I'll try to make this quick because I've already used up my hour here at the Internet cafe, but I had a long and interesting day, so we'll see how quickly I can sum it up.
Today I found out why they call the building where I'm staying 'Society Hall' (which I will admit is an awkward translation). Shakaikan (as I will call it from here on out) started out as a collection of community based volunteer organizations inspired by the generous actions of the post-war commander of the U.S. Navy in Yokosuka, Captain Benny Decker. Captain Decker insisted on providing food for the local children, the elderly, and giving jobs to women. This was a novel way of thinking in Japan at the time, as throughout the war, the nation's increasingly scant resources were given the the strongest people in the country so they could fight. Captain Decker was moved by the poverty afflicting the local people and worked to help the weakest people first.
Decker's magnanimity impressed the locals so much they built a statue of him here in Yokosuka. Douglas MacArthur, the commander of the U.S. occupation, reprimanded Decker for his social work, telling him he should instead focus on his military responsibilities. Decker, however, continued to promote social well-being in Yokosuka, for which he was relieved of his duty in Japan. MacArthur, incidentally, does not have a statue anywhere in Yokosuka.
The above history was related to me by Dr. Shiro Abe, a highly respected man in the area. I believe he is also the head of a Christian college in the area. Mr. Mori, one of the employees from the International Affairs Division of city hall, came to the first part of my orientation at Shakaikan in order to meet Dr. Abe and listen to his explanation of Yokosuka history to me. Dr. Abe was kind enough to speak to me for about half an hour. It was a real treat to get a history lesson from such a knowledgeable man on a one-on-one basis. He also took care to make sure I understood everything, every once in a while slipping in an English word to clear things up if there was any look of confusion on my face. I get the feeling that he speaks excellent English, but I am grateful that he spoke to me in Japanese.
After meeting with Mr. Abe, Ms. Togui from the head office gave me a tour of all of the facilities at Shakaikan. The apartments at Shakaikan are newer than most of the building and only comprise the 4th through the 8th floors. The first 3 floors consist of day care facilities for very young children (they start taking kids at 8 weeks), part time day care for kids whose parents have things to do (babysitting is not very common here), a rehabilitation center for people with physical handicaps, a classroom and activity center for the mentally challenged, an elderly care center for people with dementia, a day care center for other elderly people, after-school day care facilities, a volunteer support center, and other facilities. I visited all of the facilities and I was very impressed with the care everyone received there. Most of these people seem like they would be otherwise neglected by society, but for the most part, they all seemed cheerful and well-adjusted. One theme that was constantly repeated by the staff was that they thought it was good to have children, handicapped people, and the elderly all under one roof interacting with each other so they would be comfortable dealing with other people they normally wouldn't have contact with. After seeing this philosophy put into action, I find it difficult to disagree.
I met with several other people over the course of the day, and each of them explained to me what they were doing to try to make the world a better place in their own neighborhoods. At the risk of sounding overly sentimental, I have to admit I was really touched. This center was founded on Christian ideals (as I was told), and it reminded me of something Dr. Haghayeghi said last semester in my Islamic politics class: religion exists to serve man, not the other way around. Whether any of the staff are particularly 'religious' or not (I don't know that they are or aren't), each one of them is sincerely trying to help their fellow man. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, and it was really a great thing seeing good deeds in action.
I have a ton more to write about Shakaikan, but I have been in the cafe for almost 2 hours now, so I think I will get going. I hope I can get around to relating my lunchtime with the elderly group. They were VERY lively for a group of seniors and it was fun talking with them. Don't let me forget! I'll try to get to it tomorrow or the next day, because I'm sure I'll have many new stories to tell if I wait to long.