Ambassadors In Action
A young editor goes to the source of it all hoping to get a deeper understanding of the world and its people in the hope of better connecting us all.
2022 Manchester, UK
English, Japanese, French
One Young World Japan Director, Rui Nagamori, sits down with Momoko Amemiya, a One Young World Manchester 2022 Ambassador who is currently living in Belgium.
Hi Momoko. First of all, can you tell us a little about yourself before joining OYW?
After graduating from university, I worked as a journalist and then as a business book editor, producing more than 60 books, including the bestseller “Nikkei Bunko SDGs Nyumon” (Introduction to the SDGs),” which sold more than 100,000 copies.
It was a very rewarding job, full of constant learning, as I often met with people who are reputable managers and leaders. However, after COVID-19 set in, I felt a sense of anxiety and crisis about the future of Japan, and in order to look at Japan and the world from a different perspective, I am currently studying European business and politics in an advanced master’s program at a graduate school in Belgium.
Please tell us about your first encounter with One Young World. What enticed you to get involved?
One Young World 2022 was supposed to be held in Tokyo. I found out about it when I was invited to the invitational event. I thought it was a wonderful event and wanted to attend but, I felt a little bit hesitant to join since I am not a “returnee” and didn’t have true fluency in English. So, I thought it might be difficult for me.
Then, COVID-19 arrived and decimated any plans for the summit to take place in Japan. When I checked the website again, I noticed that the venue had changed to Manchester, UK.
I had actually never been to the UK. I really wanted to go there and talk to the world leaders and see what they were thinking after COVID-19. So, I decided to apply because I wanted to get out and see the world again after so much time inside under quarantine. I wanted to try something new to make up for the years I had lost.
I see. So, you were curious about the program, looked into it, and immediately decided to take action.
Many of the participants looked like “returnees” to me; young people with native level English skills. That impression made me feel it would be a bit difficult for me to participate but, I decided to apply because I felt that if I didn’t try, I never would.
Also, One Young World had “SDGs” as its theme. I was also interested in the SDGs because of “Nikkei Bunko SDGs Nyumon” (Introduction to the SDGs), for which I was in charge of editing as I mentioned earlier.
In particular, I wanted to discuss “gender equality” with people around the world who feel similarly, as women my age are having various thoughts as they grew older and are making more diverse career choices.
What did you think of the One Young World Manchester Summit once you arrived?
What I felt most was a sense of reflection on how little I know about the world and a sense of hope for the future. For example, I had many opportunities to talk with people from Africa. I felt that I did not have enough knowledge about Africa to lump it all together, and I did not have a clear picture of what the situation was like in each country.
Cameroon, Congo, Rwanda, Ethiopia, and Ghana. Through our various conversations, I learned that Africa has been growing economically and is very different from the image I had of an impoverished society. Of course, the disparity is still quite large and the “negative legacy” of colonialism still exists. Still, I felt a “vigor” that I would not have felt if I had stayed in Japan.
I also met a girl from Ukraine. She works for an IT company so, she is able to work wherever she is. But, when I heard directly from her the anger and sadness at the destruction of her hometown, I was reminded that what is happening in the world is not something that happens in a faraway country.
Going to the source of it all and meeting people is such an inspiring experience. Because of this, the world that I had only known through text and images became clearer and clearer. Issues that should have been “other people’s business” suddenly became connected to my own. I was reminded of what I had almost forgotten as I no longer had to move around.
Connecting with people of the same generation across borders. Talking to each other. The accumulation of such small things will nurture a sense of mutual understanding and create the future and peace. This was my overall takeaway.
One Young World aims to nurture the next generation of young leaders around the world. What was the spark that led you to create a more global perspective?
My grandfather worked for a trading company and my father spent his childhood in the United States. Later, my father worked for a foreign company and I was taken to many foreign countries from an early age.
I went to New York many times during summer vacations until I was a high school student. When I was in the fourth grade, I attended the YMCA there for about a month. I don’t know why but, even though I couldn’t speak the language at all, I made friends and had a great time. The first person who helped me was a Chinese girl named Nancy. She drew pictures and taught me English. That was the first moment I felt that people can understand each other even if they don’t understand each other’s language.
