Baltimore, MD - Aug. 1, 2019 - After 56 years of handwritten correspondence, I finally met my Japanese pen pal, Kazuyo Iwata, in Tokyo. It all started several years before that when her brother, Hiroo, sent a letter to the School District of Philadelphia that somehow ended up in the hands of my 7th grade English teacher who asked, “Does anyone want a pen pal from Japan?” We all did, but by high school, I was the only one still corresponding. That’s when Kazuyo contacted me and asked if I would write to her as well. She writes beautiful English and is very funny. She is 4 foot nothing and size 2…a cute Japanese doll!
We shared everything: births, deaths, earthquakes, family sagas. I remember once there was an earthquake in Tokyo. I was frantic! In those days there was no internet and no reliable phone connection. I called Western Union and said “Earthquake! Are you ok?” The response came back, “We are fine. Love you too!” We call each other sisters because we are although we have nothing in common- not religion, not language, not culture. Kazuyo is highly respectful of Judaism and our people. Her mom, Mrs. Umezawa, who is 97, has been very much a part of our relationship and calls me “daughter.” I was honored and privileged to meet her and bring my daughter, Shayna Cohn, to meet them. She remembers the birthday presents that Kazuyo sent her.
During the almost 50 years of my teaching career, Kazuyo, her husband, also an English teacher, and I matched up literally hundreds of American-Japanese pen pals. There are friendships that exist beyond the barriers of suspicion and prejudice because of us. We are blessed by that. A long time ago we made a pact to only correspond by handwritten letters and we will continue to do so. I had never heard her voice, but we hugged and it was as if we were always together…my sister!!