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Tributes to Jean Pearce, who shaped the foreign community’s experience of Japan

Jean Pearce, who for decades helped Japan’s foreign community feel more at home in their adopted country through her Readers’ Exchange and Getting Things Done columns in The Japan Times, passed away peacefully on June 14 at the age of 96 in Washington, D.C.

An obituary written by Jean’s son Laer is posted here.

Lifelines columnist Louise George Kittaka’s tribute to Jean Pearce can be found here.

Here are some other tributes from former and present Japan residents that knew this remarkable woman.

Source of help and friendship

I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of Jean Pearce last month in Washington. Jean was a good friend to both my wife, Joan, and me, and she played an important role in making our three years in Tokyo so interesting and enjoyable.

When Joan and I arrived in Tokyo in 1993, we of course had no first-hand experience of living in Japan and very few contacts and friends. Jean Pearce was one of the first resident Americans to reach out to us, offering her friendship, her near-infinite knowledge of the city, and suggestions on interesting things to see and do and interesting people to know.

More important than the help and friendship she extended to us is the tremendous contribution she made over many years to the lives of thousands of expats living in Tokyo. Jean’s column in The Japan Times eased the daily lives of newcomers and opened many windows into Japanese society. Jean’s numerous books on the local scene made an immense contribution to the foreign community’s knowledge and enjoyment of Japan.

When Jean left Japan in the summer of 2000 after 40 years in Japan, she gave up her column of 36 years. I am sure Tokyo has not been the same since. We will miss her.

I would like to add a word in remembrance of Bill Sherman, Jean’s husband of 17 years who died on July 2, only a few weeks after Jean’s death. When I was nominated by President Bill Clinton in 1993 to go to Japan, I sought out the best and brightest of Japan experts, both in and out of government.

Bill Sherman, who had served as Ambassador Mike Mansfield’s deputy chief of mission and held many other high positions, was near the top of this list. Bill gave me invaluable advice, not only about Japan and U.S.-Japan relations, but about the intricacies of the State Department and the embassy in Tokyo.

Even with this brief exposure, I recognized that Bill Sherman was a consummate public servant and remarkable human being. If Jean Pearce had to leave Japan, I believe marrying Bill Sherman was an excellent reason to do so.

WALTER F. MONDALE
U.S. Ambassador to Japan, 1993-96

Missed by friends and fans

Jean Pearce was a dear friend and a journalist whose knowledge of Japan was widely respected by those who were privileged to know her and/or to read her column.

Having had the chance to do both, I can say from personal experience how much she will be missed by her friends and her fans. She was a great lady.

MICHAEL ARMACOST
U.S. Ambassador to Japan, 1989-93

Finding love again at 80

Jean Pearce, whom I came to know when I lived in Japan for three years, was a really good friend. She had a great sense of humor and perspective on the world, and was a really kind and thoughtful person.

What I most remember about Jean was her getting married. She came to lunch one Saturday after staying a month at Leisure World in California near her son. I learned that she felt that at 80 years of age she should retire. She had also spent a month in Hawaii renting an apartment near her other son. She was in despair. She did not feel comfortable living near either son. I sympathized but didn’t know what to suggest.

A week later she came to reception at the embassy and told me she had resolved her dilemma and was going to live in Reston, Virginia, with Bill Sherman. She was very pleased with the idea and said Bill was coming to Japan to help her pack and move. She told me that she had had an email correspondence for several years with Bill and that when she was out of touch with him during the month she was at Leisure World he became very upset and suggested she move to Reston and live with him instead.

Sure enough, Bill came to Tokyo to help Jean move. I got a call from Jean one day when I was at work and she said Bill had insisted that they get married, and they wanted to do so in my husband Tom’s office at the chancellery. Tom was out of town so someone got a high-ranking U.S. official for the ceremony and Bill and Jean came for lunch afterwards at the residence. As I recall, the cook produced a small wedding cake.

Jean and Bill went back to Reston, sold the house there and bought a beautiful apartment overlooking the Potomac. Unfortunately, it had stairs and they moved again a few years later to a one-story apartment building and later to assisted living.

They were such a perfect couple. It’s so sad to think they are no longer living. They looked after each other so well.

HEATHER S. FOLEY
wife of Thomas F. Foley, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, 1997-2001

Truly Japan’s national treasure

I send deepest condolences. Jean’s column served as my guide and counselor on all matters related to living in and enjoying Japan. She had an uncanny knack of anticipating and answering my questions before I had even articulated them.

If Jean had been a citizen of Japan, she would have been a contender for the honor of being designated a National Living Treasure.

GEORGE R. PACKARD
President, U.S.-Japan Foundation

A best friend, a great legacy

Jean was my best friend in Tokyo. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one that felt that way.

She was also a star, recognized wherever she went for her books, lectures and columns that helped readers better understand and enjoy life in Japan.

We could always count on each other to be ready to explore some aspect of Japanese culture, whether ringing a temple bell on New Year’s Eve or visiting poet Matsuo Basho’s hut beside the Sumida River.

I remember one summer evening when we visited the cricket sellers at a distant park. As we walked, we could hear the crickets singing long before we reached the vendors’ stalls. Of course, we couldn’t resist buying a cricket and a little bamboo cage.

Such were the small and large delights of friendship. Jean leaves an important legacy behind.

KRISTEN DEMING
wife of Rust Deming, Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, 1993-1997

Jean made Tokyo come alive

Jean Pearce made Tokyo come alive for generations of foreign residents. She was an adventurer, an explorer who loved to find the most unusual nooks and crannies and make them accessible to foreigners who spoke every language except Japanese.

In her Japan Times columns and her books, she gave detailed descriptions of shitamachi (downtown) neighborhoods, obscure shrines, unique craft shops, nearby restaurants — including one in Sanya she took us to that specialized in sakura-niku (horse meat). All of these were easily accessible by the Yamanote Line or the subway.

Jean loved Tokyo and wanted foreigners to feel at home in Japan and freely answered questions about living in Tokyo — where to shop, where to eat, what some strange custom meant. She especially liked o-Shōgatsu, the New Year’s season, which is special in Japan, and held intimate New Year’s Eve soirees in her small apartment followed by a pilgrimage to the nearest temple or shrine.

Jean opened windows to the pleasures of participating in everyday life in Japan and made living in Tokyo an adventure for all.

WILLIAM BREER
Deputy Chief of Mission, U.S. Embassy, Tokyo, 1989-93

The last couple of years of Jean Pearce’s columns are archived on the JT website: www.japantimes.co.jp/author/int-jean_pearce. If you have a story about how Jean helped you get things done in Japan, please let us know. Is there a particular column you remember that you’d like us to track down and reprint? As always, please send all your comments and questions on any issue related to life in Japan to Lifelines at lifelines@japantimes.co.jp.