Faced with the prospect of terminal illness, Kiyoko Tomine explains how this spurred her on to fulfil her long-cherished retirement aims.
In 2006, I retired after working for 34 years for a joint venture company between Japan and US. Throughout my career in the company, I really enjoyed working as executive assistant for 21 years and as project manager for 13 years, which gave me a comprehensive view of the business organization. Despite my enthusiasm for business, I am completely away from the world of profit and loss accounts at present.
When I was 40 years old, a malignant disease was detected without any warning. It was a progressive gastric cancer. I had to have my stomach, spleen and gallbladder removed totally, because I was in the final stage of the disease. The survival rate over a five-year period was only 14 per cent with a high risk of recurrence within two years. A relapse of this cancer could mean the end of my life in just six months. I had to face the fact that I had a disease that had an 85 per cent chance of taking my life within five years. I took this on board with serenity. There was not much time to be dejected. I simply had to speed up my life.
I had my long-cherished desire for my retirement. I wanted to be connected to the whole world and do something that would benefit others and, at the same time, please my heart. I tried to think what, how and where I could find such a rewarding work. When I contemplated the world in the early 1990s, there were tragic internal conflicts in many countries. After a ceasefire, there were only a handful of people working to restore what was left after massive destruction and deep trauma. Those who were working in the affected areas were not only government agencies or international organizations, but there were also many NGO workers who came face-to-face with the role of helping to make postwar peace. “Peacemaker” has been on my mind ever since. I had a strong desire to see the world and meet people and to search for the places where I should be.
In 1998, I made my first round-the-world voyage with Peace Boat. Peace Boat is an NGO organizing global cruises, visiting more than 20 countries in one voyage, including developing countries. Peace Boat has strong connections with local people and organizations who are working for poverty, education, human rights and gender issues in each country. I tried to participate in as many programmes as possible to study their problems, while making a network of contacts for my future work. In each country, I came in contact with the lives of people who are at the bottom of the social pyramid. I also met people who helped those people have a better future in various ways. I hoped to be given an opportunity to join in those impressive activities.
When I decided to retire in 2006, my diary was filled with travel plans from day one. Since then, I have continued travelling around the world to meet people, discover their issues and look for something I can do to make the world a better place to live in peace. I have visited 107 countries and been on 23 voyages with Peace Boat. The countries include Palestine, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo after the conflicts and bombing. I also visited the refugee camps of Palestine and Syria. Those people needed large-scale support from the international community. My long-term objective is to set up a grassroots network with individual people worldwide acting as peace builders in cooperation with those people who need the help most.
During my Peace Boat voyage of 2007, the tour studied the demining process in the minefields of Cambodia. The disabled landmine survivors were living wretched lives. They had to survive on their own small-scale businesses and rely on their own skills to feed their family. In between other trips, I frequently visited Cambodia to support the disabled people’s families who were struggling to make a better future. It has been ten years since I started to support their children’s education and enhancement of their businesses. I made it a rule to send the newsletters about my activities in Cambodia to my friends of Peace Boat. It encouraged some of the readers to rise up and take action together. I am a solo-NGO, only doing what I can, so anyone is welcome to join and contribute whatever they can to make them happy.
I may not be able to expect a long, stable and healthy life in the future. This thought has spurred me on to live the fullest and most rewarding life I can. I will continue my journey to pursue my ends.
Peace Boat is a Japan-based international non-governmental and non-profit organization that works to promote peace, human rights, equal and sustainable development and respect for the environment. Peace Boat seeks to create awareness and action based on effecting positive social and political change in the world. They pursue this through the organization of global educational programmes, responsible travel, cooperative projects and advocacy activities. These activities are carried out on a partnership basis with other civil society organizations and communities in Japan, Northeast Asia, and around the world. Peace Boat carries out its main activities through a chartered passenger ship that travels the world on peace voyages. The ship creates a neutral, mobile space and enables people to engage across borders in dialogue and mutual cooperation at sea, and in the ports that we visit. Activities based in Japan and Northeast Asia are carried out from our eight Peace Centers in Japan.
Kiyoko Tomine was born in Kyoto, the old capital city of Japan. She graduated from the International Christian University in Tokyo, majoring in French Linguistics and Semantics. Her learning experiences played a crucial role in determining her future way of life. She embraced the broad views and diverse values that were cultivated during her university years and still remembers them to this day. From 1972, Kiyoko pursued a 34-year career in Sony’s subsidiary company, Tektronix Corporation, in Tokyo. This bi-cultural environment formed the basis of her global activities during her retirement, including her many ventures with Peace Boat.