On Tuesday night Axel and I attended the annual Gala dinner of the Boston-Japan Society. The key note speaker was the US ambassador to Japan, Caroline Kennedy. I felt I was in the presence of history. This is exactly what she invoked with stories of her dad and Japan and the war. This August will be the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the bomb. The symbolism of seeing the flags of Japan and the US on a giant screen, backdrop to the sounds of the national hymns of these two nations that were once bitter enemies, didn’t escape anyone. The evening was full of thank you’s and expressions of friendship and collaboration; a true love fest indeed.

The gala is also the occasion of recognizing talent which turned out to be mostly female. The lineup of award recipients consisted, without exception, of people who tend to be marginalized: women and people with disabilities. There was the gifted young pianist (blind) who treated us to some exquisite pieces; the others were all women who had made their mark in Japan and beyond in the areas of finance & economics, teaching & writing, and fashion.

We are not members of this society. Why would we? I have been to Japan a few times, speak just about 3 words of Japanese, and neither one of us can claim any Japanese heritage. Axel’s father didn’t even fight the Japanese; he was busy with the Italians in the Mediterranean. As a result we felt a bit out of place between the women in their elegant kimonos, the flock of giggling skinny and tiny young women, the distinguished looking gentlemen of a certain age (Japanese and American) and the many mixed couples, mostly US men with their Japanese brides.  From the amounts written on the silent auction items it was clear that we were in the company of influence and money (not unlike the sensation I got on the few occasions we attended events organized by the Dutch community in Boston).

Our invite came through one of those mixed US/Japanese couples whose philanthropic foundation has a close relationship with MSH. Our benefactress wasn’t able to come herself. She was busy in Japan selecting the winners from a large pool of applicants for a few highly competitive fellowships. The purpose of these fellowships is to expand the pool of professional mid-career Japanese women who are investing their talents in bringing about social change in Japan. They spend a month in and around Boston learning the ropes of how to run non-profits, an institution that’s not as well developed in Japan.

Last year we were invited to host four fellows for a day and a half at MSH. With a few colleagues (all female as it happened) we created a program that received rave reviews from the fellows. This led to a request for a repeat performance this September, now for 3 days. And that is how we got to the gala.

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