German woman encourages youth exchange through support of tsunami-hit Sanriku region
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.
毎日新聞 2014年10月10日 東京朝刊