College Women's Association of Japan
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Overseas Member Spotlight / Jennie Orchard (lived in Tokyo 2002 – 2005)

When I first moved with my family to Japan 20 years ago, I could never have imagined that I was embarking upon a life-changing journey. My early days in Tokyo were full of apprehension as I tried to navigate my new circumstances with very limited Japanese – and yet there were memorable highlights including our introduction to Margi and David Anderson, arriving at the same time and employed by the same company, and the appearance of Akiko Maeda, my Japanese language lodestar in the early days of this brand new life.

We arrived in January 2002 but it wasn’t until March that I found my way to a CWAJ luncheon and immediately felt connected to an inspiring and intelligent organization with countless opportunities to explore many aspects of Japanese culture as well as to volunteer.  On that very first memorable occasion I particularly remember meeting Joanna Chinen, Mieko Hikosaka, and Michiko Okubo, all of whom extended the hand of friendship and made me feel so much at home.


For various reasons, I didn’t have much time to participate or contribute during our first year but a meeting with President-to-be (and fellow Australian) Marilyn Gosling in November led to my first volunteering role, coordinating CWAJ’s Special Interest Groups in partnership with Misa Yamada. At around the same time dear Hiroko Arai, now sadly missed, asked Misa and me to extend our partnership by becoming the publicity officers for Print Show. 2003 was an incredibly busy year but I loved these two roles and learned a huge amount about Print Show as well as becoming connected with CWAJ members throughout the organization. The working relationships quickly became friendships which have endured, even though it’s now many years since we left Tokyo.

In 2004 Marilyn invited me to join her Executive Board as VP of Member Activities. This was another stimulating but hugely enjoyable year. I was approached about becoming President the following year but as we were scheduled to leave Tokyo in June, I felt that I couldn’t commit. My husband Ivor had already left for Hong Kong and I was hosting an additional teenage boy in addition to our own three. This was an extremely hectic time but I was still able to continue contributing to CWAJ through work on the Print Show catalogue, partnering this time with Naoko Yagura. I was also appointed to the nominating committee.

We spent only three and a half years in Tokyo but they were some of the richest years of my life. CWAJ membership bestowed so many benefits, above all the connections and friendships that continue to draw me back to Japan over and over again. I intend to keep returning as often as possible for as long as possible and am so incredibly grateful for the warm welcome that is always on offer. 

One of the great benefits of this distinguished and valuable organization is the international network that has been reinvigorated by the formation of the Overseas Member program, launched by Patty Collins initially just for U.S. members but in recent years expanded to include individuals from all over the world. I now coordinate the non-US group which is much smaller but still dedicated, including twenty members in nine countries. While the past two years have destroyed so many opportunities for our Japan-based colleagues to meet in person, they have at the same time contributed to the creation of a strong online community, making it possible for Overseas Members to attend monthly meetings and to participate in many other aspects of CWAJ life. Some of us returned to Tokyo for the 70th anniversary celebrations in 2019 and thank goodness we did. 

My greatest hope for 2022 is that I will be able to visit again, to reconnect with friends and colleagues and celebrate the twentieth anniversary of my CWAJ membership. It is thanks to my CWAJ experiences and friendships that I have felt a deep connection with Japan, beautifully defined by Pico Iyer: ‘I know this place. Better yet, it knows me . . . something in me belongs here . . . every one of us has a secret home – a place that feels familiar for no reason at all – and some of us are lucky enough to find it in real life, and thus be reminded that the homes we discover may live deeper inside us than simply the homes we inherit, the places where we happen to have been born or reside.’

I would like to take this opportunity to express my profound gratitude to ALL those who have contributed to my unforgettable Japan journey.