Realizing how big the world is

One year ago, we departed on a voyage that I will never forget. While Yokohama became smaller and smaller in a rain of ribbons, music and goodbyes, I felt that these 102 days would mark a turning point in my life – a presentiment which was true, but in a different way than I had expected. This voyage gave me the optimism and ‘genkiness’ that I needed later on in 2013 – thanks to all the incredible people onboard and in ports! Hope to see you again!

written for the Peace Boat website, Dec 16th, 2012 >>

During the departure ceremony it was raining colourful ribbons
– a custom that was invented in San Francisco

The ship pulled away from the pier, and as the paper ribbon that connected her with the land ripped in half, Suzuki Madoka had to wink away a tear, and so did her mother and her friends who held the other end of the ribbon down on the pier of Yokohama. They will not see each other for 102 days, during which the 23-year-old will be travelling around the world as one of 912 participants on Peace Boat’s 78th Global Voyage rom Yokohama, crossing the Chinese Sea, the Indian, Atlantic, and Pacific Oceans, round both Capes, visiting the Pacific islands of Rapa Nui and Tahiti and returning to Japan.
Several hundred people came to the harbour city south of Tokyo to see them off in a beautiful departure ceremony, waving umbrellas, banners and Japanese flags.
In his farewell speech, Yoshida Takehiro, Social Director on this voyage, reminded the participants of the voyages taken by European travellers in earlier centuries to the Southern hemisphere and their dark consequences – colonialism, slave trade and inequalities. “The prosperities and tragedies of these times remain in modern life”, he said. “Peace Boat’s 78th voyage will retrace these steps into the southern hemisphere, travelling on a voyage for peace.”

Omura Yuko, International Director of the 78th Voyage, and
Social Director Yoshida Takehiro addressed hundreds
of friends and family members who have gathered
at Yokohama harbour to see the participants off
“It’s time to leave!” Hasama Shuichi (right), representative of
the travel agency Japan Grace, and Voyage Director,
Hirayama Yuki are greeting the arriving participants
alongside international volunteer staff

“The first time I joined Peace Boat I was 20 years old and only wanted to see the Egyptian Pyramids and get lots of stamps in my passport”, said Voyage Director, Hirayama Yuki jokingly. “But at the end of the voyage I didn’t care about that any longer. The encounters and discussions onboard the ship became most important to me – and the wish to create a different Japanese society.”
Although the NGO visits places highly interesting for tourists, it is no cruise in the classical sense: Since 1981 witnesses and survivors of human rights violations, activists and scientists use the vessel as a neutral space to exchange about topics such as peace and reconciliation, nuclear power, sustainable development and human rights.
Eleven years have passed since Hirayama’s first voyage. The 31-year- old has circumnavigated the globe ten times since then and became a Voyage Director three times. “I am particularly excited about the southern hemisphere route”, he said. “Seeing all the disparities in the Global South can make us realize how we want our lives and our global society to be.”

Chris Rosenkrans from the US (left) and Sasha Pachezhertseva
from Russia are especially looking forward to the Pacific
with its vast open space and its remote islands

While most of the passengers clung to the rail, trying to catch a last sight of their families and friends, Chris Rosenkrans and Sasha Pachezhertseva stood in the middle of the deck, glasses of champagne in their hands. Unlike most Japanese participants, the young couple had nobody to wave to in Yokohama – they said farewell a few weeks ago already. Rosenkrans, a 28-year old business developer from the US state of Pennsylvania, has travelled with Peace Boat once before and this time he brought his fiancée onboard.
“From my home country it is really difficult to get to Machu Picchu or Easter Island [Rapa Nui]”, said Pachezhertseva, a quality control manager from Moscow. “This is the closest that I can get to them.”
Chris Rosenkrans has travelled on several ships before. He is especially looking forward to spending more than one month on the Pacific. “Travelling by ship in a time of fast flight connections is really special”, said Rosenkrans. “I like to be reminded how big the planet is.”

For Hayakawa Maya the Peace Boat voyage is a real family
event. The 22-year old joins her mother Chiaki, who was invited
onboard as a guest educator; along with her brother Yuta, 16,
and her son Amari, 6, currently the youngest participant

Throughout the voyage, the ship is a floating Global Village in itself, as this voyage brings together people from 16 different nationalities – plus a crew from all over the world. Whereas 99 per cent of the participants are Japanese, they are joined by thirty guest educators, as well as twelve teachers from the US, Britain, Canada, Jamaica, Spain and Australia, who will be giving language lessons to the participants onboard within the Global English and Español Training (GET) programme. From Port Louis four young musicians and the founder of the African Youth Ensemble (AYE) will join the voyage to perform a concert and talk about their lives in the township of Soweto. As follow up from the RIO+20 UN Conference, four young activists of Friends of the Earth will get onboard in Latin America to discuss sustainable energy in their home countries.

At the ports of call the participants are going to interact with a wide range of local NGOs.They will talk with the descendants and contemporaries of Mahatma Gandhi, who struggled against apartheid when he was a lawyer in Durban. They will learn about the lives of street children in South Africa and Latin America as they struggle to survive, visit Tahitians who are fighting for compensations after the French nuclear tests, hear from survivors of Pinochet’s dictatorship about how militarisation influences Chilean society until today and meet anti-nuclear activists in Taiwan, where a power plant is currently being built in an earthquake prone area. Only days after the departure, Suzuki Madoka, the 23 year old dancer from Tokyo, has already forgotten about her tears on the day of departure. “I have volunteered at the Peace Boat office for a whole year to make this dream come true.” Soon she is going to offer her first self-organised event (jishikikaku) onboard: an open lesson combining hip hop and arts.