You said you weren’t comfortable in English and yet you’ve traveled quite a bit.
Yes, that is true. On the other hand, at the YMCA, I was often asked, “Are you sure you can’t speak English?” Even if you can’t speak the language, you can still communicate. But, I did feel that not being able to speak the language could be a trigger for bullying. A young American boy chased me one time. But, one of my other American girlfriends came to my rescue.
I wanted to be friends with many foreigners but, on the other hand, I was afraid of not being able to speak and not being able to answer when spoken to. I had a mixed bag of emotions but, these experiences made me realize the reality of the world, strengthened my interest in it, and made me who I am today.
What is the secret of your determination and ability to do things, to take actions?
You never know when you will not be able to do something. So, you should do it when you feel like doing it. This is my motto.
I also think when you say “someday I will,” that day never comes. Everyone has realized that the freedom that we had taken for granted can suddenly be taken away. COVID-19 and the conflict in Ukraine have both been examples of this. It was a difficult time for me too, because I love to visit various places in Japan and abroad.
The mere existence of “restrictions” tends to make me feel like “Well, I’ll just stop.” As the months went by, I saw myself becoming more and more reluctant to move, and I thought, “This isn’t good.” I thought I have to escape before something important to me is destroyed and this was the final push.
If you think about it in your head, there is a mountain of anxiety but, when you face it in your heart, that desire to try something manifests itself. We really need to follow this feeling. Otherwise, we don’t know where our lives will go. Maybe it was partly because I was bored with the unchanging routine during COVID-19’s lockdown, too.
How do you spend your days in Belgium?
To be honest, I have a lot of things to do including mostly studying now. So, I often stay home for that. However, learning a new language in an unfamiliar culture and an environment like One Young World, where I can talk with people from different countries on a daily basis, is very stimulating.
I love learning about things I don’t know and I still have a lot to gain from talking with people in Belgium. I know that some Japanese people yearn to live abroad but, Tokyo is a really convenient place to live. In Belgium, you can’t move around while having online meetings because the signal is not strong enough and gets cut off frequently. Conversely, there is the freedom to enjoy nature and the simple joys of cooking a meal at home and eating it with friends. I have learned the comfort of “knowing what is enough” without buying new things.
Especially where I live now, the place is huge! Depending on where you live, you can live in a large house for a much lower price than in Tokyo. I can hear birds singing and horses walking along the road. It is a good environment for thinking and studying. Belgium’s proximity to many other countries makes it easy to visit Paris, Germany, and other EU countries, which is perhaps the most refreshing thing for me.
I think “career and life” are your keywords. I would love to hear about your future plans for your career and life.
I usually like to strategize and act accordingly. But, honestly speaking, I am a little bored with the future I can see. Working for an international organization is one of the things I would like to do. Or, maybe starting my own business or supporting those who call on me. I enjoy discovering new ways of thinking. So, it might be fun to edit my own discoveries and share them with others in a variety of ways.
Thank you, Momoko. Any final message for the next generation of female leaders who will follow in your footsteps?
When you feel that you don’t fit in, consider other places that might be easier to fit in instead of forcing yourself. What might be called “strange” or “weird” in one world might be called “amazing” or “sexy” in another.
If you want to live the freer life, I encourage you to get out there and explore. There are people in the world who live in unexpected and unpredictable ways. Seeing some of those might give you a chance to look at yourself in a new light.
It may be nice to set goals such as “when I get a higher TOEIC score” or “when I have enough money” but, human beings are creatures that tend to procrastinate. If you just go for it, you’ll be surprised how much you can accomplish.
No need to plan totally but also don’t be totally impulsive, either. In the Japanese workplace, where the birth rate is declining and the population is aging, even people in their late 40s are considered “young” now. If this is the case, then people in their 20s and 30s are just “chicks.” So, there is plenty of time for mistakes to make. The more you make, the stronger you will become and the more your world will expand.