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At a glance: Japan

In Japan, football star Makoto Hasebe appeals for support for the world's children

By Hiromasa Nakai

TOKYO, Japan, 3 October 2012 - “This will become the symbol of our town’s recovery,” said mayor of Minami-Sanriku Cho Jin Sato of the town’s new kindergarten.

VIDEO: In his latest public service announcement, Japanese football star Makoto Hasebe appeals for support for children around the world.


Minami-Sanriku Cho is a coastal town. It was almost entirely washed away by the tsunami of 11 March 2011. The town lost nearly half of its 18,000 residents, some of whom are still missing.

It started with a UNICEF pamphlet

In Minami-Sanriku Cho, recovery has been slow. Rubble is still visible in the now-open spaces where the train station, shops, hospitals, town offices, schools and kindergartens once were. Most of the families who lost their homes live in small, temporary structures.

Minami-Sanriku Cho plans to redevelop its ‘lost’ town.

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2012/Matsui
In a public service announcement released in Japan this month, football star Makoto Hasebe has called on young people to make 'first touch' with UNICEF to make the world a better place for children.

With the support of world-class Japanese football player Makoto Hasebe and the Japan Committee for UNICEF, a new kindergarten has been built from 300-year-old trees, which would otherwise have been discarded because of salt damage.

Mr. Hasebe, who has been playing for VfL Wolfsburg in the German Bundesliga since 2008, started supporting UNICEF in 2007. In 2006, he had joined the Japan national team and started having more and more opportunities to fly overseas for international matches. It was then that he made his ‘first touch’ with UNICEF through a pamphlet he found in an airplane seat pocket.

At first, Mr. Hasebe donated anonymously to UNICEF. But, as his fame grew, and at the Japan Committee for UNICEF’s request, Mr. Hasebe started providing additional support as UNICEF’s messenger. “As I had started establishing a responsible position and earning, I thought I should start something like this,” he explains.

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2012/Matsui
In addition to providing financial support, Mr. Hasebe has visited children in disaster-affected areas.

A call for funds

In 2010, Mr. Hasebe appeared in a UNICEF public service announcement in which he called for others to join him in supporting UNICEF through a monthly pledge programme. At the time, he was writing his first book and had decided to donate the royalties to UNICEF.

A few days before the book’s release, the Tohoku region of Japan, where Minami-Sanriku Cho is located, was severely hit by the 3.11 earthquake and tsunami. Mr. Hasebe responded by donating some US$1.65 million to the Japan Committee for UNICEF. The funds came from royalties, and from a charity event he organized in his hometown of Fujieda City in Shizuoka. Some 10,000 spectators attended the event, and the donation funded construction of the Minami-Sanriku Cho kindergarten.

First step towards changing the world

Earlier this month, Mr. Hasebe released another public service announcement. In it, he appeals to young Japanese people to make the first step towards changing the world for children.

© Japan Committee for UNICEF/2012
With support from Mr. Hasebe, through the Japan Committee for UNICEF, a kindergarten in Minami-Sanriku Cho, Japan, was rebuilt following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. Town mayor Jin Sato says, “This will become the symbol of our town’s recovery.”

The title of the piece is First Touch. The first touch is the football players’ first action on the football field to start a game.

In one part of the announcement, ‘Donating is embarrassing’, Mr. Hasebe addresses a possible reservation some Japanese people – particularly male ones – might feel about donating money. In Japanese culture, donating money can be seen as ‘showing off’. By addressing this perception directly, Mr. Hasebe hopes to overcome reservations his viewers and fans might have.

Mr. Hasebe recalls that he used to be too shy to make a donation, and that he felt that his donation would be too small to change the multitude of problems children face globally. The pamphlet he picked up on a plane shifted his outlook.

He hopes that more and more people, especially young people, will overcome their reservations and sense of hopelessness, as he did, and believes that new donors’ First Touches might help improve the world for children.



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