Japanese to study unions at U.N. body

by Keiko Kimura

Kyodo

A 34-year-old Japanese woman has been tasked with studying cooperative unions’ medical care and welfare businesses in Asian countries, through a position at the International Labor Organization.

“I think connections with people can produce some great power,” said Satoko Horiuch, an official with the Japanese Consumers’ Cooperative Union, in an interview before she left Tokyo to begin her new post.

Horiuchi was dispatched to the Switzerland-headquartered organization in April to support the operation of cooperative unions, which are nonprofit mutual support entities, in Asia for the next two years.

“I’m looking forward to experiencing the culture in Europe,” she said.

She probably never expected to pursue an international career when she entered university. Horiuchi disliked studying English until she took part in a summer language training program in the United States when she was a freshman.

After returning to Japan, she joined an English language club. While enrolled in a graduate program, she visited countries such as Thailand and Cambodia to do research on cooperative unions’ efforts to promote local businesses.

She said she had always felt frustrated at “not being able to return any favors to local people who had supported my research for a long time.”

To repay them for their kindness, Horiuchi flew to the Philippines in 2003 as a member of the Japan International Cooperation Agency’s Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers program.

There, she helped a local association producing sausages turn a profit by better calculating what prices to charge to offset costs.

She said that the job was quite well suited to her as it allowed her to look at what she can do to help others.

In 2007, Horiuchi entered Japan’s cooperative union and took charge of educational training for officials of cooperative organizations in Asia.

Whichever country she visits, she always buys local herbs and spices, as she enjoys making each country’s dishes and invites friends around to try them.