My third co-op was a mixture of immersing myself in place, connecting with my roots, and searching for clues to my future. It was emotionally challenging, but immensely rewarding because I was able to contribute to a cause close to my heart and critical in this day and age.
The place was Nagasaki – the city that experienced the second and last atomic bomb attack in history. For the three months, “place” was intimately connected to my work. Nagasaki housed all the memories of the atomic bomb attack in its museums, monuments, statues, and mostly importantly, in its people. My experience working for nuclear weapons abolition would have been completely different had I had not been in this city.
This immersion in “place” was also important for my education. I took a co-op class called “Sound, Sight, and Sentiment: Phenomenology of Place,” which focused on thinking about a place in many difference ways, not just geographically. Through this online class, I was able to explore Nagasaki in detail, documenting my experience through photographs, audio, and writing.
Check out the Story Map I made of Nagasaki here.
Check out the vignette I made of Shiroyama Elementary School, the school that was closest to the atomic blast, here.
Not only did place inform my work, it was also important for me personally. While I grew up in Japan during my early years, I had never been to Nagasaki – where my grandfather went to medical school, where my mother was born, and where the Fujii family grave still lies. This co-op gave me a chance to connect with my roots and family history. Walking through the city, I felt like my grandfather was watching from above, and I hoped he was proud of the work I was doing. While he survived the bomb because he was away for summer break, many of his teachers, colleagues, and classmates did not. Though he never talked about his experience in depth, we know of all the lives lost and that he came back to Nagasaki just 10 days after the bombing. I was also able to meet a distant relative who my mother calls “sister Junko,” and her family. The remote sense of “home” I felt for Nagasaki increased knowing that I had family there too.
For my co-op job, I volunteered as a Foreign Affairs Aide at Nagasaki University’s Research Center for Nuclear Weapons Abolition (RECNA). RECNA is a new research center, founded in 2012, that works toward realizing a world without nuclear weapons, through academic research, policy recommendations, and information dissemination.
My duties mostly consisted of translation work, both ways between English and Japanese, helping with other English related activities, and assisting RECNA in hosting events and conferences. Translating documents in English to Japanese is important for making information readily available to the Japanese public, especially those who are elderly and interested in the nuclear weapons abolition movement but cannot read English very well. There were two large conferences while I was interning: the First Meeting of the Panel on Peace and Security in Northeast Asia, which met to discuss the proposal for a Northeast Asia Nuclear Weapons Free Zone; and the International Conference in Nagasaki, which included a Youth Forum and the United Nations Conference on Disarmament Issues. My highlights were meeting the Mayor of Nagasaki, Tomihisa Taue, and helping the Youth Communicators create a statement and recommendation for a world free of nuclear weapons, to present at the Youth Forum in front of government officials from Japan and abroad.
While I was in Nagasaki, I also worked on my Japanese Capstone Project, which focused on peace education and anti-nuclear weapons activism in Nagasaki, with an emphasis on “young people.” I learned an incredible amount through conversations with students, educators, hibakusha (atomic-bomb survivor), and many others; attending events; and conducting formal interviews. I learned that intense educational focus on the nuclear bombings is unique to Nagasaki (and Hiroshima) and differs widely once you step outside these cities. I also learned that while there are many ways for youth to get involved, most involvement happens during elementary, middle, and high school, and ends once students enter college. I chose this topic for my Capstone Project because I am among many concerned about the loss of memory and momentum for the anti-nuclear weapons movement that will occur someday soon, when the last hibakusha passes away.
I hope to continue studying issues related to peace, conflict, and international relations. This co-op cemented in me the conviction that this is the type of work I want to be doing. I really love that co-op has the ability to transform your dreams and make you more aware of what kind of work you want to do and what kind of possibilities exist outside of what you hear about in the classroom. And as I do after every co-op, I feel eternally grateful for all those who supported me and helped me through this experience.