In a ceremony heavy with symbolism, RI President Sakuji Tanaka joined other Rotary and community leaders 17 May in laying a wreath in Hiroshima Memorial Park, dedicated to the victims of the atomic bomb dropped on the city during World War II.
The subject of peace has been at the heart of Tanaka’s year as Rotary’s president. A member of the Rotary Club of Yashio, Japan, Tanaka selected Peace Through Service as RI’s theme for his year, and he organized three global peace forums to motivate Rotarians and others, particularly youth, to work for peace in their daily lives.
The wreath-laying event took place during the third of these forums, in Hiroshima, Japan, 17-18 May. Tanaka also visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum and signed the guest book, which contains messages of peace from many past and present world leaders.
More than 2,700 people attended the forum, including Rotarians, community leaders, and students and alumni of Rotary’s Peace Centers program -- a peace studies initiative that provides future leaders with the skills needed to resolve conflicts and promote peace. The governor of Hiroshima Prefecture, Hidehiko Yuzaki, and the mayor of Hiroshima, Kazumi Matsui, also attended.
Previous forums were held in Berlin, Germany, and Honolulu, Hawaii, USA. Tanaka selected all three sites because they were affected by the events of World War II and now represent the healing power of sustainable peace between nations.
“Every Rotary project, every act of service, is an act of love and kindness,” Tanaka said in his closing address. “When we serve in the right ways, and for the right reasons, we bring people together, in peace and in harmony. How could it be otherwise?”
A call to action
Participants at the forum also adopted a declaration, “Peace Begins With You,” which serves as a call to action for individuals to make a conscious effort in their daily lives to promote harmony with their neighbors and create friendships that transcend the divisions of nationality, politics, religion, and culture.
“Today, as we leave this last Rotary Peace Forum, I ask you to understand that peace, in all of the ways that we can understand it, is a real goal, and a realistic goal for Rotary,” Tanaka said. “Peace is not something that can only be achieved through treaties, by governments, or through heroic struggles. It is something that we can find, and that we can achieve -- every day, and in many simple ways.”
Rotary Foundation Trustee Chair-elect Dong Kurn Lee, of the Rotary Club of Seoul Hangang, Korea, spoke about the contributions Rotary has made in moving the nations of Korea and Japan closer together as allies and economic partners, healing old wounds. He quoted a Korean saying, “It takes two palms to make a clapping sound,” to illustrate that neither nation could decide alone to live in peace with its neighbor.
“Every year, for the last eleven years, Japanese and Korean Rotarians have had a very special meeting: a Japanese-Korean friendship meeting,” Lee said. “It is a wonderful event. We talk about Rotary, and we do some Rotary work. But the most important part of the meeting is simply coming together, in Rotary fellowship. . . . Rotary has helped us to make our dream of peace between our countries real.”
President-nominee Gary C. K. Huang noted that the idea of treating others as we would like to be treated ourselves is a common concept across cultures and religions. Rotary members strive to achieve this by putting service above self and by laying a foundation for peace.
“We build peace in the world by building peace in our communities -- within our Rotary zones and districts, and within our neighborhoods,” Huang said. “We build peace in our communities by forging friendships, and by cultivating an open mind and a welcoming spirit within ourselves.”
Rotary in Japan
Rotary has been in Japan since 1920 with the chartering of the Rotary Club of Tokyo. Other Rotary clubs soon followed in Osaka, Kyoto, Yokohama, and several other cities. Today, there are about 88,000 Rotary members in Japan belonging to 2,285 clubs.
In March 2011, a massive earthquake off the coast of Japan and the resulting tsunami brought devastation to much of the nation. Rotarians around the world responded with moral and financial support, raising more than US$7.8 million for disaster recovery efforts in Japan and Pacific island nations.
Rotary has a long-standing commitment to peace. At the grassroots level, members have worked to address the underlying causes of conflict and violence, such as hunger, poverty, disease, and illiteracy. Ten years ago, Rotary decided to take a direct approach to promoting world understanding by providing future leaders with the tools they need to “wage peace” on the global stage.
Since 2002, Rotary clubs have annually sponsored up to 110 scholars who embark on one to two years of study, earning either master’s degrees or professional certificates in peace and conflict resolution at Rotary Peace Centers at universities around the world. Seventy peace fellows have graduated from the Rotary Peace Center in Tokyo at International Christian University, and another 21 are currently enrolled; 25 peace fellows from Japan have studied abroad at Rotary Peace Centers.