November 2017

Our monthly online newsletter, "L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place, area, cosmos, and gap.

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The Global Families

- Providing Suitable Settings for Global Meetings Between Child-Rearing Families -

In Close Up this month, we introduce the non-profit organization known as “The Global Families” or TGF.
It is a group that provides suitable settings for child-rearing non-Japanese and Japanese families to meet and learn from one another. Via the numerous activities that it undertakes, TGF hopes to realize societies where people from diverse backgrounds can live and interact harmoniously, thus allowing them to confirm and respect one another’s differences. As to what led to its genesis and the commencement of its activities, TGF was born from the wish of mothers to create friends for their children from various nationalities and diverse backgrounds. On this occasion, we spoke to the group’s Chief Executive Ms. Mizuki Awano and Deputy Executive Director Ms. Lumico Harmony, who have both expended much energy in the NPO sphere while juggling their own professional and child-rearing commitments.

Chief Executive Ms. Mizuki Awano (L),
and Deputy Executive Director Ms. Lumico Harmony (R).

Please tell me what led to TGF’s establishment.

Ms. Awano

I am currently bringing up my own two children. At around the time that the elder one reached their third birthday, I started to consider how I might create opportunities so that they might have the chance to come into contact with children of a similar age from other nationalities and backgrounds. Thus, I started by using a blog to send out messages that were aimed to reach out to foreign tourists who were coming to Japan accompanied by their children. I basically offered to show the visitors around “as a family.” By adopting such an approach, I could organize to take my children out for a day to enjoy some form of activity while also interacting with a family of visitors. Anyway, the efforts on my part were so well received among friends and their families that it dawned on me that many people wanted to engage in international exchanges, and many wanted to create opportunities for their own children as well to have contact with other cultures. Thus, as the popularity of such activities began to spread, what was established while consulting with friends was TGF. In setting up the group, we decided on two types of project. One we call “Global-Osampo,” and it matches overseas visitors who come to Japan accompanied by their children with local families. The other is our “Global Family Events” that are designed to be enjoyed by family groups. Through both occasions, we provide global opportunities for families with children to meet up and learn from one another.

Searching for fireflies during a “Global-Osampo” event
© The Global Families

Yoga in the Park
© The Global Families

It seems that recently you have been putting a fair bit of effort into your Global Family Events.

Ms. Harmony

That is correct. In the roughly two years since TGF started, we have held more than 50 such events. In that in holding them we hope to overcome language barriers, many have been workshops built around the themes of music and art. In actual fact, right now we are in the process of holding a series of four jazz-themed workshops for children. They involve an American jazz teacher instructing a number of students aged from roughly three to ten years old. In that the teacher is also adept in leading them, the many participating children from various backgrounds have overcome their differences and they are greatly enjoying themselves. Everyone concerned is now eagerly looking forward to the final installment of the workshop when the children will take the stage and perform at the “WA-Meets-JAZZ in Zojoji Temple” event that will be held in the near future.

A programming workshop conducted by a university student from Syria.
© The Global Families

A cooperative art class in English with Spring as its theme.
© The Global Families

And what other types of event are you holding?

Ms. Harmony

We are constantly planning the types of event that we personally want to see held. To introduce but a few examples, we have run workshops where participants can experience the preschool education system of Finland at first-hand, we have also run events on traditional sumi-e painting and paper-cut art. Additionally, we have offered cooking classes focusing on Japanese cuisine, etc. I should point out that these events are run while using English as the language of instruction. Nevertheless, in that the children quickly become interested and preoccupied with the content of what is going on, even those who come from a non-English speaking background catch on quickly and naturally. On seeing such a transformation take place, we sometimes have parents who express their surprise in that their children are “successfully overcoming language barriers and mixing and communicating with those around them.” Looking forward, in Yokohama on December 17th, we plan to hold a year-end party called “LIGHT x SOUND x MOVEMENT” with LITTLE ARTISTS LEAGUE YOKOHAMA, who are a noted group of artists.

