In 2016, when my husband tentatively floated the idea of us relocating our family to Japan for a work opportunity, I think he was surprised by my enthusiasm. In truth, I was exhausted and looking for an escape – the previous year, we had married, renovated and sold our first home, then purchased and renovated what was intended to be our ‘forever home’. My husband was working long hours in a corporate role, traveling a lot, and completing an MBA, while I was teaching in a state high school on Sydney’s Northern Beaches, and raising our children – then four and seven years old – but feeling like I was doing neither especially well. I longed for something more, but I wasn’t entirely sure what that was.
It seems reckless that I gave little serious thought to what a move to Japan would entail – but a new challenge and a change of scene felt like a gift, a lifeline, and I agreed immediately.
By August of that year, we were unpacking boxes in an apartment in Daikanyama, Tokyo. Instead of palm trees, Pittwater Bay, eucalypts and trumpeting bandicoots – familiar visitors to our backyard – we had konbinis, high-end boutiques, vending machines and ‘Shibuya Scramble’. Blessedly, there were no ticks* and no unwinnable battles to keep sand out of our home! I’ve always lived close to nature, and in small communities – but the transition to an urban environment was an easy one for me. I found the contrast thrilling. For my husband and children, Tokyo had plenty to offer, and they embraced opportunities to participate in kodomo mikoshi parades, sumo championships, koto lessons, and of course the chance to eat their way around the city.
To explain what CWAJ means to me, I need to go back further, to my upbringing in New Zealand. I was raised in a middle-class household; my American father and Kiwi mother were both high school teachers themselves. We lived very frugally – my parents prioritised spending on overseas travel, books and education. We were members of an amateur theatre society and I grew up spending evenings sitting through my father’s rehearsals for one production or another, doing my homework in the wings. Later, I joined him on stage. Art, literature and theatre were such a huge part of my life in New Zealand, but I felt a disconnect from that when I moved to Australia and started a family. Not that those opportunities weren’t there – but I lacked the time to explore them, and the connections with others who were like-minded.
Our move to Tokyo was indeed a gift! I didn’t plan for it but relocating allowed me to redress the loss of art in my life, and to ensure that it is part of our children’s. The efficient rail system meant that I could get from the many galleries to museums to shrine sales more easily, and still have time to tend to daily demands,
In 2017, I stumbled across the 61st CWAJ Print Show and was taken by the beauty and diversity of the artworks as well as the show’s history of fundraising for student scholarships. I returned to the exhibition three times that weekend and met Michiko Okubo and Nicki Harland, who introduced me to the organisation and encouraged me to join. Thankfully, I took their advice! The following year, I joined the YPA committee, volunteered for the Print Show Selection Days, and was excited to join the wonderful Yoshiko Fukazawa as a Co-Show Manager for the 62nd Print Show in 2018.
When I learned that my husband’s employer required us to relocate again, just ahead of the Print Show, I was distraught. My one condition was that we would need to find a way to return to Tokyo for the exhibition, in order for me to fulfill my duties. For a long time in our new location, Hong Kong, I grieved for our old lives in Tokyo – I had never expected to feel so at home there. I did return for the Print Show, however, and was moved by the warmth and solidarity of the women on the committee, and humbled by the professionalism and scale of an event organised entirely by hardworking, dedicated volunteers. The event, and the women, had a profound impact on me.
Back in Hong Kong, I was fortunate to meet with Jennie Orchard, who took me under her wing and introduced me to Kokila Katyal, another of CWAJ’s overseas members. I was grateful for the shared experiences and interests I had with them both – and several moves on, for the continued contact I have with Jennie. (Hong Kong turned out to be another short stay for us – two years later, in 2020, we moved again, this time to Ho Chi Minh City, in the midst of the pandemic.)
Now, another two years on, a happy set of circumstances have led to our family relocating once more, this time back to Tokyo. I look forward to participating in the Scholarship Committee – reviewing and interviewing applicants for the Visually Impaired Scholarship, and to supporting Yuri Toyota as next year’s Membership Co-Chair.
CWAJ has strengthened my connection with art and Japanese culture, and enabled me to meet many inspiring, interesting Japanese and international women. I hope that as Membership Co-Chair, I can be as welcoming, inclusive and supportive for our new and prospective members, as current members were for me.
*parasitic insects that are prevalent in the upper Northern Beaches – the bain of existence for any mother of young, adventurous children