Sayaka and Midori, both exposed to education outside and inside Japan, are striving to transform education for foreign students in Japan.
A Vision That Ignites Change
Under the warm stage lights, Sayaka, a determined young leader, captivated the One Young World Japan audience with her heartfelt vision. “I suffered from isolation myself when returning to study at a Japanese public school, and I don’t want others to experience the same thing.” Recognizing an essential need, Sayaka outlined her plan to support foreign residents and fellow returnees in navigating their children’s education in Japan. As applause erupted, she realized she had ignited a journey of transformation.
A Bond Forged by Shared Purpose
In the crowd, Midori, a kindred spirit and fellow incoming Grade 10 student at UWC ISAK Japan, was moved by Sayaka’s inspirational words. That day, a powerful friendship and partnership emerged, united by a shared passion for leadership and addressing pressing needs.
Navigating Cultural Barriers
Raised in the US and Hong Kong, Sayaka had mastered English and Chinese before moving to Japan at age 5. She quickly learned that immersing herself in Japanese culture could be as challenging as learning a new language. She recalled a seemingly trivial incident highlighting her culture shock: “I remember one of my classmates telling me, ‘that’s not how we hold a chair.’ She then showed me the proper way. I had never given any thought to the manner of holding a chair.”
The Spark That Ignited Project TOMO
A chance encounter forever altered Sayaka’s life. Meeting Lucy, a six-year-old American girl struggling to communicate, Sayaka felt compelled to help. From that day forward, she devoted time and energy to supporting Lucy, even translating school letters for her parents. Through this experience, Sayaka gained insight into parents’ challenges in similar situations.
The world, however, was on the brink of change. With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic and school closures, Lucy’s family faced mounting difficulties and eventually returned to the US. This poignant farewell planted the seed for Project TOMO in Sayaka’s heart.
Project TOMO: Bridging the Divide
By March 2023, Sayaka and Midori’s dreams had begun to blossom. Employing their leadership skills, they launched an informational website and, during Spring Project Week, tirelessly traversed Tokyo, connecting with schools, parents, and organizations. Their mission is to make a tangible difference by offering needy families guidance, support, and resources.
A World United by Friendship and Inclusion
Sayaka, sharing the dual meaning of “tomo” in Japanese (friend (友) and together (共)), believed that relationship-building and inclusion could help newcomers adapt to Japanese public schools and avoid the struggles she faced.
Embracing Initiative and Driving Change
Inspired by their experiences and driven to create change, Sayaka and Midori took the initiative to develop and implement Project TOMO. As they work relentlessly to foster a more inclusive and compassionate world, their story stands as a testament to the power of identifying crucial needs, taking action, and utilizing leadership skills to transform adversity into a force for good.