From NUCLEAR FREE PHILIPPINES COALITION and GATHERING FOR PEACE
December 30, 2002
The Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition and Gathering for Peace send their deepest respects and admiration for a great woman who lived her life to the fullest and has given many of us inspiration in our work for peace. Indeed even in death, she continues and will ever continue to be one of the leading lights of the peace movement in Asia. For many of us whose lives Yayori has touched, she will continue to live in our hearts.
Farewell, dear friend, precious sister, faithful comrade, staunch advocate of women’s rights and courageous worker for peace and freedom.
By Corazon Valdez Fabros
Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition
and Co-Convenor – Gathering for Peace
TRIBUTE TO YAYORI MATSUI
Message from Yayori Matsui
I Can No Longer Be With You
A painful message to all my friends from Yayori Matsui
“I am sure you will carry on this struggle…”
Today I have to send a painful message to all my friends who have been my support in life in many ways and at different times.
When I was visiting Afghanistan early this month, I felt anomaly in my body and I returned to Japan on October 7, earlier than scheduled, to be examined at a hospital. There, I was diagnosed with liver cancer in the advanced stage and informed that it was not curable.
This summer I attended several international meetings and conferences in various countries. I was as energetic as I enjoyed horse riding in the grasslands in Mongolia in August and swimming in Islamabad on my way to Kabul early this month. I felt no symptom, but my liver had been silently affected by this disease over the years.
I wished to live at least 10 more years, and I feel really unfortunate to have to leave you in the midst of struggle. I feel as though I was abruptly hit by a natural disaster. However, I try to maintain serenity and accept this fate as divine providence caring to give me a little early rest in sympathy for my 68 years of intense life.
I can stay calm because I feel that I have been able to lead a meaningful life thanks to the support of all of you. It is my great comfort, in particular, that the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal 2000 of which I was one of the initiators was successfully carried out and that it handed down its judgment of historic significance at the Hague in 2001. I sincerely ask all of you to make the best use of the judgment and promote the tribunal’s message across the world.
The Japanese media not only ignored the historical event of this tribunal and its judgment, but also NHK, the public TV station, broadcasted a programme on it that distorted the meaning of the tribunal. As you may know, we sued NHK to hold it accountable for falsification of the tribunal’s message. I deeply regret that I will not be able to fulfill my responsibility as a plaintiff in this litigation. I wish for your continuing support of our NHK lawsuit to seek a just judgment.
I look back on my three decades of involvement in Asian issues, as a journalist at the Asahi Shimbun and as a women’s movement activist throughout the decades, and I realize anew how greatly I have been encouraged and inspired by encounters with powerful women of many Asian countries I visited. I can think of my life positively when I hear young Japanese women working in different Asian countries telling me that my books or speeches motivated and inspired them to get involved in what they do. I would feel rewarded if my trajectory of life as a feminist and independent woman has encouraged and stimulated many women to fight to change this sexist society.
I admit there were moments when I felt deeply hurt and agonized by betrayals, misunderstanding, persecution, and violence. Now, those days seem far away in the past. I feel most proud of having always been on the side of “the least important” underprivileged people and resisted those in power. I used to write a newspaper column using “Flame” as the pen name, and signed my magazine articles as Suga Akiko, an amalgam name made from two rebellious Meiji women, to express my commitment to fight discrimination, exploitation, and injustice. My life has been a life of action propelled by outrage and anger against injustice. I have been offered no official or social status of power, and I take that as an honor.
Aside from the four years of illness in my high school years, I have been always blessed in my life. I grew up in a warm family, received much love and affection from many people, and enjoyed the friendship of a number of wonderful friends. I have lived freely, traveled to so many countries, and enjoyed movies which I love so much.
However, I am profoundly concerned about the current global situation. Many people are affected by armed conflicts and the “war on terrorism” is expanding. Having lived through the 20th century which was filled with violence and war, I am hoping for a peaceful, non-violent 21st century. I regret that I can no longer be with you in the struggle for this goal, but I am sure that you will carry on this struggle and will achieve the peace that is my dream.
I am sorry that I cannot pursue any more the various kinds of activities to which I have been committed. Especially, as Director of Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center (AJWRC) and Chairperson of Violence Against Women in War Network, Japan (VAWW-NET Japan), I want to extend my deep appreciation to their members and I wish for further development of their activities. I ask you all, my friends, to provide continued support for AJWRC and VAWW-NET Japan. I will also leave to all of you the dream that I have shared with my friends – the establishment of a “Women’s Museum on War.”
