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From December 12-25 I was in Japan visiting my partner Yasuyo and her family.  As I enjoy exploring and learning about other cultures, I thoroughly enjoyed myself spending time in areas, i.e., Tokyo, that I hadn’t when I first visited Japan in May 2017.   Although I am only starting to learn the language, and many people do not speak English, I felt very comfortable and appreciative being in Japan. 

Although I am primarily a vegetarian, I do dabble in eating sushi, enjoying the feeling in my nose after dipping the seaweed encased fish and rice in soy sauce and wasabi.   Being somewhat of an extrovert I like saying konnichiwa to everyone I meet and seeing their expressions of amazement or usually an ear to ear smile.  I’ve come to realize that it’s these small people to people connections which can bring joy to others and to me.  The overall cleanliness and customer service in Japan are remarkable; the Japanese work hard at these items.  I also experienced the efficiency and cleanliness of the public transit system which is something that would benefit the US and Nepal. 

We travelled by subway and train from Osaka to Tokyo to Komagane-shi  to Kyoto visiting sites and friends.  In Tokyo I met Takeshi, who I hadn’t seen since August 2016.  Takeshi was a colleague at CSRC and also served in VSO. Yasuyo went to a Nepali language translation class.  In Komagane-shi we visited our friends Terumi and her husband, who is from the UK, John.  Yasuyo worked with Terumi on a maternity well-being project at a hospital in Pokhara supported by the Komagane-shi Citizen’s Association for Nepali Exchange.  John is teaching English to Japanese students.  In Kyoto we stayed in a friend’s apartment which overlooked Lake Biwa.  I took my first “public” bath on the 14th floor of the complex.  We visited Fushimi Inari Taisha, a 1300-year-old Shrine and took our time walking up a mountain through orange painted pillars, amongst the numerous Japanese deities. 

Yasuyo is a volunteer with WaterAid Japan, which operates in Nepal, and whose mission is to, “transform the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people by improving access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene”.  I attended a meeting in Osaka with Yasuyo in which mainly younger volunteers were trained to be speakers.  After the meeting I went out for a snack with the attendees many of whom spoke English.  Given that there doesn’t seem to be a well-developed culture of volunteerism in Japan I was most impressed by the three high schoolers in attendance.  One girl of 16 told me that she learned about WaterAid in school and that she wanted to do international volunteering. 

Two of the older volunteers, who worked for Kawasaki and Osaka municipalities, told me about international projects they had been involved with.  The man working for Osaka, a civil engineer, had served for two years in Kenya promoting Japanese style infrastructure.  The woman, working for Kawaski told me about amazing infrastructure work that the municipality and Japanese corporations are doing in Myanmar benefitting both countries.  This included the first waste to energy plant in Myanmar built by JFE Engineering.  The project enabled Japan to achieve its emission reduction target through reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in developing nations that are realised through dissemination of Japanese low-carbon technologies, products, and services to those nations.  The Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) is doing work through volunteers across numerous sectors in Nepal.

During the holiday time of the year I’ve observed that people in the US are more open to others.  Since I have been blessed and privileged to have lived in other countries, I feel that I’ve become more open to understanding differences, learning that there are many ways to live one’s life. 

Since I came back to the US in September 2016 I’ve been living through a lot of political turmoil and divisiveness.  However, traveling, meeting people from other cultures and being part of a global community gives me hope that we might have the opportunity to move humanity forward in a positive direction.  This is my wish for the New Year!

 

 

Position: Programme Manager

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