Japan: Yukika Sohma

I found a gold mine in the hearts of the Japanese people."

— Yukika Sohma

Yukika Sohma, known for her power to mobilize the moral and spiritual strength of the citizens of Japan, founded the country's first nongovernment relief organization to aid refugees. The daughter of Yukio Ozaki, the father of Japanese parliamentary democracy, Yukika called upon each citizen of Japan to give one yen to help Indochinese refugees in the late 1970s, thus beginning her life's work. Today called the Association for Aid and Relief, her organization was largely responsible for the Japanese government's decision to sign the international treaty to ban landmines.

The Japanese are cold and uncaring. That was the reputation they had gained in the late 1970s, but growing up, Yukika Sohma watched her parents model a behavior that was anything but cold. Her father, who served in the Japanese Parliament for 63 years (a world record for parliamentary service), spent a lifetime opposing war. As mayor of Tokyo, he presented Washington D.C. with its cherry trees, as a gesture of gratitude to President Roosevelt, who had initiated the peace talks that ended the Russo-Japanese War. But at a time when refugees were pouring out of Cambodia, Yukika knew that her country was doing nothing to help. With faith that Japanese needed only to be asked to show that they had big hearts, she asked. "If every Japanese gives one yen we will have 120 million yen, over one million US dollars," she said. Money and checks poured in, and in less than four months she had reached her target. And so was born Japan's first private refugee relief organization, the Association to Aid Indochinese Refugees. Yukika continued to ask, and the Japanese continued to give. When she found that Cambodian refugees needed housing, she launched a second appeal with the theme: "Don't you want a second house-in Cambodia?" When a period of intense cold hit Southeast Asia, she asked for 1000 tons of clothing. She broadened the scope of the organization, changing its name in 1984 to Association for Aid and Relief. She ignited a spirit of altruism that resulted in worldwide efforts, particularly in Africa. Her organization built libraries, dug wells, and initiated campaigns to buy blankets and send milk and water. In 1991, the fall of the Soviet Union created a new flow of refugees, and she mobilized volunteers to work in Croatia, Serbia-Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Macedonia to give medical aid, mental care, artificial limbs, and wheelchairs.

Association for Aid and Relief Japan-The Republic of Korea Women's Friendship Association Ozaki Memorial Foundation