06/05/04: A Visit to Japan

A visit to Japanese PEN

By Rachel Billington

PEN member ship is a real bonus when travelling abroad. On my first visit to Tokyo in April, I arranged a meeting with Japanese PEN via their excellent secretary, Keiko Myakawa. We met in their new very modern and elegant building – enough to make English PEN gnash their teeth with envy. Present at the meeting were Ms. Akiko Shimoju, Vice President (like myself), Mr. Takashi Atouda, Managing Director, Tohru Miyoshi, Chair of the International Committee and Ms. Yuko Matsumeto, Director in charge of public relations, who was wearing a beautiful Spring kimono in my honour. I had already met Ms. Shimoju amd Mr. Atoudi at an International Congress so the group was not made up of strangers.

We had a relaxed discussion, swapping news of our different programmes. We have in common, of course, the Writers in Prison Committee, but Japanese PEN put a great deal of emphasis on their Peace Programme. The Peace committee runs a symposium annually in a different part of Japan. This year it was in Kyoto and gathered an audience of 1600. To celebrate the twentieth year of the programme’s founding, they have produced a book with contributions from forty five writers, both fiction and non-fiction, called ‘Nevertheless Resist the War.’ It is so successful that it’s already in its fourth printing.

Japanese PEN also has an Environment Committee and is a member of the International Womens’ Committee and, most ambitiously, runs a digital library to encourage reading. They already have 1000 books on the web, either out of copyright or donated by PEN members.

After an hour of discussions which included a good debate about the definition of PEN as non-political, we swapped some books (sadly, they had to be translated into English to be any use to me) and headed for a small local restaurant. There we gorged on fabulous tempura and drank each other’s health first in beer and then in wine.

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/international/newsfromotherpencentres/avisittojapan/

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