The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

May 22 marks a special anniversary for the foreign business community in Nagoya: the 25th anniversary of the Walkathon. In 1992, the American Business Community of Nagoya (ABCN)—which merged with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) and became its Chubu chapter in 2000—launched this international charity festival. Since its inception, the ACCJ Chubu chapter has teamed up with the Nagoya International School (NIS) to support those in need.


The goal of the Walkathon has always been two-fold. Besides raising money for charity, ABCN members desired to nurture the notion of public service and civic responsibility at a local level through a fun, family-oriented event.


“In America, business leaders give back to their communities,” said Henry Gomez, the first president of the ABCN, who now works for Lockheed Martin (formerly General Dynamics). Gomez was the visionary behind that first Walkathon.


The Walkathon became a unique way for young, foreign entrepreneurs to collaborate with corporate expatriates working in Nagoya. Americans Robert Roche and Harry Hill met at the first planning meeting in December 1990. “The early members of the ABCN were champions of aerospace and experts in their fields, but had little experience and knowledge concerning how to navigate Japan,” said Hill, who is now president and CEO of Oak Lawn Marketing, Inc.


“Finding a way to quickly organize a Walkathon became a right of passage for us to prove to our older peers in the ABCN that [we younger members] were able to make things happen.”


Hill and Roche—who co-founded Oak Lawn Marketing—led a team of volunteers for several years in planning and fundraising for the event. They still provide a strong backbone of support by generously sponsoring the event.
“In the beginning it was a pretty intense project. Harry and I had three secretaries quit every year for the first three years after the Walkathon was done!” Roche said.


The first Walkathon was held at Meijo Park in 1992, featuring a walk that circumnavigated the symbolic city center, Nagoya Castle, with about 200 participants from the ABCN and NIS


Seisho Kondo, president of Kondo Sanko and a long-time partner of the foreign community, lent his support from day one, personally attending planning meetings and offering guidance on almost every aspect of the event. He often provided a much-needed cultural bridge between the desires of the foreigners organizing the event and the bureaucratic realities of hosting a large-scale public event in Japan. Kondo still champions the Walkathon each year.

The first NIS champion for the event was former headmaster Charles Barton, who, like Hill and Roche, felt a strong need to give back to the Nagoya community. Barton hoped to find ways for young people to get involved in local charitable causes.

He encouraged all NIS staff, students, and parents to support the event, and NIS has continued this tradition over the years. In addition to selling tickets and participating in planning meetings, NIS has provided a wide range of support on the day of the event, from early morning set-up and water-station assistance, to late afternoon clean-up and almost everything in between.

After several years, the Walkathon outgrew its original venue. The event was moved to Tsurumai Park for two years as part of the park’s 100th anniversary. Since 2011, the Walkathon has been held at Moricoro Park, which, as the original site of Expo 2005 Aichi, can host a larger group of people with both covered and outdoor space.

Now, with well over 2,500 walkers and 26 recipient charitable organizations, in addition to volunteers from numerous schools and businesses, the Walkathon has become a major community event.

The event has expanded to become a true international festival, with food, music, and games. The main message, however, remains—that we care about the wonderful community in which we live and should commit to making it a better place for everyone.

This year’s T-shirt design

This year’s T-shirt design


One important way that NIS has been involved with the event is through the creation of T-shirts, which the school launched as a tradition in the fourth year of the Walkathon.

Every year since then, students have submitted ideas for consideration, and one lucky student is chosen for their winning design. NIS alumni can probably be spotted around the globe still wearing their collection of Walkathon T-shirts!

The ACCJ and NIS are aiming to make the 25th anniversary event even more special by challenging all our supporters to double fundraising efforts through our “25 in 25” initiative. The goal is to raise ¥25 million, and we need everyone’s help to get there.

Also this year, we have established the Chubu Children’s Fund, an initiative to help children reach their dreams. Through this program, we will focus primarily on children living in orphanages who need assistance transitioning to independent adulthood. The fund will encourage these children to expand their horizons by providing financial support and opportunities for the future.

Erik Olson-Kikuchi is co-chair of the 2016 Walkathon, and director of admissions and development at Nagoya International School.

The first Walkathon was held at Meijo Park in 1992.