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First Area Conference of LLL Japan: On Stage and Behind the Scenes

Naomi Kuwahara
Osaka Japan
Toshi Jolliffe
Heisdorf Luxembourg
From: LEAVEN, Vol. 43 No. 2, April-May-June 2007, pp. 38-39

Email travels around the world almost instantly. Although it has become extremely easy to communicate with Leaders on the other side of the world, the actual geographic distance is the same. Some Leaders need more than a day to travel to attend LLLI Conferences in the USA.

As airfare became more reasonable, some Japanese Leaders started attending LLLI Conferences. They were impressed to see the global nature of our organization and how much a Conference could energize Leaders. They passed on their excitement to Leaders back in Japan. As the years went by, more and more Japanese Leaders wished to organize a Conference in Japan. The first Area Conference of LLL Japan was thus held in Tokyo on August 26-27, 2006.

When the idea first came up, many questions arose. It seemed as though we had to start from scratch. However, those who had been to LLLI Conferences explained how things were organized. Many vague ideas began to take shape, and we set up the Conference team, which soon split into smaller working groups.

We were thrilled when somebody suggested inviting one of the Founders, Marian Tompson. We were fortunate to have a chance to talk with Marian at the 2005 LLLI Conference in Washington DC, USA. She was delighted with our invitation, and the news spread rapidly: Marian was coming to Japan!

The Program and Nametags

Two time-consuming tasks were preparing the Conference program and the nametags. Rieko Sannomiya (LLL Takasaki, Japan) created nametags that were almost identical to those used at LLLI Conferences. Yuko Omodaka (LLL Toyama, Japan) was an excellent coordinator of the bilingual program. By the time the program and nametags became available, the Conference team felt ready for the big day.

Sessions and Translations

Marian's session entitled "50 Years of La Leche League" was very inspiring and we were fascinated to hear how LLL started, expanded, and spread. A little gathering at Wilder Park in Elmhurst, Illinois, USA half a century ago has grown into a global organization reaching all the way to the other side of the Pacific.

Some sessions focused on medical subjects such as "HIV and Breastfeeding," and others on mothering and breastfeeding topics such as "Not Enough Milk? -- What Should I Do?" There were two symposium sessions with lively discussions among the audience: "Mothering Through Breastfeeding, from Babies to Teens" and "Thoughts about Weaning." One session was for mothers interested in leadership. Bilingual Leaders served as translators at some of the sessions. With a limited number of bilingual Leaders, not all sessions could offer translation. This is something we plan to discuss with a view to improvement in the future.

Leaders' Day

LLLI has traditionally held the International Mastery Symposium at an international Conference. That gave us the idea of organizing a Leaders' Day. Marcia Lutostanski, Vice Chairman of the Board of Directors, introduced Purpose and Principles to Japanese Leaders. Iona Macnab, Regional Administrator of Leaders for Africa, Asia, and the Middle East (AAME), offered an inspirational session entitled "Our LLL Galaxy" with a beautiful presentation that included pictures.

Accommodations and "Public Bath"

The Conference center was owned by the government. LLL Japan was responsible for booking and arranging rooms. Sagami Tokita (LLL Ogaki, Japan) coordinated everything about accommodations and her daughters, Momoka (12) and Ayaka (10), helped as little "secretaries." The center had a public bath (ofuro), which is very common in Japan. A Japanese ofuro looks like a large sauna with a big bathtub. People undress in the changing room and go into the ofuro. Water outlets are set on the wall and they wash themselves before getting into the big bathtub.

The Conference attendees as well as other customers of the center used the ofuro, and men and women were separated. The Conference team never wondered about the idea during the preparation until a bilingual Leader mentioned one day: Leaders from overseas and guest speakers might not be so keen on the idea of being naked in front of other people. Luckily, we were able to book a few single rooms with a bathroom just in case.

There is a very heart-warming story about the ofuro: A mother who was sharing a dormitory room had a high-need baby who often cried at night. As you can imagine, other babies also woke up and cried. When a guest speaker, Marcia Lutostanski, heard about it, she kindly offered her single room to this mother with the wakeful baby and moved to the shared room with the other mothers. Marcia happily joined us in the ofuro and LLL Japan was so grateful for her kindness.

Conference for Children

LLL always welcomes families, and mothers and babies stay together. This is particularly true in our culture. On the first day of the Conference, 268 people brought 228 children! Yuko Ikarashi (LLL Totsuka, Japan) organized activities for them. She considered it her mission to demonstrate LLL philosophy in the way LLL Japan cared for children. Leaders' teenage children also helped. Joshua Mather (18) and David Mather (15) were excellent bilingual facilitators for games and exercises for younger children on Leaders' Day. Manami Hongo (16), born in the USA, organized a walk-about tour for older children. After the Conference, she submitted to her school an essay about what LLL means to her. Manami recalled:

I used to live in the USA. Ever since I was a baby -- and according to my mother, even before then, when she was pregnant with me -- I have attended many LLL Conferences. LLL has been part of my life. As far as I remember, I have never been separated from my mother or had to cry for her at Conferences. I was always happy, surrounded by a warm atmosphere.

New Leaders Ceremony

We organized the New Leaders Ceremony, and 17 newly accredited Leaders in the previous year were up on the stage to receive presents and big hugs from Marian Tompson and Esmé Nel, the Regional Administrator of Leader Accreditation for AAME. Right before the Conference, the Leader Accreditation Department of Japan had been extremely busy because no fewer than seven of the 17 Leaders had been accredited in the previous month. They had all worked energetically on their applications in order to attend the Conference as LLL Leaders. This was an added bonus of the Conference!

Experienced Leaders Ceremony

The LLLI Alumnae Association organizes at LLLI Conferences an event to commemorate the contribution of experienced Leaders. This inspired us to do something similar so that those who cannot travel to the USA could be recognized. Following the new Leaders Ceremony, we held the Experienced Leaders' Recognition Ceremony. According to the number of years served (10, 15, or 20 years), the Leaders received an LLLI badge and big hugs from Iona and Marcia. These two ceremonies were among the happiest memories for many Leaders attending the Conference.

We have learned that it is never too early to plan and prepare for a Conference. Some of our plans worked out very satisfactorily. And there were things that could have been handled more effectively.

At the end of the three busy days in Tokyo, LLL Japan held the first staff meeting for the 2008 Area Conference. While memories were fresh, we discussed possible improvements. It seems that our first Area Conference has provided a solid foundation for the second one and many more to follow in the future. Just as the 2005 LLLI Conference in Washington DC was a great opportunity for Japanese Leaders to collect information, LLL Japan is now eager to learn more about Conferences at the 2007 LLLI Conference in Chicago, Illinois, USA this July.

We look forward to seeing many Leaders there and some of you in Tokyo next year!

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