Articles From the March 1995 Unification News
Holding the Magic Key of Peace The International Women's Friendship Conference
by Lisa Lay-Port Washington, NY
Kon-ichi-wa! Wa-ta-shi-wa American no shim-ai desu! Domo ari-ga-to Go- zaimasu! Loosely translated (very loosely!) that means, Hello! I'm your American sister! Thank you for coming!
Beginning in January and winding up in March, the American chapter of the Women's Federation for World Peace (WFWP) hosted over 8000 Japanese professional women in Washington D.C. in what was called the International Women's Friendship Conference.
The conferences were a huge success, not only in terms of the numbers of participants, but also in the enthusiastic response and testimonies of those who went. "It was one of the most amazing experiences of my life," marveled one woman. "I really feel we have found a magic key to unlock the elusive secret of world peace."
The American delegation which came to meet its Japanese counterpart on the fourth day of each week-long conference consisted of influential women from all over the country, from as far away as Texas, California and Alaska. On this special fourth day, each Japanese delegate was matched with an American "sister" whom she could exchange personal information and conversation.
The conferences were held in several large, elegant hotels, including the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Crystal City, VA and the Washington Sheraton Hotel in the heart of D.C. Most of the day's activities were conducted in huge ballroms beautifully decorated for the occasion. As a symbol of unity and sisterhood, the logo for the event was a rose intertwined with a cherry blossom, symbolizing the peaceful unity of Japanese and American women. This beautiful symbol was reflected in the design of the stage as well as in the gift each delegate exchanged with her new "sister."
After a sumptuous lunch, the program officially began. Logistically, it was difficult to match exact numbers of Japanese women (who had traveled half-way around the world to attend) with Americans. Although reserving a place for the day was required, there was some degree of sweating on the part of the staff up until the final moments of each conference when the American women found their seats and the Japanese women filed in to take their places by their sides. But it was done, and the matches made seemingly at random were later felt to have been made in heaven!
The Same Dress
"I noticed that my Japanese sister had on a very unusual dress," said one participant. "We hit it off so incredibly well that I knew I wanted to come to another conference. And as I sat at the next conference, waiting for my second Japanese sister, I couldn't help but notice she was wearing the SAME DRESS! It was the DAUGHTER of my first sister! Who could have planned such a coincidence but God? We plan to write to each other and visit, if possible, in the future."
After the delegates had taken their seats and chatted with their new partner, Mrs. Josette Shiner, managing editor of The Washington Times, opened the program by introducing the American and Japanese WFWP presidents, Mrs. Nora Spurgin and Mrs. Motoko Sugiyama. Mrs. Spurgin noted that this time of great change is coming about at the turn of a millennium and how we would see even greater change by the year 2000. Mrs. Sugiyama spoke of the reconstruction of Japan as a great nation after World War II with the assistance of the United States. The famous cherry blossoms which bloom each spring around the city of Washington testify to the friendship of our two countries. Cherry Blossoms
These beautiful trees were a gift from Japan after World War I and have bloomed even through the war-torn years of World War II up until the present day. They have attracted visitors to our nation's capital every year and have inspired thousands, especially those who understand their historical significance. They also symbolize the unity among Japanese and American women. There is a story that tells of the time the Jefferson Memorial was being planned and several of the cherry blossom trees were to be moved to make way for the structure. In protest, a number of American women chained themselves to the marked trees.. Truly it is a sisterhood forged in steel! 50 years have gone by since the conclusion of World War II and what had been enemy nations are now in the full bloom of friendship.
Mrs. Shiner then introduced the day's special guest speaker. Such political luminaries as President and Mrs. George Bush, former Education Secretary William Bennett, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, Television interviewer Barbara Walters and former congressman Jack Kemp spoke to the gathering. Ms. Kirkpatrick noted, in her February 6th speech, the remarkable worldwide events which have occurred since 1980. Who could have predicted the crumbling of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of Soviet communism? These are monumental indications that the time of true world peace is at hand. Recalling her conversations with a generation of world leaders, Ms. Kirkpatrick felt that the reality of such a peace conference as this was a significant and fitting result of two decades of change.
