Farm made a fantastic soup for us, which, after a few hours on a bike in winter felt so much better than that pizza! A lot of the kids were playing volleyball, and throwing American footballs and just spending a good afternoon outside on a nice day – even if the resident dog did destroy a couple of the balls!
Once people had eaten the food, played a lot of games and energy levels were dropping, we all sat around one of the patio areas and played a couple of rounds of bingo, before having more photos taken with the kids, this time on the bikes (now that they’d cooled), and finally, somewhat reluctantly, got back on the bikes and headed off home as the sun was beginning to set.
It’s amazing how fast the time goes on the toy run, from that early start to getting to the kids over 120Km later for me, to doing some games and sitting and talking, to leaving feels like just a couple of hours – not essentially a whole day.
OK, so what are the benefits? Well for one, the kids get to spend a day with people they don’t usually meet and just talk and have fun – this is what we often hear from the staff and volunteers at the homes – they love the gifts and the toys, but what they like is that these often funny and a bit whacky bunch of bikers are happy to come in dressed as Santa and just talk, throw a frisbee, be chased, have reindeer tails pulled and just relax with them. I know one thing debated on the forums after the event is always that of who got the better deal, us or the kids! In the last three years I haven’t seen a single biker, even the tough military ones, who aren’t putting the smaller three- and four year old kids on their shoulders and running them around the yards, and for those of us with similar aged kids, feeling that concern that these kids will be OK. The truth is, I think most of them will be, they’re fun and smiles, they’re resilient, cheeky and witty and easy to get on with, but the places also need the odd day of distraction.
2011 has obviously been a tough year on Japan, and it’s going to be for a while to come, and it’s fair to say that for some of those outside of the mainstream society who rely on government support and volunteers, things are very tough, and its rewarding to know that it’s actually quite simple even for a relatively small group of people to pick a day, pool some money and really help out some kids who themselves are going through a lot as it is – we should all do it more often.
(NB/ There’s one more Toy Run in Yamanashi next Saturday – Dec. 17th!)