Maki Uchiyama’s (graduate of the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University) actual experience in Afghanistan was used in a question on the Japanese language section of the 2012 entrance examination to Chiba Prefecture Konodai Girls’ Junior High School.
The question was taken from part of an article written by Ms. Uchiyama and posted in 4 installments from June to July in the From the World’s Streets feature of the Too Nippo Newspaper.
The Too Nippo Newspaper is a major regional newspaper in Ms. Uchiyama’s birthplace of Aomori Prefecture. In the March 9th issue, the society section featured an article with the title “Article from Too Nippo used in examination for private school in Chiba: Testing the ability to read and process information.”
Bombs falling in Afghanistan and snow falling in Tokyo
In the past, Ms. Uchiyama had been deployed to an agricultural project in Jalal-Abad as an expert with the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency). The goal of the project was to increase domestic production of rice, which is the second staple food of Afghanistan. Together with 2 agricultural experts, Ms. Uchiyama went to Jalal-Abad as the project manager.
The project site was located immediately next to the caves where Osama bin Laden was said to have been hiding immediately after the September 11th terrorist attacks. Since the site was close to the hideout for anti-government forces, terrorist bombings occurred throughout the area on a daily basis.
“Our Afghan staff members would sometimes be late to work because the roads were closed due to terrorist attacks. They faced such danger like someone in Aomori Prefecture would deal with traffic caused by a snowy road. I remember being amused at how just a little snowfall would cause people in Tokyo to panic. In the same way, I’m sure that people living in Jalal-Abad were amused at how we outsiders would panic at just a little explosion.”
While puzzling over cultural differences with Japan, Ms. Uchiyama uses plain language to write her true feelings on the daily life of Afghans living in the war zone.
The junior high school teacher who selected Ms. Uchiyama’s writing has stated that the article contains the perfect mix of explanatory writing and the author’s personal impressions, thus making it appropriate subject matter for an examination question. However, more than anything else, the teacher wanted students seeking to enter a girl’s junior high school to learn that women are performing globally while facing a variety of challenges. This was the ultimate reason that Ms. Uchiyama’s article was selected.
“I have never considered myself a good writer, not even once,” says Ms. Uchiyama in response to such praise. “However, if my writing has been evaluated as such, then it must be due to what I learned from Professor Masujima.”
A lifelong treasure: Meeting Professor Masujima
After learning that an excerpt from her article would be used in the entrance examination, the first person that Ms. Uchiyama told was Professor Toshiyuki Masujima, who instructed her at the Faculty of Policy Studies and Chuo University Graduate School. Prior to interviewing Ms. Uchiyama, I had read a record of her experiences in Malawi. In that record, she often referred to Professor Masujima.
“When I see people in the (Malawi) village writing, I recall my days as a student (Malawi has a low literacy rate). I was enrolled in Professor Masujima’s seminar and each student was required to submit a report during the seminar every week. One time, after spending a week goofing off, I hurriedly wrote a report immediately before the seminar. I had no time to check what I had written and I was scolded by Professor Masujima for submitting such a poor report. I flinched under the sharp questions that I was asked by the professor. (Omitted) Even today, I see Professor Masujima’s face in my mind when writing something. When I submitted reports to the professor, he would point out my mistakes; however, there is no one to offer me such advice now. Therefore, I now think of Professor Masujima when I am writing. I write with a healthy sense of nervousness, thinking that I must not allow any sloppily written material to be seen by the professor. Meeting Professor Masujima was a lifelong treasure for me. Through writing, I feel like I can always be near the professor.”
“Keep searching and moving”—My teacher’s motto has become my own
Today, Ms. Uchiyama possesses a powerful writing ability. Her writing focuses only on actual issues such as support for refugees returning to their home, education for avoiding landmines, media support for building peace, health education for PTAs/school officials related to the construction of elementary schools in developing countries, and creation of a master plan for oil-related disaster countermeasures. When meeting Ms. Uchiyama, she exudes an aura of non-complacency and the temperament of a soldier.
“At my current job, I can only work within the framework of Japanese safety standards. 3 security guards are assigned to protect a single person and we are forbidden from going outside when there is danger in the town. We have to stay holed up inside forever. Due to such safety precautions, we aren’t able to go to truly dangerous places. However, I want to go where people are actually in peril. I want to encounter and save people who are walking the line between life and death.”
Ms. Uchiyama’s former teacher Professor Masujima had the motto of “keep searching and moving.” At some point in time, this motto became Ms. Uchiyama’s personal goal. Just as she always remembers Professor Masujima’s face when writing, her teacher’s words have become a guiding philosophy for her life and quietly imbue her with courage.
Ever since she was a small child, Ms. Uchiyama has been interested in people living overseas. When she was a high school student, she saw a television program on the activities of Doctors Without Borders in Sarajevo. The sight of the doctors filled her with the strong desire to someday work in international cooperation. Although she first aimed to enter medical school, she later decided to study organizations from public administration and decided to enter the Faculty of Policy Studies at Chuo University.
“I wanted to study government policy and administration in order to save people through a method different from doctor’s. I feel that there must be a method for helping people through such fields.”
Ms. Uchiyama wears no makeup and projects a strong, simple aura. She is a daring soldier who has continued to search and move.
“I will never be satisfied with my current self. I will always continue to seek and move.” Ms. Uchiyama continues to strive forward to an unseen goal.
Ms. Maki Uchiyama
Born in Aomori Prefecture in 1978. Graduated from the Faculty of Policy Studies, Chuo University in 2002. Completed studies at the Graduate School of Policy Studies, Chuo University. Throughout undergraduate and graduate school, a member of Professor Toshiyuki Masujima’s seminar in public administration (Professor Masujima reached mandatory retirement age in 2006). In 2003, spent 4 months in Ethiopia through the JICA internship program and the international internships program/scholarship grant of the Faculty of Policy Studies. Traveled to about 20 countries during her time at university. From 2005, spent 2 years in Malawi as a member of an AIDS control team which was part of the JICA (Japan) Overseas Cooperation Volunteers. Afterwards, worked in South Sudan as part of an NGO and stayed in Afghanistan as a JICA expert. From 2011 to the present, assumed her current position in the International Division of Yachiyo Engineering Co., Ltd.