Looking Back at NFSJ Cafes

Vol.4 “Sierra Leone: Seeking for Peaceful Diamond”

(NFSJ Cafe #11, May 18, 2018 at Musashino Place)
Guest lecturer: Mr. Joseph Smith, then Rotary Peace Fellow

May 5, 2018, Joseph Smith, a Rotary Peace Fellow studying in graduate school at ICU spoke to the NFSJ Cafe on “Sierra Leone; Seeking for Peaceful Diamond”.

Mr. Smith gave a brief history of Sierra Leone, a country in West Africa, with one of the shortest life spans in the world (according to May 20, 2016 census.) due to the decade-long civil war in 1990s and the outbreaks of Ebola* and other infections. (*WHO declared the end of Ebola transmission in 2016.)

In explaining the history, Mr. Smith referenced the film “Blood Diamond” which was set in the civil war period as an accurate portrayal of how the mineral resources caused intensive conflicts, exploitation and human trafficking. Prior to coming to Japan, Mr. Smith had been fighting for the miners’ working conditions and human rights.

Mr. Smith’s description of the abuse that took place in the mining industry was vivid, leaving one with an image that greed took precedence over safety, general welfare for the workers or simple human compassion. He described a brutal system. However, he emphasized that the situation has been improving as the country was democratized 10 years ago and is now in the process of restoration, utilizing its rich mineral resources including diamonds. In 2018, Sierra Leone conducted presidential and parliamentary elections resulting in a peaceful transfer of power from one political party to another, further consolidating the country’s commitment to democracy.

Mr. Smith is currently the Founder & Executive Director of Africa Youths on Mining and Environment. He is also the West Africa Coordinator for Independent Social Performance. (Kathy Burton-Lewis)

Vol.3 “Let’s learn about LGBT: Toward the Society Where No One is Left Behind and Sexual Diversity is Accepted”

(NFSJ Cafe #16, April 19, 2019 at Musashino Place)

Guest lecturer: Ms. Mami Sasaki, Intern at NPO Good Aging Ales

We invited Mami Sasaki, who was an intern at Good Aging Ales, a support group for LGBT people, to be a lecturer at the NFSJ Café because she was acquainted with a previous lecturer we had. The interesting thing about NFSJ Cafés is that encounters with people like this are spun together in such a mysterious way.

Ms. Sasaki told us basic knowledge about what problems LGBT people face and how society can be there for them. This was the first time I realized that besides biological sex, sexual orientation (the sex you prefer) and gender identity (how you think about your gender), there is a fourth “expressed sex” (how you want to present yourself to society). Also, that there are dozens of combinations of them, being gradations on a spectrum, not clearly distinguishable.

Japan does not recognize same-sex marriage, and unfortunately, three years later, this has not changed. However, I was happy to learn that some companies have begun to recognize same-sex partnerships for daily services (e.g. life insurance beneficiaries, family rates for cell phones, bank mortgages, etc.) ahead of the government.

On the other hand, in Japanese society, where schools, families, and communities have difficulty recognizing diversity, LGBT people are troubled by their own gender identity and sexual orientation. They might find it difficult to come out for fear of bullying, discrimination, or being marginalized. People in the majority may unintentionally hurt them as well. Good Aging Ales aims to create a society where it is easy for sexual minorities to live together, by increasing the number of “allies” and making the issue visible through fun events and publicity.

Human trafficking is a crime that takes advantage of people in vulnerable situations, often with discrimination and prejudice in the background, so we sometimes hear about LGBT people being victims of trafficking. By listening to Ms. Sasaki talk at this café, I felt I’d like to take a step forward using correct information to create a society where we can all live together in harmony.(Mariko Yamaoka)

Vol. 2 “From the Kabukicho Nightlife District – Trafficking in Persons (Sexual Exploitation) and Countermeasures”

(NFSJ Café #22, October 21, 2020)
Guest Speaker: Mr. Arata Sakamoto (President, NPO Rescue Hub)
Held online

This NFSJ Café was held online with Mr. Arata Sakamoto, President of the NPO “Rescue Hub” as the guest lecturer. Mr. Sakamoto was previously a staff member of NFSJ. I have always admired his sincere personality and passion to stop human trafficking, so I have always shared his Facebook posts and information. There are people in this world who do things that cannot be so easily imitated. Arata Sakamoto is one such person.

Kabukicho, Shinjuku is the largest entertainment district in Japan. He has been making nighttime rounds there alone for the past three years. Whether it is a freezing cold winter night or a sweltering night during the Coronavirus pandemic, he is there to help those in need. Many of these women, who say they have no choice but to work in the entertainment district due to economic hardship, are well-educated and have lived fairly normal lives. They are suffering from sexual exploitation, domestic violence and other difficulties that are difficult to discuss with others. However, they are not willing to seek help themselves. Mr. Sakamoto patiently goes around the city at night and gives them a hand warmer, cleansing paper, masks and a consultation card with his contact information on it. In this way, as they gradually learn his face, he is able to connect them to public and private support organizations.

Mr. Sakamoto himself says that what he wants to turn his eyes away from most is the issue of sexual exploitation and human trafficking. That is why he decided to tackle these problems. There’s no need to ask the question, “Why are you here?“ What is needed is his determination to stand by them to the very end. This is where a relationship of trust can be born, which can eventually lead to support. (Namura Michiyo)

Please refer to the NFSJ website for more information.

Vol.1 The Reason Why We Hold NFSJ Cafes

On July 2, NFSJ celebrated 11 years of activities. We are a group of ordinary, non-professional citizens, who have been working under the motto of “Do what you can when you can,” with a “No!” to human trafficking. The “NFSJ Café” was born from this background.

When I joined NFSJ, I had no experience or knowledge of the issue of human trafficking (HT) and modern-day slavery. The first two or three NFSJ Cafés were voluntary study sessions for us, but soon we decided to make them public events so that we could learn together with others. We thought, “what we want to know, others would want to know too”.

The name “café” rather than “study group” has a meaning. HT is a serious issue. Many people in the world lose their lives due to this crime. Even if their lives are spared, many victims are forced to live with trauma, having suffered great physical and psychological wounds in addition to being exploited.

Nevertheless, we wanted to call this group by the light-hearted name of “café” because we want people to feel free to join us. We want people to ask questions like, “What is trafficking in persons?” We welcome those who come with the motive of “I don’t know anything about it, but I am interested in it.”

In Japan, HT is still not well known. We believe that one of the solutions to this is to lower the barriers as much as possible and increase the number of people who know about this issue.

We also hope that people will become aware of the fact that HT is common and happening in our daily lives, similar to enjoying a cup of tea at a café.

The NFSJ Café has been held 28 times in total as of May 2022. Some of the topics we have covered may not seem to be related to HT at first glance. However, HT is intricately intertwined with various issues in society, including climate change, war, refugees and immigrants, domestic violence and neglect, economic disparity, racism, and sexism. We believe that by learning about these issues, we can better understand the problem of HT and aim for solutions.

July 30 is the World Day Against Trafficking in Persons designated by the United Nations. We would like to take this opportunity to send you reports of various themes over the next month, looking back on the times that have left a lasting impression on the NFSJ staff. We sincerely hope that everyone who reads these reports will participate in future NFSJ Cafés.

July 30, 2022
Nozomi Kuriyama (NFSJ Assistant Director)