Chisato Igano

To pass on the life-changing “APS experience” to the next generation,

“Participating in APS changed my values and my life after that” says, Chisato Igano, fourth batch graduate. She also says that APS had a significant impact on her career after transitioning from JICA to a university Lecturer.

Sobbing in peace education class

The rumor is that the peace education class that Chisato majored in, was very unique.

When it comes to peace studies, people tend to think that they learn about war, international issues, and issues in foreign countries, but in peace education classes, we were often told to “face ourselves on a deep level.” The first assignment of the peace education class was to write a report based on my own experience – not knowledge and information, on about 30 different issues that contribute to conflict, such as discrimination, inequality, bullying, and ethnic minorities. I was talking with my classmates that it was difficult because I didn’t experience everything, but when I began writing, I noticed a series of relationships between those 30 issues and myself.

For example, with the topic of “discrimination,” I wrote about the victims of a hidden caste system that dates back to Japan’s feudal era called Burakumin. Burakumin is typically recognized as descendants of the outcaste population, who have historically suffered severe discrimination and social ostracism. There were some communities where so-called Burakumin lived, in the city where I lived – in the western part of Japan. I used to go there to teach English to junior high and high school students. Some students confided their discrimination and anguish in their daily lives – “The parents of the person I’m dating asked me where I live. When I answered, they suddenly became against us going out.” I remember writing in my report, the unreasonable discrimination created by the society persisted in Japan and that I felt outrage at the fact that it was hurting people, and how that left me with such unease.

If we build a wallfor these social problems, saying that it has nothing to do with me, there will be no change. This class made me realize that finding connections with me and empathizing with these parties is the first step in peacebuilding. It was a great experience for me to remind myself of the relationship between me and the societal issues.

(Cap) Chisato and her classmates from peace education (right)

In the peace education class, I had the opportunity to exchange experiences and thoughts with my classmates from about ten different countries: North America, Central America, South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa.  At times I was confronted with a dark place that crept deep in my heart, which triggered tears during class. For example, we were asked to “Share conflicts from your own country or conflicts you have personally faced.” One student from the class who is originally from a conflict-ridden country, tried to talk about the massacre in her country, but eventually gave up saying even remembering it is too painful. She is usually a very jolly and upbeat person, but that day even she had tears in her eyes. Other students also knew about the massacre that took place in her country, but when they saw her in tears and couldn’t talk, they knew once again how cruel the situation was. In addition, others talked about how he/she and their families were discriminated against, and the experience of feeling lonely and sad because of being a minority was talked about one after another, and everyone who spoke and listened cried altogether. Many of my classmates who joked around a lot, had been through such painful situations and that made me realize that everyone understood the value of peace and aspired to be a supporter of creating a peaceful society especially because of their sufferings. 

Finally, the professor said, “Sharing the sorrows and sufferings we have experienced is also the process of regaining peace in one’s heart. I want you to aspire to make sure that your heart is always peaceful. If you do that, you will be able to stay close to and empathize with the pain of others as well.” It has been a long time since I graduated, but I still remember those words and remember to keep asking myself, “is my heart peaceful?” My time at APS were these days when I learned that a peaceful society begins with our own peace. I still keep in touch with the Professors and classmates from those times. 

Support for disaster-affected areas from Costa Rica

In the internship program, the rule was to choose an NGO overseas, but you chose a Japanese NGO instead. Was there any reason (Note: In the fourth batch, internships at overseas peacebuilding organizations was one of the graduation requirements)?

The Great Eastern Japan Earthquake occurred in March 2011, when we were studying in Costa Rica. I had some batch mates that were from the Tohoku area, and they were still unable to reach their families. At the time, I was learning “mental care after a disaster through education,” so I desperately wanted to go to the disaster struck area right away. I, along with other UPEACE students, volunteered for about six months to translate the Japanese information on a Japanese NGO website into English, hoping to do something while being far away.

When I approached the staff of the Japan Foundation, about the possibility of supporting the disaster-stricken areas in Tohoku for the internship, I given the green light as an exception to work at AMDA, an NGO that was implementing reconstruction support projects in Japan. At the time, I was involved in medical support in Minamisanriku-cho, Miyagi Prefecture, and mental care for children through sports.

Pass on my experiences with the APS program to young people.

After graduation, you worked in the education sector at JICA, before you transitioned as a University faculty member.

After graduation, I wanted to be involved in the education in Japan, so I got involved in JICA’s education for international understanding and project supporting the development education. Although the focus was on promoting education for international understanding in cooperation with local governments and educational institutions, I was also involved in a project in which the National Institute Educational Policy Research of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and JICA Global Plaza jointly conducted a nation-specific survey of international education in six countries. With the aim of getting suggestions on Japan’s future of international education and JICA’s education for international understanding support project, I was in charge of coordinating the entire project and conducting field surveys in the United States. While I felt that it was worthwhile to work for a large framework of education, on the other hand, I had an urge to share the valuable experience of APS with young people, so I chose to work as a teacher at the major of International Cooperation at J.F. Oberlin University after working at JICA. Currently, I am in charge of courses in which students study about developing countries through lectures and fieldwork, my  network at the United Nations University for Peace has been very useful. 

(Cap) Chisato explaining to students about theGawad Kalinga Filipino, an NGO that provides housing support for people in poor living environment due to poverty, and their projects to the students (back left)

I visit the Philippines every year for international cooperation fieldwork of J.F. Oberlin University, and I have been invited to participate in a social contribution program held for students in cooperation with the Ateneo de Manila University. We also had a four-day program with the help of a friend from APS, including a homestay in the Payatas area (apredominantly urban poor area in the Metro Manila metropolitan area).

The students seem to be impressed by their homestay in Payatas, and despite the fact that they could not communicate, take baths and could not sleep because of cockroaches, everyone comes back with a very focused. Until then, the students were eager to do something for the poor and marginalized people, but their views changed into “I don’t have any power, so I want to acquire useful skills and be a person who can work to change this situation together with the people in the community instead of doing something for them.” I realize that seeing and thinking with your own eyes is a shortcut to promote understanding and peacebuilding.

In 2019, Chisato gave a lectureon the possibility of peacebuilding using sports at theSchool of Sports Science, Semarang State Universityin Indonesia. (The third from the right in the front row is Chisato)

Looking back, it was my experience at APS that greatly changed my values. I think that it is because I was able to see eye-to-eye with students from various countries with conflict and social issues, such as the Philippines and Costa Rica, and learn the importance of peace education. I am now working to pass this onto young people in Japan. Lastly, I would like to express my sincere gratitude to APS for giving me a life-changing experience.


Chisato Igano