Our adventures in Tokyo started with great hospitality at the Korean YMCA in Japan, where Kim, Soo Nam, the General Secretary, showed us around and explained how close the Japanese and the Korean YMCAs are. From there I went for a meeting with a group of Japanese Peace NGOs, among them The Japanese International Volunteer Center, Network of Buddhist Volunteers on International Cooperation, Peaceboat and YMCA. A very interesting discussion followed including reports on right wing, partly racist demonstrations in Tokyo and strategies on how to stop them.
Another challenge in Japanese politics today is the discussion around the Japanese Constitution from 1945(6?). This constitution allows Japan only a very small self defense force. According to my Japanese friends a lot of young people are not well educated on the history before 1945, and therefore many believe the propaganda that the Constitution was forced upon Japan by General Mac Arthur as the leader of the occupational forces after the second world war. As this was decided by the new Japanese Parliament, a majority of the population and I would say 95% of the YMCA leaders in the country very sternly defend the legal constitution of the country and do not want any changes to it. Leading politicians of today are working towards changes to allow Japan to rebuild the Army again. This is an extremely important Peace issue for the YMCAs in Japan.
After a very friendly and humorous lunch with the whole staff at the National Office, I went to Tokyo YMCA , where General Secretary Koji HIROTA and Shinya HONDA, the Executive Director, welcomed us and showed us around the impressive programmes of the Tokyo YMCA.
To my right hand side Hiromi NAGAO, great supporter from the ExCom of WAY and further to the right, Masayoshi KATSUTA san, another great supporter of the WAY and former member of our Investment Committee.
In the evening a fantastic Japanese dinner followed with delicious specialities from the ocean, and we were joined by my old friend from the WAY Investment Committee, Masayoshi KATSUTA.
KATSUTA and I participating in a communication game. Instructions given in Japanese – I lost all the time!
Also the Finance Director Jun SUGAYA, Board Member Mitsuo OIKAWA and School Director Kazumi Matsumoto joined us for the very interesting and festive dinner. Conversation bubbled around the table and I enjoyed both the depths of the discussions as well as the delicious raw fish, excellently prepared. The evening went by so fast, and I only regretted that I for once had left my camera in the hotel. If my friends from Tokyo YMCA reads this, you may be able to send me a couple of the photos you made, so that I can share the images with my blog followers.
Professor and University President Hiromi NAGAO, member of the WAY Executive Committee, an excellent translator!
Hiromi from our Executive Committee was one of the many good helpers with translation, and we worked very well together in explaining the NEW WAY, Youth Empowerment, Change Agents and One Million Voices research.
The Japanese YMCA is focusing more on education than I have seen in many other YMCAs.They have 22 Japanese language schools and 60 English and other language schools. Among the Vocational colleges they have 8 focusing on Welfare, 4 on Rehabilitation and Nursing, 8 on Physical Exercise, 7 Business and Language schools, 6 Hotel Management schools, 4 International schools and 10 Distance Learning schools. Close to 130 000 people are involved in their programmes. They have more than 6500 staff members, of which 1/3 are full time. A very interesting feature of the Japanese YMCA is their 38 Student YMCAs. We must find a way to spread this programme back to YMCAs where we lost it over the years.
With the famous Bullet-Train we set out from Tokyo to reach Sendai up North East in only 90 minutes, it goes up to 300 km an hour and I was reflecting on the sign from Tokyo Metro – Do Not Rush! It was a very comfortable experience as the landscape really flew by the windows and we enjoyed the Japanese art of Engineering. General Secretary at Sendai YMCA, Nobuo MURAI, number 3 from the right, received us with great hospitality and friendship – thank you to all of you!
We visited the Osaki Hachimangu Shrine outside Sendai, a wonderfully beautiful temple where we got a very interesting introduction to temple life in Japan. When the children were 3 and 6 years old the parents take them to the shrine where they are blessed and receive long sugar sticks in happy colors, long in shape to symbolize a long life.
While I was there, I observed a constant stream of people visiting the shrine, some young couples, a business man in suit, a jogger, a biker, they obviously combined physical exercise with spiritual exercise.
I had to follow the instructions from the ritualist to put a branch as a peace symbol at the front of the temple. Not easy, when you have to move on your knees and the instructions are given in Japanese. Whispering translation helped me from making disasters.
Responsible for the Communication Workshop and all the games, excellently facilitated by Change Agent Dr. Yoriko HIROSE, and to the right an old friend from the WAY ExCom 2002-2006, Toshiko TAKEDA, member of the National Board in Japan.
MIYAZAKI was working in Geneva under Hector Caselli and we had interesting conversations about recent YMCA world history, about when and why the Giant went to sleep, how it was to work at the splendid headquarters at QUAY WILSON 37 in Geneva and how we lost the Refugee Programme.
Like many of the other local YMCAs in Japan, also Yokohama is focusing on education of young people, and they are running very impressive schools both for languages and for Physical exercise and Physiotherapy and similar subjects. It was fun to follow the classes and see how focused the students were. I spoke with several of the students, and they told me that YMCA schools in Japan often were rated among the best.
The Yokohama YMCA is also running excellent programmes for the elderly. I was shown around and the leading secretary was explaining me very seriously how they were bathing the elderly and treating people with Alzheimer and offering games and entertainment. It also turned out, what I did not know, that this very serious secretary was known as the best joke maker and story teller in Yokohama, and all other people in the room found it so funny that all of a sudden he had become so serious. After a while all of us were laughing our wits out, and had great fun. This will lead to a longer life for all of us, which in itself is good news! It will also postpone the time when we will need to use these programme offers for the elderly.
All the staff and volunteers from the photo above participated in the lecture I gave. It was at 16.00, in the middle of the Grave yard sessions, as we call in it training courses, but still they had a lot of great questions and very supportive feed back, supportive to the NEW WAY and Youth Empowerment. Misaki, herself a Change Agent, could contribute to the explanations.
As if we were not having enough fun in Yokohama, here my new friend Takeshi MOGI, Board Member in Yokohama YMCA, participating in an other communication game – exchange of name cards! MOGI was speaking fluent English and helped guide me through many a Japanese secret and mystery. Thank you my good friend!
At this time I would like to thank my friends in Japan sincerely for all hospitality, joy, fun and friendship. It was a great experience, as we were traveling through your green and beautiful islands. My next blog post is also from Japan, but this will be a sad one, full of melancholy and terrible images from the Tsunami districts North East of Tokyo, around Sendai. I am very much looking forward to share that side of Japanese reality as well with my YMCA friends around the globe. They were impressive and moving days, days we will never forget.