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Readers pay tribute to longtime Japan Times columnist Jean Pearce

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.

The following are some readers’ — and writers’ — tributes to Jean.

The village voice

Hillary Clinton wrote a book titled “It Takes a Village,” based on an African proverb that says it takes a village to raise a child.

I am one of those who was “raised” in Tokyo by so many people, two of the most special being Corky Alexander and Jean Pearce. Our “family home” was the beloved Tokyo American Club.

It was Corky, who founded and edited the original Tokyo Weekender, that helped raise us “Tokyo kids.” Whenever we needed something, Corky was there to put a note in the magazine. I would not have been able to go to college without his support.

It was Jean Pearce’s column we opened to first to find out what was happening and what we needed to know; and if we had an event or something to get out to the community, she always had room for it.

It was in big measure because of people like these that we started The Japan Helpline in 1975, to take care of the international community as we had been taken care of so specially ourselves. The Helpline will turn 42 in September.

When Jean retired in 2000, I went to The Japan Times to try and somehow continue her column and integrate the needs we were working to meet through The Japan Helpline 24 hours a day, which had the ability to reach the international community we serve as we had been growing up.

It was a tough sell, as there was no particular desire to continue such a column, and it took nearly two years, but finally in 2002 we were able to resume it, albeit under a new title — Lifelines.

Later on I took on my dear friend Angela Jeffs and we lovingly carried on Jean’s tradition of providing a place to go to find out what was happening in the international community, as well as important information for daily life.

With a community of nearly 500,000 English-speakers in the Tokyo area, the need is even greater today for what Jean worked so hard to provide for all of us Tokyo kids — a place we could go first to find out what is happening in our community and what we need to know. After all these years, the need remains.

KEN JOSEPH JR.
Tokyo

Determined and kind

I just learned of Jean Pearce’s passing. I was saddened to learn of her death, but glad that she lived such a full and rich life.

I lived in Japan in the 1970s and 1980s in a rural area of Kanagawa. My then-husband and I lived in a former barn which had been converted into a ceramic studio and living space. When we bought a new kiln for our studio, I discovered that even though we’d asked the manufacturer to make certain no asbestos was used, the top surface where the lid of the kiln closed was covered in asbestos.

I became very concerned about our health risks as we used the kiln, especially since our living space was directly connected with the studio. I spent many hours speaking with various local officials about how to safely remove and dispose of the asbestos, but none of them believed that the material was dangerous — much like everyone in Japan back then insisted that smoking cigarettes was completely safe and had no correlation to lung cancer. Eventually the city just told me to pull the asbestos off without worrying about any precautions and to dispose of it with our recycling. Of course, we did no such thing.

Finally, I contacted Jean and asked for her help. She printed my problem in her column and did research on where I could turn for assistance.

Quite frankly, it was so many years ago that I don’t remember her exact response, but I think she ran into as much ignorance as I had while doing her research. If I recall correctly, I think we spoke a few times by phone too — this was before cellphones or email — and she shared her frustrations in trying to get appropriate help or resources for problems like this one. She ultimately encouraged me to look for guidance back home in the U.S., which is what I did.

While Jean was not able to help resolve my problem directly, I do remember how lovely, determined and kind she was. I did not live in an expatriate community and appreciated the direct contact with someone from back home. I always enjoyed reading her column, and I’m sure she helped countless people during the 40 years she lived in Japan.

My heartfelt condolences to her family.

RANDI DONNIS
Boston, Massachusetts

Her advice worked wonders

I was sorry to hear about the death of that wonderful lady.

I wrote to her (self-addressed, stamped envelope enclosed) and received the information that helped me recover the price of a round-the-world ticket from an unscrupulous travel agency. Her advice worked wonders.

That amount would pay for many, many editions of The Japan Times!

Rest from your labors, dear Jean.

JOHN E. BURGER
St. Columbans
Bristol, Rhode Island

Straight down the line

I fondly recall one of Jean’s final columns in 2000 about common-to-Japan traits that she had absorbed during her four decades here — the granddaddy of them all being the habit of pulling out a ruler whenever she needed to underline anything.

After nearly three decades in Japan myself, I still smile in remembrance of Jean when the occasion arises for me to use my own straightedge for some good, clean underlining. May she rest in peace.

MICHAEL HASSETT
Tokyo

Memory is a treasure

I read The Japan Times from the first day I arrived in Japan — June 1, 1975.

In those first days, when there was not one word of Japanese that was intelligible, I found solace in being able to read. Period.

I didn’t just read the paper, I read every word. In the early years it was more than a newspaper to me — it was company. And reading Jean Pearce’s column Getting Things Done was like finding a dependable friend.

But believe me, I thought twice about writing Jean asking for fertility advice when I knew she was accustomed to answering queries about the more mundane. But I did write her. No doubt sensing my exasperation and desperation, she answered immediately and personally, and I was soon able to secure an appointment with an internationally recognized specialist. After one visit with this specialist, I was pregnant with our second child.

Jean and I kept in touch, and in 1979 she told me the paper planned to start a new column titled Living in Japan and readers would be invited to contribute essays about their experiences. Jean knew I’d written essays, and, always supportive and encouraging, she urged me to contribute something.

I sat down to write my essay for “Living in Japan” — Jean had told me it had a 500-word limit — and when I looked up it was 2,000 words. I submitted it anyway. Fortunately for me the paper liked it, asked for photographs and then published my essay, not for that new column but as a Sunday feature article.

I had no other purpose in writing that article than to tell people about the beautiful place where we lived — where we live still — in Tenryu, Shizuoka Prefecture. A place with panoramic views of bamboo groves, terraced rice paddies and rolling green tea bushes. Here the sky stretches to the mountains, outlining the foothills of the southern Japan Alps.

I wanted to tell readers of The Japan Times about the people we were living among, farmers who lived and died in the houses they built from trees cut from their own land, people whose simple lives were carried on in a quiet continuum with the seasons.

I thought readers might like to hear about the time a fox came to nibble at a pumpkin pie I’d baked and put outside to cool, and how when I told this story to my neighbor Oishi-san, she was more curious to know about what I’d done with the pumpkin she’d given me than the part about the fox.

In that essay, I wrote that if you walked in the woods around our old farmhouse, you might be surprised by a bevy of quail, or perhaps one lone mushroom, shooting up from the dark forest floor, ivory white and 20 centimeters tall.

Jean came to that farmhouse for an overnight visit. She wasn’t put off by our rustic lifestyle (no plumbing, wood-heated bath). It was winter, and I remember we kept warm wearing thick hanten (short winter coats), sitting at the sumi hori-kotatsu (charcoal-fired leg warmer), eating from a nabe (pot of stew). And we talked and laughed into the night. Rising early, I was able to introduce Jean to Oishi-san, who continued to remark for years after about Jean’s special smile.

Jean’s visit was always a fond memory, and now that memory is a treasure.

KAREN HILL ANTON
Tenryu, Shizuoka Pref.

Karen Hill Anton wrote for The Japan Times from 1979 to 1999. Her Crossing Cultures column was a popular feature of the paper. The above is an edited excerpt from her upcoming memoir, “All the Colors of the Rainbow.”

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