My dear friend Jennie Orchard asked me to write about my CWAJ experiences and for those of you who know Jennie, one doesn’t refuse! Here I am, trying to reflect and distill the meaning of those years and the influence CWAJ had on me.
When our new assignment approached to move to Tokyo, my husband David suggested I give his colleague’s wife, Joanne Fallon a call. Joanne had spent many years in Japan and been an active member of CWAJ. Can you imagine a better person to give advice? She agreed to meet and many hours later I left filled with her pearls of wisdom about living in Japan and the suggestion to get involved with CWAJ. With that and a few more experiences, a friendship began.
Our experience has been life-changing, even now affecting my days in ways I could never have imagined when this began. Over a dinner very early on with our husbands, Jennie and I discovered all sorts of common threads despite having lived on different continents. We decided to head off to something at CWAJ, possibly a lecture. My recollection is how friendly and welcoming everyone was and how interesting it all seemed.
The variety of activities immediately caught my attention. A country girl at heart, being in a city overwhelmed me a bit. The hiking group was just the ticket to get me out exploring the countryside with a marvelous, extraordinary group of very fit ladies. Reiko Suzuki amazed me as she hiked with such speed and agility, always with a smile. Other ladies, too, despite being older than me (then) were pictures of health and fitness. What great examples. It did my soul good to be outside in the forest, quiet and magnificent places amongst the old trees, rushing streams and, as if by chance, coming upon a temple or shrine. The Japanese sense of the spiritual in nature spoke powerfully to me.
The wife of another of David’s colleagues, Pat McDonald Scott, encouraged me, supported me, and was another great example of all that one could do through CWAJ. Again, a life-long friend was made.
The ceramics group with Mieko Hikosaka ignited a passion for Japanese ceramics. She was marvelous, traipsing all over with me, introducing me to famous potters, all of them superb craftsmen making magnificent ceramics. Often they were in the countryside which again appealed to me, creating further opportunities to see the rural side of Japan. We partnered as leaders of CWAJ’s ceramics group. This tradition in CWAJ, of Japanese and non-Japanese working together, is a gift which teaches us to respect what each of us brings – but also for me was the seeding of these precious friendships. Mieko and others helped me over my clumsy mistakes and gave me the beginnings of understanding Japanese ways. She was so tolerant when I messed up, quietly leading me in a different direction.
My passion for reading found a ready spot with CWAJ’s Reading Group, another activity where women from many different countries participated. Reading Japanese and non-Japanese authors was made richer, with these various perspectives in our discussions. Getting to know women through books offers a great insight into our deep thoughts and sensitivities. Makino-san and I were the leaders; later I worked with Mieko again. Having everyone meet at our apartment once a month was terrific as my “job” was to provide coffee, tea and lots of chairs. Everyone else brought the most delicious goodies. Jennie was famous for appearing with one of her orange cakes, carried all the way from Meguro to Nishihara. Later, I remember a conversation with an American friend who had lived in Tokyo for many years, and being asked whether I had ever gotten to know Japanese ladies. How to answer when this was one of the riches of my life in Tokyo.
The Print Show was another treasure. Sumiko Hattori and I became friends while working on publicity together. Not my finest moment, but a great friendship developed. Being on the committee, I was able to help on that fantastic day of “unwrapping” the prints, peeking at them as they emerged. Seeing prints this close up and learning about the complex process of creating them, at times meeting the artists, instilled an appreciation for this art form. Now, everywhere I look here at our home in New Hampshire, there is evidence of those Print Shows.
Photos of Japan and my dear friends popped up on my iPad the other day. How emotional I felt for those times. My advice for those of you lucky enough to be part of CWAJ is simply to take advantage of everything you can and get involved. You’ll be rewarded in ways you can’t even imagine.
My life changed forever. Now returned home, most of my closest friends and favorite groups of ladies are those who have lived in Tokyo. Need I say more?
The photo features Margi Anderson with Jennie Orchard and Mieko Hikosaka, taken at Ukai Toriyama.