In spring this year, sisters Deborah and Shelley Reed visited Japan. Their mother, Sonia Reed, was one of the Jewish refugees escorted by JTB employee Tatsuo Osako from Vladivostok to Japan during the Second World War. After seeing Japan, what they were eager to talk about during their visit to JTB's headquarters in Tennozu was how "considerate for others" the Japanese people are, just like they were 76 years ago.
- So, what is your impression of Japan after your first trip here?
In Tsuruga, we were welcomed by the mayor and residents. When we were at the port, I was taken by an intense feeling of gratitude as I was standing exactly where my mother and thousands of other Jewish refugees arrived safely after fleeing Europe. Everything we did on this trip will make for fond memories, but what struck me the most was the warmth of the Japanese people. During the war, the people were extremely kind and helpful to my mother and the Jewish refugees. And, the same happened with us; everyone we met was kind.
The kindheartedness that my mother and many Jewish refugees experienced during the war is alive and well even today, 76 years later. With all the people we met in Tsuruga and at JTB, I strongly felt that same kindness being directed at us even though it was our first trip here.
- Would you say that what the two of you experienced symbolizes JTB's corporate mission of "-creating multicultural exchanges that can contribute to the harmony and understanding of global society"?
On this trip, I strongly felt that the consideration and tolerance of others that the Japanese people demonstrate on a regular basis is what people around the world wish for. This consideration for others is not shown just to foreigners but also between Japanese people themselves. Like JTB has in their slogan, I'm a staunch believer that each and every one showing consideration for everyone else will bring harmony to this world. The world could stand to learn from this, especially right now.
It's sad, but every generation has had to face difficulties and today is no exception. But, what happened to the Jewish refugees must never happen again. Many Jewish refugees were saved from death by Consul General Sugihara and they were helped by the people at JTB that led them to Japan and in diverse ways by so many others in Japan. These people acted bravely. This is why the current generation is a bright beacon of hope. Today, there are lots and lots of people in need of help. The world could learn from Japan that we need to extend them a hand and that we mustn't create any more innocent victims than we already have.
- The world today is engulfed in political turmoil, so what meaning does your mother's story and your trip have in times like these?
My sister and I have talked about it a lot on this trip, but what matters most to both of us is that the same tragedy must not be repeated -- 'never again'. What we of the current generation should learn from Consul General Sugihara and Mr. Osako is -- for example -- to extend a helping hand to those in dire straits no matter what the country. Do the right thing even if you have to sacrifice yourself. The actions these two men took are great examples for people today, us included.
I think it is very important to repeat the expression "never again" like my sister said. This is where education comes into play. We must continue sending the message even to those generations who have not directly experienced war and the generations that come after them. Instead of writing off events in history as something in the past, we should revive them today so as not to say or do anything that might hurt anyone, and help each other. Education has the power to send that message.
- If your mother was still alive, what would she say after you experienced the warmth of the Japanese people yourselves ?
Our mother was a very big-hearted woman, who loved Japan immensely and harbored the Japanese sense of beauty in her heart. I wish she had come with us on this trip. If she were alive, she would have certainly expressed her gratitude to all of the people at JTB.
And, if Mr. Osako were living, we'd want to say thank you to him as well. Because of his sacrifices, the lives of several thousand Jewish refugees were saved and that led to tens of thousands of children being born.
Let me add a word here at the end. Akira Kitade's life's work symbolizes the importance of education. Entrusted with Osako's album -- Osako had been his boss in the past -- he passionately sought out the people in the photos. He dug up the stories of these Jewish refugees and put the stories of the Japanese people who helped them into a book for the whole world to read. I am grateful to him for doing that from the bottom of my heart. His perseverance over the years is education unto itself. If not for him, we probably would not have made it to Japan. I applaud his magnanimous efforts and achievements with all my heart.
[Connecting and communicating with the next generation]
After the visit to JTB's headquarters, everyone amiably walked over to the building next door. A small meet-and-greet was planned to welcome Deborah and Shelley at the suggestion of JTB Global Marketing & Travel Inc. This company took over the job of the Japan Tourist Bureau and is today, at JTB, specialized in inbound tourism to Japan, so, in a sense, its employees are following in the footsteps of Tatsuo Osako. More than 40 people filled the room and welcomed Deborah and Shelley with a warm round of applause.
President Zama began his greetings by presenting bouquets to Deborah and Shelley, and telling them, "It is a great honor to meet both of you." Right then and there, it was as if Tatsuo Osako was meeting Sonia for the first time 76 years ago. For the younger generations that did not experience the war, even if they knew the facts of JTB helping the Jews flee persecution during the war, it was their first time to encounter people directly related to that experience. What was, for them, no more than an event in history suddenly was real and right before their very eyes. For the employees of the JTB group, it was an opportunity to feel what Tatsuo Osako did 76 years ago, as Deborah and Shelley were reliving the emotions of their mother during the war.
Deborah opened by saying, "Everyone here's predecessor, Tatsuo Osako, and the many others, whose names I do not know, who, together with him, helped the Jewish refugees to escape, changed the lives of many people in the truest sense of the word. So, to all of you that are following in their footsteps, I encourage you to take them as an example. Every chance you get, look for ways to help others. Make it possible for you to do that."
The message that was told here was "Never again!" The tragedy of war is not a thing of the past; to someone somewhere in the world today, it is a "reality". And, it is also a “reality" that, just as the two sisters witnessed during their stay, the kind heart that Osako showed 76 years ago is alive and well today. What moved the employees was Deborah and Shelley’s calling the Japanese to task to show the world what a big heart they have.
[Comments from employees who attended the meet-and-greet]
"What I took away from this -- and it moved me to realize this -- was that the hospitality I so carefully demonstrate in the travel business, the services we provide to every single customer no matter what the situation, and the time-honored concepts of the service industry haven't and will never change."
"I think that it takes courage that most people don't have to disregard one's own life in order to take action for the sake of others in the world. I was honored to hear that Sonia still remembered the events that took place 76 years ago and that her family share her strong feelings for Japan. This has motivated me to do whatever it takes so that future visitors to Japan feel the same."
"When accompanying tours, the words of appreciation from customers who think Japan is great make me very happy. Like our predecessor Osako did, I hope to somehow set an example for future employees of JTB group. That probably won't happen, but I want to set the bar high."
For all these years, Sonia Reed treasured Tatsuo Osako's business card and Osako carefully preserved her photograph in the album he made. Though few if no words were spoken between them, these two people tacitly shared their feelings for 76 years. The journey that Sonia began was inherited by her daughters Deborah and Shelley and led them from Tsuruga to Tennozu. With the ways of the international community in question today, a single business card has again taught us about the important role that "communication" plays. Just like the "Please remember me" message that Sonia wrote on the back of her photo, our hope is that the "exchange" between the Jewish refugees who fled Nazi persecution and the Japanese that helped them during the war lives on in the memories of the people of Tsuruga, sisters Deborah and Shelley, and the employees of the JTB Group. Also, the exchange that was born from the two sisters' journey may very well be the starting point of a new channel of communication that will connect Japan to the rest of the world.
＊Company name and titles are those of the time of coverage.