On the 19th July, at a ceremony at SOAS to coincide with the outgoing UK participants on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, I was honoured to have received a Commendation from the Japanese Ambassador to the UK for my ‘distinguished contribution to the mutual understanding and the deepening friendship between Japan and the United Kingdom’. This recognition was for the contributions I have made to the JET Alumni Association (JETAA) since I returned from Japan in 1998, having been Chair of JETAAUK for the last 5 years and my involvement back in 1999-2001.
The Ambassador said some lovely things about me and presented me with the commendation scroll, which features the Japanese Government’s crest and he explained that this crest, stylised with a 5-7-5 pattern of flowers, symbolises the Empress Tree (Paulownia). To my absolute delight, I was then presented with a beautiful brooch designed by the Ambassador himself, featuring the flower of Japan (chrysanthemum) and those of the 4 countries of the UK (shamrock, daffodil, thistle and rose) to show the links between Japan and the UK.
I was very moved and emotional but somehow managed to make a speech to all the JETs going out, thank the other JETAA volunteers and organisations who have worked with me over the years and contributed to this award and recognition of JETAA. I also expressed my gratitude to the Embassy of Japan in the UK and the Japan Local Government Centre for all the wonderful opportunities they have given me whilst serving as Chair including meeting the current Emperor and Empress, Princess Takamado, having lunch with the Japanese Prime Minister’s wife, attending the official dinner for the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as well as meeting visiting Japanese officials and speaking at the Houses of Parliament and the Scottish Parliament. I would never have imagined, when attending the same ceremony over 20 years ago, that my future experience in Japan would lead me to build my career upon this in-depth knowledge of how culture affects the way people live and work. My children, who attended the ceremony with me, were fascinated to find out more about Japan and were very taken with the people they met and the amazing sushi that was served. (See Link to Embassy of Japan in the UK's website.)
Photos by the Embassy of Japan in the UK