Interviews by Isao Tokuhashi and Jennifer A. Hoff (My Eyes Tokyo)
Edited by Jennifer A. Hoff
Held on November 23, 2022
What we at My Eyes Tokyo have been aiming for through our activities is to convey “what people of various backgrounds universally possess”. By doing so, we aim to eliminate prejudice against various countries, not only among Japanese people but also among people living abroad.
Last year, we came across an international peace organization – Global Peace Foundation Japan, the Japanese branch of the Global Peace Foundation (GPF), which is headquartered in the United States. We were asked by the organization to give a lecture on our past activities, which we did in November last year (you can watch the video here). We agreed with one of GPF’s goals, “To share the vision that transcends differences,” which is why we accepted the request.
There is an event that GPF Japan holds every year to realize this goal. It is the Multicultural One Family Festival, first held in Hibiya Park in the heart of Tokyo in 2015, and this year (2022) it will be held offline for the first time in a few years, overcoming COVID. What makes this event unique is not so much the success of the festival itself, but the importance placed on people of different backgrounds understanding each other and bonding toward a single goal in the process.
This year, the event will be held on November 23rd. The executive committee, consisting of people from Bangladesh, Bolivia, Canada, Indonesia, Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and many other countries, has already begun working toward its goal. We interviewed the individuals who support these unique members about the real thrill of interacting and working together with people from various backgrounds.
*Interview at GPF Japan office (Shibuya-ku)
The first to fifth Multicultural One Family Festival Highlights
Kazuhiro Handa, Executive Committee Chairperson of Multicultural One Family Festival/Secretary General of GPF Japan
“For many Japanese people, there are few opportunities to immerse themselves in a multicultural environment, and therefore the psychological barrier to jumping into such an environment is high.”
I participated in the first event held in Hibiya Park in 2015 as a staff member, and have been involved in the second and subsequent events (*except for the fourth event) as the chair of the executive committee.
I became an employee of GPF Japan in 2014, and only two years later was appointed as the chair of the executive committee of the festival while I was still in my 20s. Although I had less knowledge and experience than the GPF Japan Representative Director, Aya Goto, who chaired the first Executive Committee of the festival, I decided to do what a young and inexperienced man could do, and so chose “Youth x Kizuna (bonds) x Dream” as the theme for the second one. I planned a group discussion for young people with foreign roots, and many international students gathered to make it a reality. Since the second event was held in Sumida-ku, Tokyo, luckily we became connected with Noemi Inoue, a member of the Sumida Ward Assembly from Bolivia, who graciously cooperated with us. It was through her connections, that the ambassadors to Japan from the Dominican Republic and even Guatemala participated.
The 2nd Multicultural One Family Festival Highlights
This is just the kind of person that I am, but I’m not a returnee who grew up overseas or anything like that. I was born and raised in Oita Prefecture and went to university in Kyoto. On the one hand I had thoughts of returning and contributing to my hometown as a public servant, while on the other hand, I had loved English since I was in junior high school, and there always was a longing to go abroad in the back of my mind. In the share house I lived in during college, I enjoyed communicating in English with the international students who stayed there for short periods. When I was searching for a path to take after graduation, an acquaintance invited me to participate in a GPF Japan program and GPF International events in Southeast Asia. During the program, I was moved emotionally by witnessing and building in the interactions between friends of different nationalities and cultures. This experience was one of the reasons I decided to join GPF Japan as a staff member.
In 2016, I took over from the director and previous executive committee chair Mr. Goto, and instead of getting worked up about doing something new, I thought about what I could do with the people I had already met and worked with from the first event. The members came from various countries, including Japan, but they were all open-minded people who appreciated each other’s cultures. Thanks to this, as expressed in the festival’s English name, “Multicultural One Family Festival,” Japanese and non-Japanese alike were able to overcome their differences and build “One Family” at the second one as well.
By participating in the festival, I met people who had struggled to make a living in a place with a different language and culture than where they are from, but had learned and grown through their struggles to become mature and seasoned individuals. Through this experience, I got the feeling that “punctuality” and “diligence in work” are universally valued, regardless of country, culture, or religion.