I cannot help feeling uneasy, though, anticipating physical pains and psychological fears that I must have to endure from now. I will do my best to live as long as possible, by a day or even an hour. Please save a place in your prayers for a miracle. During the time that is left to me, with my last physical and mental strength, I will try to write and speak what I want to tell.
Now, I want to apologize to those whom I may have hurt or caused any trouble to. Friends, I ask for your forgiveness for having not been able to make time to talk more personally with you due to my extremely busy life. Once again, please accept my heartfelt gratitude to all of you for giving me such a wonderful life. I am truly thankful.
Please forgive me that I surprise you by this e-mailing. If you kindly send me your words, please do so by fax or e-mail.
With many thanks from the bottom of my heart,
October 14, 2002
You Will Be Missed But Never Forgotten
In Memory of Yayori Matsui
New York Times – January 5, 2003
Yayori Matsui Dies at 68; Championed Asian Women
by Wolfgang Saxon
Yayori Matsui, a journalist and campaigner for the rights of Asian women, died on Dec. 27 at a Tokyo hospital. She was 68 and a resident of Tokyo.
The cause was liver cancer, said an associate, Norma Field, professor of Japanese studies at the University of Chicago. Dr. Field said Ms. Matsui had reported her illness in a message to her associates in which she also outlined her ideas for a projected Women’s Museum of War and Peace.
Ms. Matsui was the founder, in 1998, of the Violence Against Women in War-Network, Japan. It was a principal sponsor of the Women’s International War Crimes Trial held in Tokyo in 2000.
A symbolic trial, it found Emperor Hirohito ultimately responsible for the policy by which the Japanese military forced Asian women into sexual slavery during World War II. It convicted other wartime leaders individually of crimes against humanity for their part in what was euphemistically called the “comfort women” system.
Ms. Matsui was in the forefront of efforts to make Japanese school textbooks deal more openly with the realities of World War II. She traveled widely, writing and speaking about women as the victims of armed conflicts and social injustices.
She was born in Kyoto. Her parents, both Christian missionaries, moved to Tokyo after the war to build the Yamate Christian Church in the devastated capital. Ms. Matsui’s funeral was held there Monday, according to Margaret Mitsutani, a member of her Violence Against Women group in Tokyo.
She said Ms. Matsui was survived by her parents and five siblings.
Ms. Matsui worked for Asahi Shimbun, one of Japan’s leading newspapers, for 30 years, starting in the early 1960’s. She reported from Singapore, worked as a senior staff writer and contributed articles on the environment, Asian affairs and women’s issues.
In 1976 she founded Asian Women in Solidarity, a grass-roots organization that grew out of opposition to “sex tourism” conducted for well-heeled visitors to Asia. This in turn led to the establishment in 1995 of the Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Center in Tokyo, which researches women’s issues, publishes a magazine, conducts seminars and sponsors lectures by Asian feminists.
She was the author of “Women in New Asia: From Pain to Power,” published in Britain in 2000 and distributed here by St. Martin’s Press. The Women’s Museum, tentatively set to open in Tokyo in 2006, is to include a library and video archive documenting the fate of “comfort women” and violence against women in conflicts around the world.
According to Ms. Mitsutani, Ms. Matsui was in Afghanistan meeting with Afghan feminists in October when her illness overtook her. She returned to Tokyo where she worked on plans for the women’s museum.
DATE: Wed, 08 Jan 2003 14:32:41 From: Jeannie Manipon <firstname.lastname@example.org> To: email@example.com
Dear APA founding members,
We continue to grieve collectively over the death of one of our founding members, Matsui Yayori from Japan, a dear friend, sister, and comrade. It has been the privilege of APA to have had her as one of our inspiring speakers at the APA Assembly during which she talked about “Hopes and Strategies,” and to have been supported by her. The life she led — one that was dedicated to the pursuit of peace and justice — is a source of inspiration for all of us.