Making snow crystals using paper-cut art techniques
© The Global Families

Making temaki sushi for celebrating the Doll’s Festival
© The Global Families

And of the events that you have held so far, are there any in particular that have left a deep impression with you?

Ms. Awano

This year we were fortunate enough to offer three screenings of a documentary entitled “Hafu: The Mixed-Roots Experience in Japan.” In that it is a work from which much can be learnt, it left a deep impression with me. Both Harmony-san and myself are married to non-Japanese husbands. In other words, here in Japan our children are referred to colloquially as HAFU (or half Japanese and half foreign in their heritage). Thus, despite the fact that they speak better Japanese than any other language, some individuals persist in greeting them by saying “hello,” while others ask if they can actually speak Japanese. When that happens, it isn’t particularly pleasant. However, up until now I have also been guilty of acting in a similar fashion when meeting people whose appearance seems non-Japanese. Having the opportunity to see “Hafu: The Mixed-Roots Experience in Japan” made me once again realize that acting like that can cause others to feel some discomfort.


While being unaware as to what sort of language might cause discomfort to others, I think that it is sometimes the case that words are used that can be linked to a sense of bias and discrimination. Indeed, HAFU to begin with is an adaption of HALF in English, and people can react negatively to its use because it may be equated to stating that somebody is less than whole . As such, people like Awano-san and myself prefer to refer to such people as having “mixed roots.” What is more, I think that the title of “Hafu: The Mixed-Roots Experience in Japan” was used to highlight such issues. To talk about the movie itself, it focused on a number of people who had mixed roots who on a superficial level were judged as being “cool” or “targets of envy” because they “happened to speak English.” What I realized on seeing the movie was that many such individuals struggle with how they differ from the purely Japanese world around them and their own sense of identity. Furthermore, for the parties concerned, I felt that it was a movie that created empathy in that there are so many people confronted by similar circumstances. In that respect, it is a documentary that I would like many people to see.

Do you confront any issues when undertaking your activities?

Ms. Awano

I should say that we are extremely happy with the sheer number of inquiries we receive from people who “want to become a volunteer.” However, a big issue we have is that we still haven’t worked out a way to respond to such offers. Both of us are working while at the same time raising children who have yet to attend school, furthermore, we are operating an NPO. As such, we are so busy that we don’t really have the ability to be able to tell in detail what we would like potential volunteers to do for us. I suppose at the end of the day there is a tendency on our part to think that “things can be done quicker if we do them ourselves.” Thus, with respect to how things are done when we do events, through the development of summary manuals, etc., I would like to organize systems that could help in conveying our knowhow to potential volunteers.

Ms. Harmony

It might also be necessary to convey to our fellow Japanese the “secrets” of having successful exchanges with people from other countries. To talk about the current situation, we still see some Japanese participants who, despite turning up for an event, limit their interaction to asking a non-Japanese person questions about where they happen to be from. I just think there is so much more they could do. They could raise a topic in order to expand the scope of conversation, or they could think of a nickname for themselves if their own name might be somewhat difficult to pronounce. By having our Japanese participants know such “secrets,” I think everybody would experience deeper exchanges with one another that turned out to be more enjoyable for all concerned.

If you have new initiatives in mind for the future, please tell me about them.

Ms. Awano

As a group that deals with child-rearing, we are also involved with the “Minato Child-Rearing Network,” and through that participation we field consultation requests regarding how to best cater to the needs of the non-Japanese children who attend the ward’s afterschool care services. In the two years since commencing our activities, TGF has used multiple languages while engaging in child-rearing activities, international exchanges, and multicultural events, etc. Accordingly, we have gained a body of knowledge and acquired know-how on such matters. Turning to the future, we would like to leverage what has been learned and use it to help others who are confronted by such issues. Through presentations, seminars and courses, we would like to pass on our knowledge to an adult audience. Moreover, if we could convey to others what we personally discovered through our own exposure to “Hafu: The Mixed-Roots Experience in Japan,” I think there would be a more sympathetic response to the issues that were raised, and that it might become possible to eliminate those circumstances that give rise to instances of bias and discrimination.

Tokyo International Communication Committee

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