Name: Declan Somers
Occupation: Director, Seibo Japan
Likes: Kaki-pī rice crackers, ramen,
melon pan pastries, cans of highball
Dislikes: Oden, oden, oden (stewed hotpot)
1. Seibo Japan is a nonprofit organizations, what does it do? We provide hot school meals every day to 14,000 kids in Malawi, Africa, using funds raised in Japan.
2. How did you get involved with Seibo? I volunteered at a social enterprise in Malawi that now houses the Seibo offices in Malawi.
3. You’re also involved in Warm Hearts Coffee. What’s that? Last year we started Warm Hearts Coffee Club — Japan’s first not-for-profit coffee subscription service. One hundred percent of the proceeds are donated to charity.
4. You were also once chairperson of Irish Network Japan. What attracts you to volunteering? I’m not brilliant, rich or beautiful so I have to get my kicks elsewhere. Besides (for Irish Network Japan), I got to walk down Omotesando’s main street dressed in green on St. Patrick’s Day.
5. At Seibo, what project are you working on at the moment? We’re hoping to also provide school meals for some kids in Tokyo who’ve fallen out of the system.
6. Is fundraising difficult in Japan? It’s certainly complicated. Many people here don’t believe fundraising can be an actual job. Many ask for audited accounts. I even spent a day in a police interrogation room over a donation.
7. How does Tokyo, your adopted home compare to Bagenalstown in Ireland, where you grew up? My hometown has a whiskey distillery. Tokyo hasn’t. In Tokyo, in spring we drink outdoors under trees. Try that in my hometown and you’ll be washed away (by rain).
8. When are you the most happy? When playing trains and singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” with my son.
9. What are some of your best memories of your life in Japan? Getting a taxi outside the Sapporo Beer Garden, which turned out to be a private car driven by a magician who entertained me with his tricks (he was sober); hitchhiking from Shimonoseki in Yamaguchi Prefecture to Tokyo in three days to make it to work; sleeping under a boat on an Okinawa island; and waking up under a massive futon halfway to Mount Fuji on my first trip to Japan.
10. What do you do when you can’t sleep? I can always sleep. I find it harder to wake up.
11. What are you reading right now? “Target Africa: Ideological Neo-Colonialism of The Twenty-First Century” by Obianuju Ekeocha. It’s a brave book in defense of African tradition in the face of “philanthropic racism” — or aid that bypasses education.
12. Describe your ideal day off in Tokyo? Eating soba at the top of Mount Takao.
13. What makes you angry? Why? It’s my rule not to lose my temper until it would be detrimental to keep it.
14. Does decluttering spark joy for you? I can’t find room in my mind (let alone my desk) to answer this properly. I have a bin that gets emptied once a week, from which I exact mild joy.
15. Do have any words of wisdom for younger generations? A good starting point is to Google the “kindergarten credo.” It starts with share everything and play fair.
16. What do you think is the most important thing we can do to alleviate world hunger? Convince greedy people to be nice to those in need. Child hunger is humiliating in a world of plenty.
17. What do you think of the adage “charity begins at home”? It’s true meaning is timeless but challenging. Similar to the Japanese “Aite o omou kokoro,” (out of the kindness of the heart) it imparts the wisdom that a good life is the life lived for others.
18. What do you miss most about Ireland? Roadside chats and saluting all and sundry. I feel like the village idiot in Tokyo nodding hello’s and winking at fellow foreigners.
19. What do you think of Ireland’s chances in this year’s Rugby World Cup? An appearance in the World Cup final would bankrupt my homeland, so I am hoping they reach the semifinals.
20. You were in Japan during the 2002 FIFA world cup. Do you have any stand out memories of that experience? Singing folk songs outside Paddy Foley’s Irish Pub in Roppongi to the lined-up masses of Japanese riot police — and a water cannon — who were clearly expecting trouble. Our crowd control measures worked better though — they dispersed first.
To learn more about Seibo Japan, visit www.seibojapan.or.jp.