I was recently asked to share some of my experiences as a Rotary Peace Fellow in Japan with my local district in the UK – here is the result!
“What does peace mean?” is one of the first questions I was asked as I sat nervously in my first seminar at International Christian University (ICU) as a Rotary Peace Fellow. Such a simple question, and one I was ready for: “Johan Galtung (1964) defined negative peace as the “absence of direct violence” and positive peace as the “absence of structural violence” (p.168). Galtung believes if someone cannot reach their potential because of something avoidable, like disease or conflict, then they are facing violence, the opposite of peace”. I sat back feeling like I had done a good job answering the question. Yet, while on this occasion I followed my academic nose and provided an answer grounded in theory, which Professors often prefer to answers based only on personal experience, I have needed to remind myself during the past year not to lose my voice in the quagmire of academic perspectives. Peace, as you know, is a subjective concept. Many people agree the absence of violence is important, but beyond this, of the ten peace fellows in my cohort at ICU, we all have different ideas about ‘what peace means’.
ICU Honkan Building in the Snow, March 2020, credit L. Hayman
I am pursuing elusive peace in my studies and research at ICU in the virtual world. My research is focused on exploring the digital gender divide; the gaps between women’s and men’s access and use of digital technologies. During the Covid-19 pandemic, the world has been reminded of the power and potential of digital technology and the Internet. However, currently, the inequality we see in the offline world manifests in the online world too, often exacerbated by the anonymity of the Internet. The United Nations (2020) found that during the Covid-19 pandemic, violence committed online against women and girls has increased. My research hopes to understand more about the digital gender divide from the perspectives of women who are experiencing it, those with low levels of digital literacy, and women who are supporting others to overcome it, digital skills teachers. It is an exciting project that would not be possible were it not for the Rotary Peace Fellowship Alumni Association who facilitated my contact with two former peace fellows involved in digital skills initiatives for women.
Tokyo Reaches from the Sea to the Mountains, March 2020, credit L. Hayman
It is a pleasure and privilege to be pursuing peace and my master’s degree in Japan. While living here is not always easy, as even in the mighty metropolis of Tokyo, basic Japanese is often required to get by independently, Japan is a beautiful country with a unique spirit. My husband and I enjoy our life in Japan greatly. We have been fortunate to spend almost five years exploring the sprawling cities and ample rural areas, which usually take one back in time. We recently returned from a break at the seaside. Travelling a mere two hours from Tokyo can transport you to a quaint village by the sea that offers little to do apart from gentle walks along the seafront. Although, a warning for those who are not fond of insects that the more rural one travels, the more beautiful it is, but the more the insects dominate! Still, even for an arachnophobe like me, it is worth it for the chance to unwind and experience another side of living in Japan that those seeking the tourist trail often miss out on.
Us in Tateyama in Chiba, September 2020, credit L. Hayman
Representing the UK in Japan as a Rotary Peace Fellow sponsored and supported by the passionate Rotarians of District 1040 is an absolute honour. Thank you for permitting me to share some of my experiences of studying and living in Japan.