The International Ladies’ Benevolent Society is scheduling its 2006 Christmas Charity Fair on Nov. 11, from 10 to 2 at the Tokyo American Club. Entrance tickets cost 500 yen and can be purchased from any ILBS member beforehand or at the door.
Co-chairperson of this year’s fair is Fumiko Tottori, who has the experience of having filled this position 15 years ago. Many years on the ILBS board, she has served as its historian and legal officer, and in 1988 was president.
Equable and popular, she has never sought leadership office and has always been persuaded to accept against her will. She dislikes being No. 1 in a group. “No. 2 is all right,” she said.
Born in Tokyo, Tottori spent her early childhood years in Marseilles and London, where her father was consul. French was her first language. She acquired English later, when with her parents she lived in prewar London. Her family returned to Japan at the outbreak of war.
In Japan, Tottori faced the returnee’s difficulties of learning kanji and Japanese history. “Because I had to study Japanese history hard, it became my favorite subject,” she said.
After she married, she moved with her husband to New York, then to London and Paris. “Because of the French language, my husband had a hard time there. For me, after my childhood in France, to go again to Paris was lucky.” Shigejiro Tottori was president of the Mitsui Company in the French capital.
An only child herself, Tottori has an only child, who is now Princess Takamodo. Highly charged, artistic and scholastic, the princess took master’s degrees in archaeology and anthropology from Cambridge University. She studied law in London. Before her marriage to the late Prince Takamodo, she assisted his father, Prince Mikasa, who is respected and famed as a scholar of Middle Eastern culture.
In her overseas postings, Tottori joined in charity work. In Tokyo, she became a member of the International Ladies’ Benevolent Society, “because it worked for charity. It is one of my favorite groups,” she said. In the early postwar years she was moved by the widespread effects of poverty that she saw. She said, “Alone I couldn’t do too much. Belonging to ILBS I felt satisfied that at least I was helping a bit.” She enjoys her membership in several other international groups, “friendly, social groups,” that keep alive her links with America, France and Britain. She appreciates ILBS because it is “completely for charity,” she said.
Tottori used often to go on Christmas visits to some of the institutions assisted by ILBS. Members like to show the organization’s warm-heartedness in personal connections.
“When ILBS was founded, Japan was so poor,” Tottori said. “Now the situation is different, we try to find institutions which do not receive help from the government and really need money. Also, our members include some ambassadresses from countries poorer than Japan, where institutions really need help. We are very careful in choosing homes and institutions to help in other countries.”
The Charity Fair originally was an outlet for institutions aided by ILBS where they could offer their hand-made products. Disabled people rejoiced at having somewhere to sell their goods. The fair expanded as ILBS members contributed beautiful hand-crafted products of their own. In keeping with the season, the fair emphasizes items suitable for gifts and decorations and festivities. It is one of ILBS’ major fund-raising projects, its proceeds earmarked for the support of institutions and organizations providing care for the ill, disabled and unfortunates of all ages in Japan and elsewhere.
A raffle is held in conjunction with the fair. Raffle tickets can be purchased from any ILBS member or at the fair until just before the drawing about noon. Korean Airlines has donated the grand prize of round-trip tickets to Seoul in cooperation with Lotte Hotel. A long list of high-class special prizes includes hotels and restaurants gift certificates, perfumes and jewelry. Heading the list are the gifts of Greek jeweler Ilias Lalaounis. On the last two occasions, this benefactor donated prizes worth 3 million yen to ILBS.
“It’s not the chairperson who makes a successful fair. It’s all the ladies who head different sections and work together and all the ladies who do the work,” Tottori said. “My precious co-chairs this year are Candace Sato and Yuriko Ashida. They are so kind I can be a lazy chairperson.”