The future dream of Hana Okuma, 14, a second-grade student at Sumiyoshi Junior High School in Kawasaki, is to become a diplomat and turn the world into a “place full of smile and joy.” She participated in the “Girls Unlimited Program (GUP),” which the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo organizes for female junior and senior high school students, as she wanted to expose herself to diverse thinking.
Since her mother works at an international exchange association, her family often hosts young people visiting Japan. This gives her a great deal of opportunities to interact with foreigners. The other day, she participated in a get-together with U.S. diplomats. In the event, she was thrown a flurry of questions, such as “How do you learn to sense the atmosphere or understand a tacit agreement?” She answered them as much as possible. She feels sad whenever she hears people fight or disdain each other just because of their difference in skin color or faith. “They surely can understand each other if they get to know each other as individual persons.”
Her grandfather lives in Okinawa. In his childhood, he experienced war and underwent a lot of suffering. But Hana has been taught by her grandfather and mother on many occasions that “what is important is not to hate the other country but try to understand each other.”
She hopes to make many friends in a world where people can happily say “hello” to each other regardless of their differences in culture and ideology.
Momoko Harada, 17, a third-year student at Yokohama Commercial High School, became interested in foreign countries through her mother, who has studied abroad before, and joined the GUP.
She is from a single-parent family and not economically affluent. But she has been active in participating in international events joined by young Asian students, and she has snapped at chances to broaden her perspectives. She observed a UN conference on disarmament held in Switzerland as a high school peace ambassador. When she staged a campaign there for nuclear abolition, the student ambassador of one country told her that “you should also learn about what your country did [in other countries].” This made her keenly aware of the difficulty of conveying opinions to people in a different position.
Momoko’s mother once studied abroad, and her mother’s host family in those days now lives on base at the U.S. Army’s Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture. Momoko often visits the family to enjoy spending time with them, However, she witnesses the complex reality involving the base. She had doubts about the way the “sympathy budget” is used, and she felt constrained because she had to be escorted while on base, though “this is my country,”
This spring, she will start her college life. At school, she wants to study a range of subjects from business management to the environment and peace-building and broaden her knowledge based on the principle of promoting harmony with diverse culture.