A passion for the endless task of learning, aiming to eliminate inequalities arising from the accident of birth

University is a place where people thoroughly pursue studies in their specialist field through a variety of day-to-day encounters and activities. It’s easy to say that, but how many people actually manage to put that into practice? There are some students about whom their peers say, “They always engage seriously with their studies.” The theme of Hayato Tamaki’s studies is “What can I do to make this a world in which peace can be shared fairly?” We talked to him about the significance of what he is studying at university and about his future goals.

Hayato Tamaki Second-year student in International Studies Department, Faculty of International Studies Shocked by a video about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict that he had seen in a junior high school class, he developed an interest in conflict issues and peace studies. After starting university, he pursued more in-depth studies focused on resolving such global problems as conflict, violence, and poverty, and in his second year, he joined Professor Megumi Hirayama’s seminar class, which deals with practical means of addressing peacelessness, including refugee issues and conflict. Mr. Tamaki also began studying Arabic in earnest and visited Lebanon and an impoverished region of Egypt on an internship with his seminar class. Until his second year, he was a member of Pocket Cambodia, a volunteer group at the university that supports education in Cambodia. His interests are listening to music and reading.

The incongruity I noticed as a junior high school student

What triggered my interest in peace studies was a video about the Israeli–Palestinian conflict I watched in a junior high school class. We can’t choose the circumstances or country into which we’re born. The reality is that some people can’t live free, properly human lives, as they get caught up in poverty, violence, or conflict, and suffer injuries, just because of an accident of birth. This incongruity distressed me.

I then became painfully aware that it was sheer chance that I was able to live in an environment blessed with peace and that I was complicit in peacelessness. I wondered whether I could do something—not merely out of compassion, but to actually change the reality. What is a fair society? What is true peace? It was a major turning point that led to my future studies.

What do I really want to learn at university?

When I went to high school, I became interested in a wider variety of fields, but when I was ultimately deciding what path to follow, my desire to major in peace studies remained unchanged.

A major factor in this was that my homeroom teacher was a civics, history, and geography teacher, and their classes were primarily based around discussion. We’d discuss topics such as “what is democracy?” and “what is the reasoning behind things that are defined?” Even in subjects with a heavy emphasis on memorizing facts, that are still opportunities to listen to various people’s opinions. I’d thought that history never changed, but then I began to doubt that common assumption. I found it really stimulating.

In particular, my attention was caught by the plight of refugees, beset by conflict and poverty in distant lands that we hear about on the news. I felt greatly drawn to the idea of trying to resolve these issues, wondering whether I might be able to devote my energies to finding fundamental solutions.

I pondered how much of my limited time I could devote to my studies. I thoroughly investigated the subjects that I could study at each university’s schools and departments, and even the content of the lectures and the lecturers teaching them. I wanted to be completely happy with the path I had chosen. That was how I encountered Meiji Gakuin University’s Department of International Studies, which has a peace studies major. I realized that this was the place for me.

Putting pressure on myself! Encounters with peers who can talk frankly with each other

After I started at university, I was overwhelmed by the breadth of this realm of study and by the passion of the students and faculty members alike.

―The Faculty of International Studies opened in 1986, becoming the first faculty of its kind anywhere in Japan, and Meiji Gakuin University has long valued studies and approaches based on looking at things from a global perspective. One distinctive feature is the sheer number of classes involving field surveys in various different countries, aimed at constantly pursuing cutting-edge studies and responding promptly to the dizzying pace of change in world affairs.

As I can be lazy, I’ve learned always to sit in the front row in classes, so as not to miss anything I can possibly absorb. On my days off, I’ve been going to Arabic classes organized by the Egyptian embassy and have also sought to broaden my outlook by attending as many seminars organized by the International Peace Research Institute Meiji Gakuin University (PRIME) as possible.

The reason why I’ve been able to keep up this fulfilling way of life is because this university has the opportunities and environment that enable you to engage with yourself and your studies. Another thing that really makes me feel at home here is the fact there are so many fellow students with whom I can discuss things—even trivial matters—freely, sharing our views and thoughts (and occasionally arguing about them) irrespective of discipline and without feeling embarrassed about showing our greediness to learn.

The deficiencies in myself that I noticed during my internship in Egypt and Lebanon

In the winter vacation of my second year, I went to Egypt and Lebanon on an internship with my seminar class. In Egypt, we visited Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development, which has an attached eco-village. While we were there, we undertook a study of the local nutritional environment and Japanese-style education. In Lebanon, we visited an accommodation facility for Japanese people working for the Red Cross and a volunteer ambulance crew dispatch base run by the Lebanese Red Cross. This gave us the opportunity to talk face to face with front-line staff about their activities and the state of the conflict on the ground.

Before going there, we spent about three months refining the questions on the questionnaire we were to use for the survey and then translating it into Arabic. Between liaising with the people over there, carrying out preliminary studies, and self-study, all of us in the seminar class were really busy. Nevertheless, once we actually got out there and I saw the reality with my own eyes and experienced it for myself, I became painfully aware that I hadn’t done nearly enough.

Things were different from what I’d expected. Our survey didn’t go as planned. I learned so many lessons and felt as though I’d brought a whole load of challenges back home with me. In addition, protests by the Lebanese democracy movement were taking place around the time of our visit and were big enough to affect our itinerary. Roads in the city were closed and the military was deployed, and we even saw broken glass just left lying in the street. These scenes would have been unimaginable in Japan. But it did give me a very real appreciation of the fact that these things aren’t happening in some far-off world. And when I think about the fact that the only reason I hadn’t experienced them myself was the sheer accident of my being Japanese, I can truly feel how asymmetrical the world is. Despite the fact that everyone has a fair right to peace. Of course, there are things one could say about Japan.

Right now, I’m writing my report, but I’m filled with the awareness that I really don’t have enough of the knowledge and thinking ability required. I’m determined not to waste the opportunity when I next go out into the field. And so, I’m going to continue studying hard every day.

Becoming someone who is truly needed

Many things become apparent when you go out into the field. I don’t yet have a clear picture of what I want to do in the future, but I do strongly feel that I want to work in a place where there are few people addressing its needs or where the current activities are not sustainable. We talk about conflict and poverty, but these terms encompass a diverse array of structures. I think it’s important not to forget that. Currently, assistance is not reaching those most in need. My goal is to work in the field somewhere like that, where there are real needs that people just aren’t spotting.

I’m still very inexperienced and there are many things that I want to and ought to learn. Whatever happens, I want to get out into the field in as many places as possible to build up experience, both within Japan and overseas. And I hope I can contribute in some way, however small, to creating a peaceful society in which not only I, but also everyone else can pursue their dreams equally.