Many of you have sent letters of condolences and recollections about Yayori — thank you for this. For those who of you who would still like to do so, please send them to us soon. (You can send them to Bes from the APA Secretariat : firstname.lastname@example.org). We will collect, compile and send them to our friends in Japan, along with the pledge to be in solidarity with their efforts to raise awareness about Japanese government and Emperor’s role in the history of war and suffering of women in Asia, to seek justice for victims of military sexual slavery, and to support the memorial project which Matsui Yayori started in order to pay tribute to countless struggling women, as an integral part of our work for peace and justice in Asia.
At someone’s request, I also take this occasion to share with you a letter I sent to members of my organization (ARENA) in remembrance of Yayori, who was also one of our members. (see below)
Like everyone else, I received the news about Yayori’s death with shock and infinite sadness. In a telephone conversation with Muto several days before I left for the Philippines (I left on Dec. 21), he mentioned to me that Yayori’s doctor said that she may not make it through the new year, though Yayori did not know about it then. I wept quietly at the ARENA office — it pained me especially that I was let in on a “secret” about her life that she was not even supposed to know about. It was hard to believe that one would be able to keep a “secret truth” hidden from a wise, brave woman like her, especially one who had spent her life fighting to uncover hidden truths about injustices on other women’s lives.
I first met Yayori when I was working for the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and she was the Moderator of the CCA’s International Affairs Committee for a couple of years before I left the job. International affairs work in the CCA had long been a male-dominated field and I was delighted that a woman was appointed, and a woman with a reputation for extraordinary leadership at that.
While our working relationship then was relatively brief (compared to that of other ARENA Fellows who knew Yayori for decades !), there were many unforgettable moments. Together we travelled to Burma to encourage the churches there to work on human rights issues. There, while we visited pagodas in Yangon and talked with young women struggling to uncover HIV-Aids-related issues in the rural communities, Yayori confessed to me her great passion for the Burmese people, how she was acutely pained by Japanese responsibility for their suffering, how she was inspired by their struggles despite the hardships. We spent some time looking for the legendary “Burmese harp” which she could take back with her and in the end it turned out she didn’t have to buy one, as she was presented with a small but beautiful harp as a gift from our hosts. She took great pleasure in it, not only because it was a memorable souvenir but also because it was a thing of beauty.
Despite her hectic schedule, her sense of discipline and dedication to her work (which some people find awe-inspiring and at times intimidating), she took time to appreciate things of beauty. Once she noticed that I seemed to hold back in souvenir shopping, though I kept admiring the beautiful things that Burmese shops offered, and she asked why. I said that in my early years of traveling I collected so many interesting and strange souvenirs that my husband already warned me that if I buy one more “useless” thing to put in the house, he would have it thrown out (you must realize that Hong Kong flats are so tiny that we have to be so space-conscious). Yayori smiled and said, you should have told him that even a simple thing of beauty has its use.
In between our conversations with different kinds of people in Burma, Yayori also shared with me some interesting stories about her own life. How she enjoyed exploring Beijing when she was quite young (when her husband then was stationed there as a diplomat, I think). How she coped, survived, and succeeded as a lone woman journalist for many years in a male dominated news agenecy. She was so full of energy that one time, when I couldn’t keep up with her pace while walking the streets of Yangon, I finally exclaimed to her, “You are so fast — you want to fill every moment of our time with some activity — how do you manage to have such tremendous energy ?” And she said that when she was very young she was very weak and was even bedridden for some time so now she was just making up for lost time.
And as we can see now, looking at all that she has done in her life, Yayori has more than made up for lost time. Time was never her enemy. She broke barriers of time and uncovered truths in the past to bring them back to the present. She gave of her time freely and generously. And even when time seemed to make itself scarce to her, she defied it and created her own time so that she could do so many wonderful things, initiate campaigns, challenge authority, march in the streets, write books, interview people, ride horses, enjoy beautiful things.
Now Yayori is gone. The painful way of looking at it is that in the end, time cheated her, defeated her. On the other hand, when one thinks of all the things she has done — things that many of us perhaps would not be able to do in our own lifetime — and think about all the people she has helped, and all the friends who loved her, then maybe one should instead say that life was generous to her because she herself was so generous.
It was amidst the Christmas holiday frenzy in the Philippines that I received word of Yayori’s death. I could not believe it and up to now I have been trying to grapple with it. Indeed it is the season for saying farewell to the past and welcoming the new year, a season for remembering births and celebrating new life. In my heart I cannot really say goodbye to Yayori — I would like to choose to celebrate her life and believe that her spirit, like that of many others, continues to be with us.
The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in 2002