At the February 18th conference, President and Mrs. George Bush each offered some words of hope and inspiration. Recalling his military days stationed in the Pacific, President Bush spoke of the changes that have occurred since flying in WWII. He also stressed the need for religious faith as the glue to keep any peace together. Mrs. Barbara Bush spoke about family values and her own 50 years of marriage to her husband, raising five children to become good citizens and now seeing them take over the reins of leadership of a country.
Crossing the Bridge
The highlight of each conference was undoubtedly the Sisters of Peace ceremony in which a group of the Japanese delegates crosses over a special bridge, meeting their American counterparts in the middle where each bows, embraces the other and then they walk down together, hand in hand. It is hard to fully describe how moving this simple ceremony is without witnessing it! Truly remarkable to see were the matches. Elegant, kimonoed Japanese women matched with noble-looking African-American sisters, elderly grandmothers matched with partners young enough to be their daughters, as well as partners who had everything in common except language. "I am a nurse," marveled one sister, "and my Japanese sister turned out to be one too! We talked and talked until it was time to go home!"
Mrs. Bush, on seeing how the ceremony worked, also wanted to walk over the bridge. The audience was moved to tears as she and Mrs. Sugiyama met, bowed and embraced each other, walking down the steps hand in hand! Mrs. Spurgin, left in the front row with only President Bush for company, sat by his side explaining more about the WFWP and its purpose, as well as her own dedication to it. "I thought I'd have no match that day," Mrs. Spurgin noted, chuckling, "but as it turned out, I didn't get a sister, I got a brother! I got George Bush!"
After the formal afternoon activities, there was time for each Japanese-American pair to converse, sharing family photos, gifts, and conversation. Flashbulbs were going off constantly as pictures were taken all over the place. "My Japanese sister must have taken 50 pictures of me," exclaimed one American woman. "We definitely will stay in touch." One mother who went to the conference after her daughter told her what a wonderful experience she had said, "I have three daughters who are active in the WFWP. Two of them happen to be married to Japanese husbands so they especially wanted to go to the conference. When one of them showed her Japanese sister photos of her family, she saw she was missing a picture of her younger sister. Suddenly she saw another American woman across the table waving a photo of this younger sister. It seemed that the Japanese partner of the American woman waving the photo was the sister of my daughter's husband! She was meeting her sister-in-law for the first time! Only God could have arranged such a meeting!"
Another woman brought her two sisters-in-law. "They were on cloud nine!" she said. They wanted to go again!" Still another woman brought her elderly mother to the conference. "Mom was matched to a 50-ish Japanese woman," she said. "She told me later that she felt as if she had gained a new daughter. She also won one of the scholarship prizes which she is offering to me so I can finally get my degree!
Wrapping Up the Day
The conference participants were then treated to a breathtaking performance by the Kirov Academy of Ballet, followed by an elegant banquet. Each Japanese-American pair stayed together throughout the day's events chatting either directly, or through translators provided at each table. A featured entertainer then sang for the group. Broadway and recording star Jennifer Holliday noted that she hadn't had time to find out what sort of music the audience enjoyed and so hoped they would like what she had chosen. She then sang some of the gospel songs which had been an important part of her life, bringing the audience to their feet in cheering and clapping. The wife of a minister, Ms. Holliday continues to serve as first lady of their congregation while furthering her busy career. One Japanese delegate, a great fan of Ms. Holliday's because of her work in Broadway's Dreamgirls, hoped to meet her idol here. A one-on-one meeting was arranged along with a special day on the town for the two of them. Other performers included Shirley Jones and Phylicia Rashad.
After the day's events, each new sister-pair said good-bye as if they had always known each other, with hugs and promises of letters and visits. Friendships forged that day will most assuredly last a lifetime! It is the hope of each local chapter of the WFWP to continue communication not only between each Japanese-American sister pair, but among American participants. Please contact your local chairwoman about upcoming "alumni" events in your area. They will fill you in on meeting schedules and provide access to translators for your letters to be sent overseas.
Lisa Lay is the Chairwoman of the Long Island chapter of the WFWP.
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