The Copycat Givers

This was also published at earlier this year.


When a child begins elementary school in Japan, it is customary for him or her to receive an "Ransel" - a standard sized backpack satchel which will be a status symbol for the six years of elementary school. Having just bought one for my own son, I can understand its value, measured in the breadth of the smile on his face when he tried it on for the first time.


Usually this is a present from grandparents or parents, and receiving it is considered one of the first rites of passage of their young life. But for those children unfortunate enough to live in an orphanage or a foster center, there is no one to buy them a Ransel, so they can only hope for a donation or a hand-me-down. But that all changed last month, on Christmas morning, when an anonymous donor left half a dozen Ransel backpacks at a foster home in Maebashi, Japan. The donor used a psuedonym from a character in a "manga" or comic series, Date Naoto, the supposed real name of a professional wrestler whose stage name is "Tiger Mask" - a well known hero among children for the last four decades.


Now that of itself is a wonderful, heartwarming story, but the great thing about it is that it is only the beginning. In the days and weeks that followed, a series of copycat incidents has occured. When I decided to write this story, the mysterious "Naoto Date" had appeared at six locations, donating a various number of backpacks, and toys in some cases, (in which case the benefactor apologised for not being able to provide backpacks!) That number has now risen above three hundred nationwide, as others borrow the "Naoto Date" alias, and it's spirit of charity, to make donations.


In the past I have written for Heroic Stories about another anonymous donor, who gave a gift of a more substantial nature (see "The Ticket"), but in this case I think the gift is more valuable, because it was small enough to inspire imitation. How far that wave of goodwill will continue to spread across this country remains to be seen, but in the last few days I have come to watch the evening news with a sense of anticipation; anticipation of something good, for a change.


Next spring,as I watch my own son take those momentous first steps into his elementary school classroom, some of the tears that well up in my eyes will probably be for the other children who join him on that great adventure, bursting with pride that they too have a brand new backpack that they did not expect to have, that they do not stand out from the crowd with an old, ragged hand-me-down. And as I congratulate my son's grandparents on another wonderful milestone in their autumn years, I will probably think of the anonymous "volunteer" grandparents watching from afar, as a child they do not even know walks with a beaming smile into a classroom, ready to take on the world. 


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