In 1985 I met Noriko Toyama during her six month stay in Australia and New Zealand as a Donald Groom fellowship recipient. The following year I was to reciprocate this in Japan. My experience over those 6 months remains one of the most important and inspiring chapters of my life. Noriko and I became sisters. Machiko Yagihashi and I also became sisters. We have sustained our friendship for 30 years. I am proud to say I have a Japanese family.
A few months ago I realised I was nearing the 30th anniversary of my Japan adventure and peace building fellowship. I thought this was an awesome milestone and wanted to make a bit of a fuss about it! So recently a wonderful group of peace makers, anti-nuclear activists and scholars, environmentalists and community leaders all met again in Yokohama for a very, very long lunch. The restaurant was 29 floors above the train station and we had a tofu banquet (about 20 different types of tofu prepared in ways I had never heard of or seen of before – green tea tofu is the best!). My husband and son were with me to share this wonderful day.
We reminisced about the actions we had shared three decades ago. From the massive union-supported anti-warships protests in the harbour of Nagasaki (Sasebo) and Yokohama (Yokosuka) to the many rallies and marches to demand the closure of air bases, nuclear facilities, nuclear power stations, and US bases and prevent further militarisation in Japan wherever it threatened to expand. We remembered the community events and exchanges across the islands of Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido focused on the women’s movement, recycling, organic land care and food cooperatives, which were to become the foundation for a Green movement which has grown stronger and bigger than ever before. We caught up on where people had moved, how their families had grown or changed and paid respect to those who have passed, including the honourable Susumo Ishitani, a scholar, Quaker and survivor (Hibakusha) of the Hiroshima bombing who taught me so much and shared his wisdom with all.
With deep sadness, we discussed the terrible last few years in Japan. From the tsunami and Fukushima disaster to the earthquakes. Kindly, Meguro-san had travelled up from Fukushima to join us. She is now working in a family care centre that treats children with thyroid cancer due to the radiation from the nuclear reactor meltdown. She lives with her brother and his family who are farmers about 50 kms away. It is a heart breaking story, balanced only by the courage and conviction of those who are with these communities as they rebuild their lives. Meguro gave me a little textile frog. This is the symbol of hope for this region. When the frogs return, people will know the land is recovering.
To my Friends at Quaker Service Australia and to all Friends who supported me and befriended me as a young woman, I wish to thank you all over again for giving me the opportunity to be a Donald Groom Fellowship recipient in 1986. I have remained committed and connected to peace building and human rights to this day. The time I spent in Japan was life-changing for me. It was the first step in a career that was to remain in international relations for ever more; it saw me move from Perth to Melbourne after my return from Japan because that was where I saw the political heartbeat of Australia. My first job in Melbourne saw me become a Field Officer in Africa for Australian Volunteers International for the next 7 years. It set me on a professional course of engagement with international development and humanitarian work. I went on to live in Vietnam and Burma. My present role as the CEO with the International Women’s Development Agency is profoundly fulfilling and I believe of great importance if our world is ever to attain peace, justice and equality.
The Quakers opened the windows to the world for Noriko and me. The Donald Groom Fellowship was life changing and empowering.
I will be forever grateful. Thank you.
In peace and love, from Noriko and Jo.