The author was sent to Japan last year by the Maori Women's Wel-fare League, as conference delegate. Hr lively report shows her experi-ences during the tour.
August The 12th 1958, a gloriously fine day, the time 5 p.m., the place Christchurch International Airport.
I was on my way to Japan to attend the 8th International Conference of the Pan Pacific and South East Asian Women's Association, as a delegate of the Pan Pacific Association of New Zealand and as a representative of the Maori Women's Welfare League. Also on the aircraft were five other delegates, including Dr Moana Gow, the leader of the New Zealand Delegation.
After short stays in Sydney, Darwin and Man-ila, I flew by Viscount to Hong Kong, and here I felt the full impact of West meets East.
Strange to my eyes were the picturesque float-ing restaurants of “Aberdeen,” a most inappro-priate name, where diners may choose the fish they want from huge tanks, and to reach them a trip in a quaint Sampan is necessary.
Hong Kong harbour is a tremendously busy place because of its “free port” status, and large cargo ships can be seen unloading at all times.
A feature of the skyline are the thousands of bamboo poles which protrude from all the win-dows of most apartment houses, and are used as clothes-lines.
Here I had an indefinable feeling that as a Maori I was accepted without reservation by all the Chinese I came in contact with, and the strangeness of being in a country where the dark skinned race are in the majority soon wore off.
Just under two days was spent here, then on to Tokyo, where we received a marvellous welcome from our Japanese hostesses, and from students of the International Christian University where the Conference was to be held. They also held high above their heads a banner saying “Wel-come to the Delegates to the P.P.S.E.A. Con-ference.”
Tokyo is a very modern city, with wide streets and narrow streets, tall buildings and small build-ings, in fact, it is a city of nine million people, and it seems on first sight that everyone of those nine million is hurrying and scurrying through the streets on foot, on bicycles and in motor-cars, but I soon settled down to this seemingly busy existence.
Family stores stay open as long as any mem-ber of the family is awake; the larger stores, however, observe shorter hours.
I must mention here the tremendous size of many of the bigger stores. They tower nine stories high and are probably more than three times as large as our largest store here in New Zealand, and they sell almost everything from safety pins to complete household furnishings.
Now the clothing worn by the Japanese for everyday wear is our western style, and my ever-lasting impression is of thousands of men, women and children, all dressed in pure white shirts and blouses with trousers and skirts in colours complimentary to the bright whiteness. The white-ness just has to be seen to be believed.
The conference was a really strenuous one. There were delegates from 22 countries of whom 11 were voting members. The subject of the con-ference was “The Role of Women in Community Development in the Pacific and South East Asian Countries.” Conference continued for ten days and discussed nutrition, health, co-operatives, population problems and education, in fact all the problems facing the women of the Far East.
The delegates were entertained by the Governor of Tokyo, and at the New Zealand Embassy, as well as by several other important Japanese dignitaries, and on these occasions we made several trips around Tokyo. Most noticeable on these trips, was how use was made of every available piece of land, for growing trees and cultivating small rockeries, but I must say here, that they do not have a riot of colour as we have in our gardens. Rather, colours are unimportant, and natural greens and browns of the many lawns and trees tend to complement each other and present a most attractive and restful picture.
I found the people of Japan really lovely, hospitable and nothing was a trouble to our hostesses. They are most polite and spotlessly clean. Their customs were strange to me, of course, and as an illustration, on my arrival at the dormitory of the University where the conference was being held, I entered and a quiet voice said, “Would you please take off your shoes.” The custom of course, is that shoes worn outside must not be worn inside, and for this purpose slippers are provided for the use of guests, but in my case they were quite inadequate, and actually I could not buy a pair of slippers in Tokyo that would fit me, the Japanese being much smaller than the average New Zealander.
From Tokyo I travelled with a group of delegates to Nikko, a National Park set in the mountains two hours from Tokyo, and an area of great natural beauty, with hot springs similar to Rotorua. I found Nikko an old city which has accepted modernisation but yet retained its ancient heritage as expressed in its magnificent architecture and its many shrines and temples.
From Nikko we moved on to Kyoto in southern Japan. This city was once the capital of Japan, and like Nikko it has a great number of shrines and temples but the architecture is vastly different and the decorations or motifs on the temples were most elaborate. I also visited one of the ancient palaces of the Royal Family, and here there was a beautiful Japanese garden that is indescribable. Paths through this garden are not as we know them, but comprise of stepping stones, and these add to the marvellous beauty that unfolds as one walks through the spacious grounds.
Nara, the cultural centre, a short distance from Kyoto, was next visited, and here I saw something I will never forget. While exploring the Kasuga Shrine which is set in spacious parkland, I saw hundreds of tame deer roaming freely and then a bugle sounded and all these deer flocked together near me, and were fed by hand. They were completely unafraid and stood content at your side.
This was truly a highlight of my Japanese visit.
Osaka, the commercial centre of Japan, was the last city I visited. It is a city of waterways, and could be referred to as the “Venice” of the East.
Royalty could not have been treated better than we were in Osaka. A special fashion display, at the Daimaru department store, of kimonos in the finest of silks, embossed with gold and in designs that were a delight to eyes unaccustomed to such splendour, and valued at more than £200 was specially arranged.
Then we attended a banquet given in our honour by the Governor and the Mayor of Osaka in conjunction with the President of the Osaka Chamber of Commerce, and this was an occasion that will be long remembered.
After visiting the Kanebo cotton fabric factory, one of the largest in Japan, we returned to Tokyo.
With a further two days stay in Tokyo, my Japanese stay came to an end, and joining an aircraft once again I flew back via Bangkok in Thailand.
Brought home forcibly to me here was the way in which the women work; not just menial labour, but work that is normally only done by men. Just near the hotel several old women, probably in their seventies, operated a ferry service across the river, poling their canoes with a vigour that belied their ages.
Once again we experienced that indefinable hospitality that permeates the East, and through friends made we were able to see places that are not usually open to tourists.
Fruit is found on every table. Thailand apparently has about 200 varieties, and without enumerating, those that I tried were delicious.
Three days in Bangkok was really not long enough, but I had to move on.
In Sydney I met my family and after a fortnight's holiday, returned to New Zealand just seven weeks to the day after seeing eight countries and travelling 17,000 miles since I left.