A thousand ways to surround the world

Cruises can be really boring, many people warned me before I got on board the Ocean Dream to surround the world with hundreds of Japanese people. Well, this one wasn’t – thanks to the people on board. Let me present just 5 out of more than a thousand: the interpreter, the captain’s right hand, the activist, the volunteer and the child.

written for the Peace Boat website on Dec 25th, 2012 >>

1. The charitable interpreter (CC):

It took Yoshida Yuko a few chords to realize what she had to do. When she listened to Kolwane Mantu and his African Youth Ensemble playing their first piece on Peace Boat, she decided to donate her own beloved violin to the young musicians from Soweto township. “At first sight they didn’t look like typical classical musicians” she says, still thrilled with excitement. “But when they played their own arrangement of the African folk song Malaika, I felt how passionate they were about music. Their teacher Kolwane Mantu inspired me a lot. He is so modest – in spite of all he has achieved.” The 27-year-old works as a volunteer interpreter (CC) on the 78th Voyage, but nearly as often as translating she can be seen on stage playing the violin. “My mother made me start when I was five years old. As a child I often wanted to give up” she admits. Luckily she hasn’t. Wherever she is travelling, her music helps her to connect with people. When she studied interpretation in Australia for two years, she bought a second violin, because she couldn’t bring her expensive one along. “I connect a lot of memories with it”, Yoshida Yuko says. She joined two orchestras in Brisbane and jammed with her flat mates. “That violin accompanied me through good and bad times. When I was stressed, I played like crazy. Although it is a rather simple model, I think its sound improved during those two years, because I cherished it a lot.” When a Peace Boat exchange program visited Soweto during the vessel’s stay in South Africa, the organisation delivered her instrument together with a few others via its UPA program. “I couldn’t go to Soweto, but I recognized my violin in a photo showing the handover” Yoshida Yuko says. “The thought that Kolwane’s students are playing it now, makes me very happy.”

2. The captain’s right hand:
Hasama Shun-ichi could be leading an easy life on the land right now. Playing golf and going shopping, just like his friends and former colleagues do. Instead, at 66 years old, the Chief Representative of Japan Grace still works eight months a year, seven days a week, twelve hours a day on the sea – and has no intention to retire. “The oceans are my home” he says. As his wife passed away and his children started their own families, he prefers working onboard to being at home alone. Officially he ensures the communication between the shipping company and the travel agent Japan Grace Ltd., but in passing he also spreads the fascination for navigation among participants. Hasama Shun-ichi can talk for hours about sextants and GPS, sea maps and storms. “Did you know that the inclination under which you see the Polar Star tells you on which latitude in the Northern hemisphere you are?” he asks during one of his lectures – and ever since, participants can be seen watching out for the bright star. “As a young man I couldn’t sit quietly on a chair for long”, he admits. “I needed more action.” He abandoned his law studies, became the captain of a large cargo ship for two decades and worked as international trade manager for the radar manufacturer JRC, before he joined Japan Grace four years ago. “Working on a passenger ship is more interesting, because a cargo carrier only shuttles between two ports.” During his time as a businessman he made many friends all over the world which he now visits whenever Peace Boat stops in their ports. Ships crews have strict hierarchies, but when Hasama Shun-ichi walks onboard he can be seen chatting with everybody, with the housekeeper as well as with the chief engineer. “We are all seamen” he emphasizes. “Our status may differ, but our personal situation of working away from home is very similar. My wife had to be mother and father for our children. Once my son complained that I never had time to even talk to them – and he was right.'” Today Hasama Shun-ichi is communicating with his three children via email, sending them pictures he took in the ports. “When I was young I was suffering from homesickness” he admits. “But it cannot be. Once you have made the decision to work away from home, you have to give your best and support your family. I am always telling the young guys: You are young, you should not end at status of crew. Try to study and make your way up. You can also become a captain.”

4. The youngest:
Yutaro was still in kindergarten, when his mother proposed him to travel around the world on Peace Boat. Herself a teacher, she wanted him to get to know the reality of the world as early as possible. With only 13 years, he feels old enough to do the long voyage on his own without family members and old friends. But as for all minors travelling alone, Peace Boat keeps regular contact with his mother. “I am not interested in sightseeing” Yutaro shares. “I rather want to see what is going on in the world.” His mother convinced his teachers to let him go. They accepted – under the condition that he does his homework. Yutaro smiles. “I haven’t even started yet.” More than with math and English grammar, he is just too busy with other questions: How could Africa conquer its poverty? Should Japan phase out nuclear power? And where do I get new strings for my guitar?

3. The volunteer:
When Picumin was travelling in Japan two years ago, she came across a poster on a bus stop which changed her young life. The words “Peace Boat”, “discount” and “volunteering” was all she perceived. “I always dreamt about travelling around the world, but it never came to my mind that I could afford such a voyage at my age” the 20-year-old says. Before she joined the 78th Voyage, she went through two very busy years: She studied English at university, worked part-time in a supermarket and put up Peace Boat posters in the evenings as a so-called “volasta” (volunteer staff). “We distributed them everywhere: in izakaya (Japanese bars), on public buildings and in health centers. After some time it was really hard to find a place without posters.” During her summer vacation she went on a “poster caravane” by car to reach more remote cities. “During that time I got to know places in my own country I have never seen before.” After she put more than 3,000 posters, Peace Boat waived her travel fee. But instead of relaxing, Picumin continues to volunteer onboard: She films footage for the boat’s own TV channel and organizes events like the Christmas Party. “I am still not totally sure what I want to do in the future” she says. “But this voyage gives me a lot of time to think about it.”

5. The activist:
Akiyama Yoko has known Peace Boat for a long time. But leading a busy life, she could only fulfil herself the dream to join after her retirement in 2012. “I expected more rebellious people on this voyage” the 71-year-old admits with that subtle smile of hers. “But the young Peace Boat leaders have another, equally unique, approach as our generation of activists.” When she was a young woman, Akiyama Yoko resisted against her traditional grandmother, who saw women’s role according to the literal translation of one of the words to refer to “wife” – “kanai”, “somebody inside the house”. Unlike her grandmother Akiyama Yoko always had a free spirit: She went to Cuba in 1968 and moved to Moscow in 1974, as she was opposing the Vietnam war and interested in the socialist movements during the Cold War. Although she rose two children together with her husband, Akiyama Yoko managed to learn English, Chinese and Russian, published three books about women’s life and the feminist movement in China, Moscow and Japan and finished her working life as a lecturer at Surugadai University. “I went on Peace Boat to look at the ocean, read some good books and enjoy my retirement” she says half jokingly. But how could she not get involved? Onboard, Akiyama Yoko organized her own lecture (jishukikaku) on the feminist movement, read out essays about Nelson Mandela, participated in GET projects, learnt Spanish and went on many exchange tours. “During our visit to Soweto township, I was surprised how warm and welcoming people were – in spite of all they have experienced during apartheid.” She has transmitted her own interest in socio-political issues to her daughter, who works with refugees for UNICEF in Sudan. Travelling with teens and tweens on Peace Boat is an interesting experience for her. “The generational gap is quite big” she says. “The present generation of young Japanese is really soft – they are not as eager to say their opinion as we were.” Her main advice for them: “Take your life into your own hands and go abroad for some time!”