German woman encourages youth exchange through support of tsunami-hit Sanriku region

German woman encourages youth exchange through support of tsunami-hit Sanriku region

Gesa Neuert, organizer of a German-Japanese summer school. (Mainichi)
Gesa Neuert, organizer of a German-Japanese summer school. (Mainichi)

What began as a training session in Tokyo some 30 years ago has turned into a lifelong connection to Japan for one German mother of four.

In 1984, Gesa Neuert, who was then doing research on metabolic physiology at a university in Germany, took part in a training session at the University of Tokyo. She became fascinated with the people and culture of Japan, and became involved in Japanese-German exchange programs. Since 2003, when Neuert became the deputy chairman of the Association of German-Japanese Societies, she has organized homestays for over 800 young people from both countries.

Following the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami, the German-Japanese Synergy Forum (DJSF) was established to encourage exchange between young people of both countries while supporting recovery in the disaster-hit areas, and Neuert became the organization’s president. The following year, it held its first DSJF Sanriku Fukkou Summer School session, in which students from both Japan and Germany got together and visited areas that were devastated by the 2011 disaster to learn how communities were rebuilding.

In March this year, as Neuert was preparing for DJSF’s second summer school session, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had surgery to remove the malignant lesions and underwent drug therapy. Initially, doctors had told her that treatment would last until early September. Her treatment period was cut back, however, when Neuert insisted that she had to run summer school.

When Neuert first arrived in Japan for this year’s three-week session in September, she was unwell due to the side effects of the drugs she’d been taking. But she couldn’t help but be moved by a traditional shishi (deer) dance performance at a Shinto shrine in Otsuchi, Iwate Prefecture that to her was evidence of the people starting to get their beloved hometowns back. In Kesennuma, Miyagi Prefecture, meanwhile, she expressed misgivings about government plans to build a massive concrete seawall, saying, „Concrete will not bring back the landscape and lives that have been lost.“

Running the summer school is not easy. But Neuert believes exchange between youths is indispensable for the future of both Japan and Germany. For now, though, she will focus on regaining her strength, so that she can come back again next year.

ひと:ゲーザ・ノイエルトさん=被災地で日独学生の交流を図る

毎日新聞 2014年10月10日 東京朝刊

ゲーザ・ノイエルトさん=中西啓介撮影
ゲーザ・ノイエルトさん=中西啓介撮影
 http://mainichi.jp/shimen/news/20141010ddm008070124000c.html

 ◇ゲーザ・ノイエルト(Gesa Neuert)さん(58)

約3週間に及ぶ「第2回独日三陸復興サマー・スクール」を企画し、9月に日独の学生らと東日本大震災の被災地を訪ねて復興の現状を学んだ。 ドイツの大学で代謝生理学の研究をしていた1984年、東京大での実習に参加。日本の人と文化に魅了され交流活動に携わるようになった。独日連合協会の副会長だった2003年から、800人以上の若者を両国にホームステイさせた。

11年3月の東日本大震災後、両国の若者が交流しながら被災地の復興を支援しようという社団法人「独日三陸復興シナジーフォーラム」が設立されると、代表に就いた。翌年には初のサマースクールを開催した。

今回の計画を練っていた今年3月、突然乳がんと診断された。手術で病巣は切除したが、抗がん剤治療は続く。最初、治療は9月初めまでと医師に告げられたが「スクールが開けなくなる」と抵抗し、期間を短縮した。

来日後、副作用で手足がむくむなど、体調はすぐれなかった。だが、岩手県大槌町の神社で見た鹿子(しし)踊りには胸が熱くなった。「失ったふるさとを取り戻しつつある」。一方、宮城県気仙沼市で進む巨大防潮堤計画に疑問がわいた。「コンクリートで一度失われた景観や暮らしは戻って来ない」

議論方法の違いなど、運営には難しい面もある。だが、若者の交流は両国の未来に欠かせない資源だ。「絶対に来年も戻ってくる」。病を治し、体力を取り戻すことが、今の自分の闘いだ。<文と写真・中西啓介>

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■人物略歴

ドイツ北西部ノルトライン・ウェストファーレン州出身。経験30年の日独交流専門家。4人娘の母でもある。

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