Dear JASC 75 participants,
Congratulations. You’ve been invited to participate in one of the great conference and travel experiences in the world. My JASC 27 (1975) homestay in Kyoto declared that travel is worthwhile only if you go somewhere to live with a local. You now have the opportunity to do just this.
Before you arrive, grant yourself permission to notice the otherwise commonplace. About an hour before arriving in Japan, the welcoming aromas of Tokyo flooded the plane’s cabin when they switched over to fresh air. Be impressed at how a Japanese garden manages each step taken, to both limit then to reveal what you hear and see next. Savor the variety and intensity of the greens displayed by the trees nearly everywhere you go. Then, let yourself be astonished by what you may see in a moss garden.
When we were stalled in city traffic, a Japanese colleague (JASC 27) thought it would be helpful if he shared highlights of local and world news with us. This is a brilliant idea. We rarely have the opportunity to speak to a group without a carefully written or well-practiced script. If you dare, try doing something similar. Share some news items with others. Maybe a poem? A song?
Prior to my JASC 27 (1975) experience, certain family friends did not want me to go to Japan, especially those who had somehow survived combat on Tarawa, Peleliu and Okinawa. However, a brilliant case for going was made during JASC 26 (1974), by (then, US Senator) Hubert Humphrey. Of the many insights he shared with us, one was that the hallmark of a liberal education is to be unafraid of what others have to say. Democracy will thrive when we have the ability to hear others speak in their own terms, without a need to correct or to confront. So – ask good, thoughtful questions. And, please be willing to hear what others choose to share with you.
My most compelling memories from JASC 27 (1975) are of small moments. Kind-hearted cooks fed us what they thought was a typical American continental breakfast of a hard-boiled egg, a beer, a hotdog bun, and a banana. A Bunraku master vanished while bringing to life the puppet of an elegant woman. A solemn Noh performance became a heroic battle between a naginata-armed human and a murderous ghost. During our visit to the Foreign Ministry, the Foreign Minister told me he was happy I had joined his brother in an impromptu Andrew Sisters sing-along in Shimane. I wept when the father of my Hiroshima homestay told me that as a POW camp guard, he witnessed the horrors his superiors inflicted on their prisoners. After a very long pause, he told me that his wife’s withered arm was caused by the (radioactive) black rain falling on her while she was trapped in the blast’s rubble. As awful as that was for her and their family, he told me the dropping of the atomic bomb was a sacrifice worth enduring to end the war.
I arrived in Japan both unprepared and overwhelmed. Because of the many kindnesses of others, my experiences in JASC 26 (1974) & JASC 27 (1975) profoundly changed my life. If you’re open and willing, this conference can be a launching point to take you to many unexpected places. Savor every moment. Be your best selves. And, help your colleagues celebrate their best selves too.
I wish you all the best,
JASC 26 (1974)
JASC 27 (1975)
6 June 2023