“WHEN I WAS 18 YEARS OLD, WE WERE FORCED TO learn and memorize the history of the wars of Japan. I was a good student, so I learnt it all by heart. Then suddenly things started to change. The government started to change the textbooks of history. The language changed. Now they talked about how they had deployed troops to China instead of talking about an invasion of China. I was personally shocked, because I had memorized this history text books. Now it was maybe not true any longer?
How can we change the world and create peace if the perpetrators are not able to acknowledge their responsibilities for the atrocities done? The Japanese have to carry a lot of responsibility for the war crimes done during the second world war and also during the invasions of China and Korea.
Honourable behaviour is to accept own mistakes. In any war it is the people who is suffering. People are able to tell the truth of their own history.
Prime minister Abe’s grandfather was an A class war criminal, but came back after ww2, because US needed Japan as a frontline against the communists in the East.
I was 23 in 1983, a little bit crazy, I wanted to understand the truth, go to China, talk to the people, and learn the truth. It was still the cold war, and no space to meet one another.
That was the time when I established the Peace Boat Organization and started to take people on world voyages in search of truth and to build peace and to assist those in disasters and need.
Still this area is divided because the cold war structure is existing as before in East Asia. North Korea is a closed land. Each government has their own politics, but to stop the contact between peoples are very dangerous. That is why Peace Boat is promoting meetings between North and South Korea, between China and Taiwan etc. Peace Boat passport is a dream.”
This was the essence of the lecture to the YMCA given by Co-founder and Director of Peace Boat, Yoshioka Tatsuya. He spoke passionately and eloquently to us for one and a half hour and we followed the history of Japan and its close neighbours through decades after decades with wars and occupation and into the history of Peace Boat itself. He was nominated to the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008 and have worked with several Nobel Prize Laureates. They have been on board as guest lecturers and partners in the global work for peace. We are fascinated and engaged in this exciting history. Questions and comments are coming from the young YMCA leaders from 17 countries, and Yoshioka, already a warm friend of the World YMCA, answers eagerly and passionately. He is an excellent communicator and we can all feel how genuine his engagement is.
The first ever YMCA Peace Boat Cruise is sailing from Japan to Taiwan, with the School of Peace on board. 65 YMCA leaders are engaged from early morning till late night with group discussions, peace exercises, and lectures, listening to experts from the ship and studying together with Max and Bruce from APAY. There is no time to lay in sun beds or to swim in the pools. We sing and dance and learn a lot from one another. We have inter- faith dialogues and listen to one another and learn from one another. It is sometimes an electric atmosphere, it is exciting and engaging, it is a laboratory of peace building and YMCA leadership development.
The ship is no luxury. We sleep in bunk beds 4 and 4 together, it reminds me of German YMCA hostels. That goes for the food as well. And the great halls with stages have no shows or entertainment; they are used for lectures and meetings with interesting people every night.
While the ship was calling at the port of Keelung, Taiwan YMCA arranged for the members of the World YMCA to meet with the President Ma Ying-Jeou of Taiwan. Mr Yoshioka Tatsuya, Co-founder and Director of Peace Boat, as well as staff from Peace Boat’s International Division also joined the meeting. For one hour, President Ma and the participants spent meaningful time together, exchanging opinions on various issues. President Ma gave a long and interesting speech to the YMCA where he praised the peace activities the YMCA youth have engaged in over the past decades. He then introduced some of the initiatives related to international youth exchange programmes led by the Taiwanese Government.
He also touched upon the agreement between Taiwanese and Japanese governments following the negotiations related to fishing, emphasising the importance of maritime peace in East Asia.
President of World YMCA, Peter Posner, answered in an inspired speech and thanked the President of the Republic of China for the kind and friendly reception.
I made a comment about the focus of the World YMCA on Youth Empowerment, and President Ma responded stating how much he agreed and also by underlining the importance of Youth Empowerment in a peace perspective. “Peace has first to be filling the hearts of the people before it can happen in reality,” said President Ma before we went for a group photo of all the YMCA members and the crew of the Peace Boat. Afterwards the President stood for individual photos with each and one of the participants.
We are back on the waves again with warm memories from Taipei, the capitol of Taiwan, and with new friendships with staff and volunteers of Taipei YMCA and Taiwan National YMCA. Thank you for great hospitality, friends!