- We understand that one of your key focus areas is supporting women.
- A：The parent organization of Wesley Foundation is the Interboard Mission Shadan in Japan, which was established in 1902. During the early Meiji Era more than 100 years ago, missionaries of various denominations from North American Protestant churches were sent to Japan to spread the Gospel. Among them were many female missionaries. In Japanese society at that time the importance of education for women was not a priority. Female missionaries however, saw the promotion of female education as one of key factors in modernizing Japanese society and as such devoted themselves to this aim even to this day.
- Could you expand on this?
- A：Yes, let me give you an example. On the site of Wesley Center there used to be a residence where female missionaries who taught at Aoyama Gakuin were housed. One of the foundations of Aoyama Gakuin was an elementary school for girls started by Dora E. Schoonmaker, a female missionary from the Methodist Episcopal Church (currently the United Methodist Church). Many other mission schools in Japan, such as the Ferris Girls School, Kobe College, Kinjo Gakuin, Kwassui Women's University and others were also started by female missionaries.
These female missionaries were supported both materially and spiritually by church women from their home countries. These missionaries devoted themselves to the education of women in Japan and dedicated themselves to supporting Japanese women to better their position in society and to nurture women to serve their society with a keen awareness of their rights and responsibilities. The prayer which was shared by the United Methodist Women today became the driving force behind the establishment of this center in 2011. In recognition of their prayers and dedication, empowering women remains one of our most important focus areas.
- Now that has education has become well established among young women and it has become common for young women to attend universities or colleges, do think that women's empowerment is still an important issue?
- A：That is certainly true, however there is more to education than just book learning. The question of how our education impacts on society at large has become far more important.
- As times have changed, so women's issues have evolved and become more complex. Let me give you an example. Japan has become culturally far more diversified with greater numbers of non-Japanese residents entering the country. As a result of the co-existences of people from various nationalities and cultural backgrounds, the situation and issues concerning women have also become more complex resulting in a more diverse set of issues arising from differing cultural backgrounds.
- Is it your intention to support women in coping with the process of "internationalization"?
- A：Not only that. We now are in stage where it is critical to create a keen awareness among Japanese women of their role as part of an international society. Another issue we need to emphasize is the importance of fostering leadership among women. We need female leaders who can address peace and humanitarian issues as they become increasingly important in the international forum. We are therefore offering a series of leadership training workshops for women in various age groups. Of course, these are not just women's issues and in that sense developing leadership among men is equally important.
- Are you saying that Japanese society needs far more female leaders who demonstrate strong leadership?
- A：Being a leader does not necessarily imply taking a leadership role and commanding others. We believe that leaders who employ the gifts given to them by God to serve their society, as well those who have the ability to influence their society by consciously changing attitudes and behaviours are also leaders. In order to nurture potential leaders we are working to offer many inspiring lectures and seminars in which Japanese women can actively participate in to develop their leadership skills, whatever they may be.
- Could you tell us more about your seminars and programs?
- A：Many of programs are focused on exchanges with women from other countries. In the process you realize how much you learn through exchanging views and opinions with those who have different cultural backgrounds and languages. By talking with them, you notice that you have many gender related issues in common despite of differing backgrounds. On the other thing you may realize is that each culture and country have their own gender issues. Such a learning process provides participants with opportunities to think freely about how they could implement what they learn through the seminar or a program. That is very rewarding.
- What if trip type programs are not always possible for everyone to participate in?
- A：We also offer half day seminars and lectures here at Wesley Center in Minami Aoyama in Tokyo. Again, people with diversified backgrounds get together here and learn together. Some take many lectures and keep returning. As most of our programs are free of charge, we invite you to you join us whenever you like and return as often as you like.
Rev. Kokai took the position in June 2013 after spending over 20 years in the United States serving as a pastor of the United Methodist Church. Using her experiences in ministry and mission, she is now actively working for the empowerment of women and youth in Japan.