For many Japanese people, there are few opportunities to immerse themselves in a multicultural environment, and therefore the psychological barrier to jumping into such an environment is high. However, the hurdle drops dramatically if they are invited by their friends. Among the festival community participants, people invite their friends, and the “family” circle has been expanding year by year. I would like to continue to be a part of this.
Aya Goto, Promoter of Multicultural One Family Festival/Representative Director of GPF Japan
“Foreign nationals and Japanese alike can be energized by the atmosphere created when people of all backgrounds come together.”
I have traveled to many countries through my work and have lived in the United States for a long time, where many more people from various backgrounds reside together, compared to Japan. I was involved in cross-cultural exchanges daily and I felt like my life was enriched by making friends with people from different backgrounds.
You don’t have to go abroad to have this kind of experience. We can have it in Japan too because there are already more than 2 million foreign nationals residing here.
They are trying their best to make a living in Japan. On the other hand, although things may have calmed down a bit, hate speech against people towards certain roots and countries was once prevalent, and crimes committed by just a few people were being blown up in the media and it was threatening to tarnish the impression of all foreign nationals. So we interviewed foreign people working hard in various parts of Japan in order to collect and disperse as much positive information as possible about them. We first met with a young Korean man in Yamanashi Prefecture who had been reclaiming abandoned farmland into mulberry fields and making mulberry tea, and with a group of Filipino women supporting Kesennuma City in Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami.
Eventually, we began to help set up the stage and publicize events voluntarily organized by the Filipino community in Japan. Through this experience, I thought that it would be more interesting if people from different countries who wanted to hold an event gathered in one place and created an event together. We would not take the lead, we would only be a “support” for those who were motivated; acting as a “catalyst” for people from various backgrounds. Multicultural One Family Festival was launched in 2015 based on these ideas and concepts.
The first Multicultural One Family Festival Highlights
The first event was held on a large scale at an outdoor venue in Hibiya Park. But after the second event, we downsized its scale and chose to hold it in indoor halls. That’s because the scale of the event is not important to us at all. On the contrary, if the size of the event is too large, our attention will be focused on on-site management, and our awareness will drift away from the goal of “overcoming differences and deepening mutual bonds”. I even think that if we could reach the goal of “bringing people from all walks of life together to create one with excitement.” and “transcending differences to become One Family,” we wouldn’t even need to hold festivals (laughs). When you are singing on stage, you can just sing acappella if there’s no music going along with it coming out of the speakers all of a sudden; that’s like us improvising. As long as everyone is having fun, we are reaching our goal.
In the US, where my family lives, people from the same country tend to form their own communities and do not interact much with the rest of the population. The same thing is happening in Japan, and I think there is a precious opportunity that people are missing out on. Foreign nationals and Japanese alike can be energized by the atmosphere created when people from all backgrounds come together. If there are people reading this who are interested in such activities who are eager to do something, I would love to have you on the executive committee of our festival.
Discussions are now underway for the event at the GPF Japan office
Of course, those who want to demonstrate Japanese culture to the foreigners are welcome too. However, in our eyes it is important to show interest in and understanding of the cultures of other countries, not just to insist on our own excellence in a one-sided way.
I believe that the strengths of the Japanese people are concern and consideration for others, modesty, and respect for harmony. But in reality, as soon as we interact with people from other countries or those who are different in general, we tend to retreat into our shells. As a result, there is the risk of creating a biased mindset that says “Japan is the best” or “Japanese people are superior to other people”. That is why I would like Japanese people to learn from other cultures by engaging them with “humility,” which is one of our strengths.
The Multicultural One Family Festival is a place where you can learn from various types of people and cultures while you are in Japan. Kirari, a Japanese actress who starred in the “Gift” drama series (1997), in the legendary Great Teacher Onizuka, and in Hideaki Anno’s film Love & Pop, was the ambassador of the first festival held in 2015, and will be back this year as an ambassador again. We would be delighted if you could bring something exciting to the festival and join us in creating an enjoyable event.
Multicultural One Family Festival theme song “Nanairo no Hikari ~Colors of the Human Race~” sung by KIRARI