(by Sue Takamoto)
I am so delighted to share our big secret - that Japan's First Lady, Abe Akie, came to visit Nozomi Project yesterday! It was such a thrill to have her with us, and the whole day felt divinely ordained.
We have shared in previous posts that my husband and I had a chance to meet Akie-san two years ago, and after that she and I have exchanged emails, cards, and notes. We were beyond thrilled when she wore the Nozomi necklace that we sent her to a dinner with the U.S. President and his wife! And in her correspondence with me, she promised to come some day to Nozomi....
Well, that day actually happened! And in addition to her coming to Nozomi, she invited me and my friend Yuko, Nozomi's manager, to have lunch with her. That time was such a treat - so different and easier than I imagined. As soon as I walked into the restaurant, I was ushered over to see Akie-san. We hugged, and I loved that she was dressed casually in cute jeans and wearing her NOZOMI necklace! (Find a similar Aki necklace here!) We sat across from each other at lunch and my nervousness quickly disappeared. She and several others sitting with us were delightful to talk with. She was interested in our children's adoption stories (I later found out that she and her husband had considered adoption, as well), and how we ever decided to move our family up to the disaster zone. (I assured her how much our family LOVES living in Ishinomaki!) Yuko shared some of her struggles as a working single mom, and how Nozomi became a place of employment where she could raise her son without many of the normal stigmas and struggles for working moms in Japan. She listened so well.
Akie-san told me how her great-grandfather went to the US to sell pottery, then came back to Japan and started a chocolate company. While in the U.S., he became a Christian, and in his later years lived a life of strong faith. She looked at me and said, "Isn't it funny (不思議な) that you and I are sitting together now- and you are so like my great grandfather - you both are Christians and work with pottery!" I love that.
When she came to Nozomi, we gave a tour in which different Nozomi members share about the different workings of Nozomi. Everyone did such a great job -- I loved seeing their personalities emerge, and their pride in this workplace. While Akie-san spent lunchtime building friendships, we could see her use the hour she spent with us at Nozomi encouraging each team member. She greeted each person asked thoughtful questions, and gave hugs to everyone, even our shy, 18-year old camera guy Josiah!
Our children, and several other Nozomi and neighborhood kids, had a chance to meet her, and she took lovely photos with them.
We didn't want the day to end! It was such a privilege to spend time with this remarkable lady, and I'm beyond happy that she has gone from being a famous public figure to becoming our friend.