It’s been about a year since the pandemic really sank its teeth into our lives. Last spring schools shut down, states of emergency were declared, and in stores toilet paper, masks and hand sanitizer became scarce. We started to stay home and events were cancelled. Members of the Association of Foreign Wives of Japanese were impacted in a variety of ways, from catching covid19, to an increase in stress-levels, to losing loved ones and not being able to see them one last time, to being locked-out of the country they call home and so much more.
Not only did the pandemic affect individual members, it changed the way AFWJ had to function. We had to cancel events, both local and national, including our annual Convention, which is the highlight of the year for many members. Our annual Board meeting was conducted via Zoom, placing more than a wee bit of stress on the Board members who had to figure out the best way to adapt to the new format. We also had to conduct an online Town Hall when tensions were high and everyone’s stress seemed to bubble over in our main Facebook group. However, this is not the first time that AFWJ has faced new challenges, and it probably won’t be the last. As an organization AFWJ adapted to the new norm in a variety of ways.
One highlight of the year was an increased use of Zoom to help our members connect. The best part of AFWJ events on Zoom are the opportunity for members from all over Japan and around the world to meet each other and enjoy each others’ company. Two big Zoom events are held every month. One takes place on Sunday evening Japan-time, so many members around Japan can easily join. The other takes place on Monday morning Japan-time, so it is easier for our overseas members to join, as well as members in Japan who have an easier time joining in the mornings rather than the evenings. All members are welcome to join either, or both of the events each month and stay for as long as they want and move into breakout rooms etc. Feedback reveals that many people are really grateful for and are quite enjoying these fun and informal meetings! There are also smaller Zoom meetings with a specific focus, such as the Book Club Zooms, Pottery Conversations Zooms and Sketch Sprint Zooms. The general Zoom meetings came about from a member initiative called ZEST: Zoom Easy Social Talk, composed of members who came up with the idea for monthly Zooms, organize them, host them and make announcements about them. The other regular Zoom events have also come about from member initiatives.
Thanks to the pandemic and people spending more time at home having less events to go to and things to do, we have seen many new member initiatives in AFWJ recently. I think the biggest project that took place in 2020 was The AFWJ Kitchen, a cookbook focusing on vegetables that was initiated by one member, worked on by a group of members and includes recipes from many members. I have tried a few recipes out and they are delicious! The ebook version was first released only to AFWJ members, but will become available on this website for anyone to download soon (if not already depending on when you are reading this). The cookbook committee is currently working on making a print-on-demand version of The AFWJ Kitchen, so keep an eye out for that to hit the website in 2021. The most heartfelt member initiative has been the Birthday Project, which sends birthday cards to their fellow members of AFWJ. It started with a single member and now there is a team of birthday card senders working to make people’s birthdays a little bit brighter during these lonely days. I know I was certainly delighted to receive my birthday card last year! One more member initiative that I can think of off the top of my head is still in its early days, as a few members have shown an interest in connecting the children of AFWJ members and the ball is just starting to roll on that. I look forward to seeing where it goes and what other member initiatives get started in 2021!
Outdoor AFWJ events became more popular in 2020, thanks to Sars-Cov-2. Things like picnics, hikes, walks, cross-country skiing and other outdoor excursions safely allowed members to meet in-person between pandemic waves. Kanagawa in particular held several fun looking hikes last year. There was also a fundraiser put on by the AFWJ Cycling Group, another member initiative, that raised funds for Heart Tokushima, Smart Supply Vision and bought 11 futons for a charity that was providing assistance to those affected by the flooding in Kumamoto last summer. The virtual cycling event had members cycling individually in various regions, yet together all on the same weekend. A Ride for Charity participants cycled a total of 954 kilometres! I hope these outdoor events and the charitable spirit of AFWJ continues long after the pandemic has subsided.
Even though the covid19 pandemic has forced AFWJ to adapt rather quickly to our new circumstances, thoughts about how to modernize and attract new members have been on our minds for a few years now. This year a new initiative is starting, tentatively called MAP: Modernizing AFWJ Project, which aims to generate new methods to attract members, make AFWJ a more inclusive space, optimize social media use for PR, brainstorm ways to integrate new members and figure out ways to keep members who aren’t online much still feel connected to the group. Who knows what interesting things the modernization project might come up with? I anticipate some big changes coming down the AFWJ pipeline in the next few years.
AFWJ is over 50 years old and has changed a lot since its first luncheon in Tokyo in 1969. Which reminds me, one of our most ambitious member initiative projects began in 2020, DART: the Digitalization of AFWJ Records Team has been working tirelessly to collect AFWJ paraphernalia from throughout its history and is scanning everything and making it available online behind the member wall of this website. Connected to DART is the In Remembrance project, which is a beautiful tribute to AFWJ members who have passed on. AFWJ as an organization is looking toward the future and adapting, but we will always cherish our history.