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Kazuko Minamoto
Deputy Director, Education & Family Frograms, Japan Society


Kazuko Minamoto

Career Path:  For over 17 years I have been fortunate to work closely with highly motivated and dedicated K-12 educators who teach about Japan and East Asia through various education programs offered at Japan Society, including our highly regarded Educators’ Study Tour to Japan.  Interdisciplinary teams of educators (social studies, literature, arts and science) and individuals are selected annually from across the nation to visit places such as Tokyo, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and Fukushima. Later these teachers bring this exciting firsthand experience, in-depth knowledge of Japan, and authentic materials back to their classroom here in the U.S.  I have also been fortunate to introduce diverse aspects of Japan to a large number of New York area students by providing immersive experiences in the performing arts, language, history, art, music, anime and documentary film production, journalism, and Japanese cuisine workshops along with seasoned professionals in each of these fields.  Did I always envision myself doing what I do now, when I was a teenager?  The answer is “not exactly.”  Looking back, it’d be more accurate to say now that it was a series of events, incidents, and encounters with key persons that have brought me to where I am now.

I moved to the U.S. from Japan as a college student and majored in International Marketing as I was interested in exploring ways to contribute in the area of US-Japan relations and exchanges between the two countries.  Upon graduation, I was offered a marketing position at a New York branch of one of Japan’s major TV networks. The job was to introduce and sell rare American goods that had a unique history behind them to Japanese viewers. Although the job was interesting in the beginning, I became a little uncertain of whether I was actually helping Japanese viewers to buy what they really needed; namely, was I promoting and enriching their lives and making them happier? At the same time, to earn extra income, I also started a teaching job at Japan Society and at Baruch College of The City University of New York to teach Japanese as a part of the continuing education opportunities.  I quickly became fascinated by the power and enjoyment of helping others to learn something that might actually contribute to enhancing their lives. I enjoyed receiving direct feedback from people I provided service to, which was not often the case during the time I was in media marketing.  My teaching experience then led me to teaching 8-12 graders at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School, an independent school in Manhattan, before entering Japan Society’s Education Program in 1999. 

Challenges: One of my biggest challenges was probably when I learned that I was one of 10 or so staff members let go when the Japanese media company decided to downsize their New York office operations in the mid 1990’s during the economic downturn.   But luckily, I was able to see the sudden shift in my career as a great opportunity as I was about to step into the field of education.  Although it appeared as an unpleasant, forced change, I was able to welcome the change and decided to train myself by taking various workshops and courses to become an effective language teacher.  At my current position where I introduce Japan to American educators, and students, I often find myself discovering and relearning various aspects about my own country’s rich history and traditions to which I did not pay much attention to before.  I am now thankful for the whole experience of re-directing my career path and it has turned out to be a blessing in disguise.

Accomplishments: I am a little hesitant to enumerate my “accomplishments” as I am still a work in progress. However, I am proud to say that I am honored to have been able to assist other accomplished individuals in their remarkable peace building initiatives.  In 2007, I was able to assist family members of Sadako Sasaki, a Hiroshima peace icon, whose 1,000 paper cranes have become a symbol of the call for world peace when her family shared with me their ideas to donate Sadako’s remaining paper cranes to various parts of the world. As a volunteer docent at the 9/11 Tribute Center in New York City, I was able to assist the Sasaki family as they donated one paper crane to the 9/11 Tribute Center in 2007.  Five years later, with a help provided by Mr. Clifton Truman Daniel, President Harry Truman’s grandson, I was again able to assist the Sasaki family to donate another paper crane to World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii in 2012-- a gift from Hiroshima where the Pacific War ended to Pearl Harbor where it started as unveiled in Pearl Harbor in 2013.

In that same summer, I was given the opportunity to accompany Mr. Daniel, President Truman’s grandson, and his family to visit Hiroshima and Nagasaki as their guide and interpreter.  Mr. Daniel met over 22 atomic bomb survivors and promised them we would share their stories with as many people as he can so that the same tragedy would never happen again.  Mr. Daniel became the first member of the Truman family to visit Japan.

Perhaps the one thing that I can call an accomplishment is when I published a book in Japan in 2013 for young readers about the above-mentioned episodes, which I was fortunate to witness and be involved in.  Publishing my book led to a series of lecture invitations from K-12 schools in the U.S. and Japan that enabled me to share the powerful, true story of Sadako’s paper cranes that continues to inspire young people even now.

My five year involvement with an UN affiliated NGO Hibakusha Stories brought the voices of atomic bomb survivors from Hiroshima and Nagasaki to Japan Society. What gratified me the most was when I was able to bring the Sasaki family and Mr. Daniel to Japan Society onstage to jointly share their stories to the New York audience in which students and teachers of U.S. History classes were able to engage with this joint session of talks by the Sasaki family and Mr. Daniel in November, 2015. 

Mentors: Besides my parents who taught me to be independent, self-reliant and confident, there are others who have inspired me along the way.  Many of them are those who experienced WWII on both sides – in Japan and the U.S.  Those individuals showed me how a human being is capable of transcending despair, fear and animosity toward “enemies.”  They all demonstrated ultimate forgiveness and unwavering willingness to work together toward building a more peaceful world. These include: Mr. Masahiro Sasaki, an atomic bomb survivor and a brother to Sadako Sasaki of the 1,000 paper cranes. He and his son Yuji Sasaki continue to reach out to various communities in the world which were once scarred by war, terrorism or other tragedy through the donation of Sadako’s paper cranes, and they continue to work with others like Mr. Daniel for peace building collaboration. Another is Mr. Tsugio Ito, a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing, who lost his brother in the atomic bombing in 1945 and his son in the 9/11 tragedy at Word Trade Center in New York City in 2001. Despite the unfathomable tragedies he has endured, Mr. Ito continues to share his personal stories in hopes of making this world void of hatred and weapons.  Lastly, Mr. Fred Mitchell, a U.S. Navy Veteran and survivor of the kamikaze attacks established a path for reconciliation with former Japanese kamikaze pilots. He continues to preach the importance of forgiveness at schools and churches.

TURNING POINT: Turning points in my life are.  1. When I moved to the U.S. and became a resident of New York City.  2. When I was led to switch my career from media marketing to education.  3.  My encounter with the family of Sadako Sasaki and President Harry Truman’s grandson.  4.  When I published my first book in Japan.

GOALS: As many of the individuals who are featured in my first book are entering their twilight years, I have decided to video-archive their stories and testimonies and plan on turning them into an online instructional resource to be shared with history teachers.  I am also working on an English version of my book. It is my hope that both the book in English and accompanying online instructional videos will be utilized to complement history textbooks and used in discussions for further research.#



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