Japanese, N. Korean children to work for peace through drawings

OSAKA (Kyodo) -- Children in Japan and North Korea will join hands to promote peace together using drawings again this year despite the recently soured relations between the neighboring countries.

A Tokyo-based nongovernmental organization called Relief Campaign Committee for Children, Japan, has organized since 2001 an exhibition of pictures drawn by children from Japan and both North and South Korea, and the 13th such event is slated to start in November.

"Repeated exchanges have led people in North Korea to speak to us about peace, a subject which they had avoided talking about," said Shinji Yoneda, representative of the organizing committee and director of the National Federation of UNESCO Associations in Japan that supports the event.

At the end of August, An Inoue, 11, a fifth grader from Tokyo's Chuo Ward, visited Rungra elementary school in central Pyongyang, along with about 10 students from pro-Pyongyang schools in Japan and members of the organization.

For the upcoming art exhibition, Inoue drew a picture of a girl making a heart shape with her hands, together with a 10-year-old girl in fourth grade at the North Korean elementary school.

"Although we didn't understand each other's language, she helped me a lot and we were able to enjoy painting," Inoue said.

Inoue and the girl smiled at each other, saying, "We should meet again."

During the visit, local students also made speeches about what they thought of a picture book about peace written by a Japanese author.

A 9-year-old boy in third grade said, "I believe peace is something that enables all of us to have enough food and I want to join the Korean People's Army to maintain peace."

Japanese participants listened to his speech without interrupting.

"I want people to know that there are children who simply wish to become friends," Yoneda said.

The Relief Campaign Committee for Children was launched in June 1996 by private groups in Japan, such as the Japan International Volunteer Center, a year after massive floods devastated North Korea, to deliver rice and other emergency food directly to the hands of North Korean citizens.

Yukiko Tsutsui, who engaged in the relief activities back then, together with other members planned an art event with the hope of offering children in Japan and North Korea an opportunity to learn about each other, as they otherwise have no way of doing so given there are no diplomatic ties between the countries.

But the NGO said that schools in Pyongyang initially turned down its request to provide children's pictures, asking "What will you use the pictures for?"

Even after the organization successfully brought back pictures to Japan, some Japanese visitors said they had to wonder if they had actually been drawn by local children themselves as they were too good and looked quite similar to each other.

The event used to be held in Pyongyang as well but has been canceled due to the deterioration in Japan-North Korea relations following Pyongyang's nuclear tests and its firing of what are believed to be missiles, as well as other bilateral issues.

Parents in North Korea were also opposed to the event on the grounds that pictures from Japan, a country that has imposed economic sanctions on North Korea, should not be on the walls.

But some of them have changed and become more cooperative over the last two or three years, according to the organization.

An Ok Bo, principal of Rungra elementary school, said, "I suppose that the parents' impression of Japan must have been changed by their children."

For the last 12 exhibitions, a total of 3,600 children from the three countries have contributed pictures.

The organization's current goal is to resume the exhibition in Pyongyang and increase the number in Japan.

The 13th event is scheduled to be held from November through February next year in such places as Tokyo, Toyonaka in Osaka Prefecture, and the coastal city of Kesennuma in Miyagi Prefecture in northeastern Japan that was hit by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

October 06, 2013(Mainichi Japan)