by Naveena Bembry
I celebrated 20 years of teaching at Penn Charter by traveling with my daughter Gabi Bembry OPC ’14 across the globe to Japan to explore Quaker connections and the Peace Testimony.
My trip began with a visit to the only Quaker school in Japan: Tokyo Friends School, a junior/senior high school for girls. As we visited classes, met with educators and toured the campus, we discussed our shared experiences being part of a Quaker school community.
We were struck by the common threads stretching across the globe: portraits of William Penn and Benjamin West’s painting of Penn signing a treaty with the Lenni Lenape hang on the walls of both schools; Meeting for Worship gatherings; and the central role that Philadelphia Quakers had in creating both of our institutions. My pre-trip research revealed that the Tokyo Friends School was founded through collaborative efforts between the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and Inazo Nitobe, a scholar from Japan and a Quaker.
I uncovered another fascinating Japan/Philadelphia Quaker connection when I learned that, after World War II, Elizabeth Gray Vining, a Quaker educator from Philadelphia, traveled to Japan at the request of Emperor Hirohito to serve as a tutor to his eldest son, Crown Prince Akihito. Vining published Windows for the Crown Prince, a book chronicling her experiences serving as the private tutor to the crown prince of Japan. She also was a children’s book author; her book Adam of the Road won the Newbery Award in 1943.
After our time in Tokyo, we traveled via bullet train to Hiroshima to visit Peace Memorial Park, which memorializes the people killed and injured in the world’s first nuclear attack, on Aug. 6, 1945. As we walked around the base of the Genbaku Dome, the ruin of the former Prefectural Industrial Promotion Hall, we paused to bear witness to this remarkable symbol of resilience and hope. After the atomic bomb fell on Hiroshima, the Genbaku Dome was the only structure left standing in the hypocenter area. A short distance away was the Sadako statue, draped in the vibrant peace cranes that children around the world have made to remember Sadako Sasaki and the other children who lost their lives.
The museum exhibits provided insight into the tragic events of World War II as well as the way the Japanese people embraced peace and worked passionately to rebuild Hiroshima, Nagasaki and their whole country in the aftermath of the war. The photos, artifacts and video testimonials of survivors gave life and deeper meaning to the pages of the history books I read in school that never seemed to capture the full magnitude of what happened during and after World War II. I look forward to finding ways to bring some of those powerful stories and voices into my classroom so that through authentic global connections we can deepen our understanding of history, conflicts and possibilities for a more peaceful world.