We are midway through the final study tour for our Participants this year – The Western Japan Study Tour – where Participants embark on a twelve-day long trip to visit several places across 7 different prefectures. Through this tour, Participants learn about various issues related to development in Japan, from the possible impacts of development projects on trees in nearby campuses to social welfare projects that seek to help the elderly.
First stop was Noden (Theological Seminary of Rural Studies) at Machida where we heard from the current manager of the Noden Farm, about how the farm has been doing. Participants learned from the Director and other staff members about the history of Noden. One of our Participants, Pierre, who gave the souvenir on behalf of the team to Noden, said, “It is wonderful to learn more about the place where ARI originated from.”
Next up, at Hamamatsu, we had a good time with students from Seirei Junior High school through dialogue, performances and cultural exchange. At the Seirei Museum, we learned about the roots of the Seirei mission in the biblical principle [Love thy neighbor as thyself]. The activities of the social welfare branch of Seirei, which include elderly care homes and day services, inspired participants to further dedicate their lives to the people in their communities and to those who need support. The path is certainly not easy and requires great sacrifice, but seeing the Seirei group and all the people they are able to reach out to, Participants found a sense of hope.
At Aino Gakuen High School at Mie, Participants were greeted by the school principal and learned about the school through a campus tour. With the skills on PLA that they learned in class throughout the year, Participants shared about their work and their background, and conversed with highschool students on various topics, e.g., how people feel about Prestige or Power, the lack of pride in the concept of ‘Rural’.
The following day, despite rainy weather, spirits were high and we enjoyed a wonderful morning gathering from Participant Meidin who shared about the need for comprehensive learning (not just knowledge but also practice) and how reflection can help draw out your passion. In smaller groups, Participants and Aino students discussed what issues they are facing. It was a big learning for students to share their feelings and get to know about conflict, addiction, low esteem of farmers and more in Participants’ countries. They were all learning more deeply about each other and even offering advice or help to those who were struggling.
At Osaka, Participants received a warm welcome and went through a short orientation by Osaka Minami YMCA. The following day, Participants visited multiple places (Okinawa Bunko, Kamagasaki, Ikuno Ward) to learn about urban and social welfare problems, especially discrimination (against Okinawans and Koreans-in-Japan) and homelessness issues. Everyone could connect with existing forms of discrimination in their own countries or communities. They realized that Japan is not just the image they had before coming. At a session in the community hall at Ikuno Ward, we heard some great sharing from our own Participants. Everyone, including ARI Participants, highschool students and YMCA members, even guide (Mr. Kim) appreciated today’s learning from each other.
At this halfway point of the tour, participants are already considering deeper societal issues of discrimination, injustice, and the need for education and servant leadership within the community. Over the weekend we visited church, college festivals and other sightseeing activities – recharging before getting back to more experiential learning in the second half of the study tour.
We are grateful to all our partners who make this tour possible and we hope that the participants gain a stronger perspective and understanding of the value of their work in serving rural communities in need!