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Each year for 11 years now, Refugees International-Japan has been sponsoring its Art of Dining Exhibition. In this display, participants present highly individual, beautiful and imaginative tabletop settings for viewers’ admiration and inspiration. Proceeds from the event go to RIJ’s programs for the relief of immediate needs and the promotion of self-sufficiency among refugees around the world.

Lydia Gomersall, wife of the British ambassador to Japan, is so impressed with the worth of RIJ that on her return here she volunteered to work with this organization. “I first came across RIJ when I was here last time,” she said. “I worked a little bit on a concert they were sponsoring then. I very much wanted to get back to such a worthwhile charity.”

Gomersall could never have supposed 30 years ago that the life she opened up then would continue to have a defined Japan focus. “I love the country,” she said. “When I first came here in 1970, I hitchhiked all over. I was very lucky to be able to do that. It set me up to understand Japan.”

She was a university student then, and well on her way to educated understanding. At school in Preston, she said, she studied French and German. At university level, she wanted to do a different language. “Of my choices, Japanese seemed to be more a language of the moment,” she said. “I entered the Uni- versity of Sheffield, where Japanese was taught not just as a language, but with a social science as well.” Eventually she graduated with a B.A. in Japanese and sociology, with honors.

Whilst she was still an undergraduate, the call went out to British universities from the British Pavilion at Expo 70 for Japanese-speaking young people to staff the pavilion. “At that time, students in Britain normally had no way of getting here,” she said. “That was a wonderful opportunity. Ten of us came, granted leave of absence for six months.”

At the end of her university studies, Gomersall heard that the director of JETRO in London was looking for an assistant. “That was too good an opportunity to miss,” she said. “The director was an MITI official who was to have a big influence on me. I acted as his eyes and ears on Britain, and the other way round he taught me a lot about Japan. He helped me to come back to Japan, and when I did I stayed with his family for a few weeks.” Gomersall came to be deputy director of the British Export Marketing Center in Tokyo.

Whilst she was here, in 1973 she met the man who became her husband. Now Sir Stephen Gomersall, as a young career diplomat he was completing his language studies in Kamakura. From Japan the two returned to London, setting up home and beginning their family.

After a posting to Washington, with three small children they came again to Tokyo. During that stay, Gomersall worked as project coordinator and assistant editor for The Asiatic Society of Japan.

For four following years in London, Gomersall said: “I was determined to get back into work. I did several part-time jobs at the same time, often fitting them in during the evenings.” She helped the fundraising department for Voluntary Services Overseas. She was a census officer for the Office of Population and Census Studies, and was editor for The Japan Society, London.

Then came the Japan Festival of 1991, for which she was press coordinator. For two following years, she was executive director of the Japan Festival Fund. When her husband was posted for four years to the United Nations in New York, she became director of promotion and publications of The Japan Society, New York.

This time, as ambassadress, Gomersall came to Tokyo in 1999. She put in her call to RIJ, in its office donated by the Shell Group in Japan, and as an efficient organizer volunteered her services.

“RIJ is still entirely voluntary,” she emphasized. “That means that all the money raised goes exactly where it is supposed to go. RIJ is a wonderful band of people, totally dedicated. The non-Japanese ladies come and go, but the Japanese ladies have been giving their voluntary help two or three days a week for years. I am very impressed.”

The Art of Dining Exhibition is scheduled for March 15, from 10:15 a.m. at the Westin Tokyo Hotel, Yebisu Garden Place.

The settings of about 10 tables will present the individuality and color of countries as diverse as Spain and Wales, India and South Africa. The settings of a similar number will show the elegance of Japan as presented by Japanese celebrities.

A donation of 3,000 yen secures admission, payable at the door or in advance through the RIJ office. Tel: (03) 5500-3093; fax: (03) 5500-3094.