My name is Emily Naomi Okabe, and I am a first-generation Japanese-American. I am currently a 3rd-year student in the Faculty of Law, with a focus on International Peace and Diplomacy. I grew up in Southern California, USA. My favorite quote that has pushed me in making all of my life decisions is “Go for Broke”. I have a passion for human rights and fighting against injustice.
When I was in high school, I used to be the typical Asian overachiever: needing the perfect GPA, maximum AP courses, abundant experience on leadership board positions, tons of community service hours, and results from extracurricular activities. I thought that by getting into the best ranking universities and gaining the ‘best titles’ would be what would define me. I used to push myself in order to be acknowledged and accepted by others and society. And frankly, this was the mindset of 99.9% of people around me. But during the summer of my senior year in high school, I realized that instead of moving along the same path as everyone else, and completing 4 years of what seemed to be as a continuation from middle and high school, I wanted to look for something/somewhere, where I could find my unique potential in life, and grow and develop as an individual. After visiting many universities and colleges, one university stood out to me. And that was Soka University. One day of talking with students and faculty from this university made it obvious that this university was different from all of the other universities. It felt to me as if all of the students had a single unifying pillar in their lives: the will and determination to fulfill ones’ own unique mission in order to contribute to others’ happiness. I knew that by coming to this university, I could truly change as an individual by learning the true value of education and the importance of finding ones’ unique mission in contributing to society.
I think that in our capitalistic world, there is an unspoken definition of success that governs what people address as ‘success’. Coming to this university has allowed me to realize that success is not determined by what others think of me, but how much of an impact I can create in attaining human rights for those who are suffering. I would never have been able to realize such a problem-mindset without coming to Soka University. This university has allowed me to realize my true passions and purpose in life.
I heard you are doing extra-curricular activities outside of the university, what do you do?
I have been focusing a lot of my time on outside extra-curricular activities for the past 1.5 years.
As the goal-creator and President (August 2017- September 2018) of the United Nations Student Association of Japan, I lead my team in a research to understand how the pursuit of market-based economic profit has led to the negligence of basic human rights and how it furthered the many global issues our world is facing today. Our goal was to come up with a proposal and strategy to prevent foreign companies and corporations from exploiting workers in the ASEAN region. As expectations for future economic growth in the ASEAN region rise, I believe that it is necessary to create a futuristic approach to rule out all options for corruption and injustice that could exist, in order to defend the rights and well-being of all ASEAN people.
As the vice-president (August 2017-September 2018) of the 64th International Student Conference, I attempted to create a platform where student leaders from around the globe can gather and proclaim their collective voices against global issues. 75 student delegates from over 20 different countries gathered at our conference, striving to create proposals against pressing global challenges. I believe that my role in this executive committee was to encourage the team to fight for real-world solutions that have the possibility to make actual impacts on our world. With the guiding principle of “Future Global Leaders Illuminating the path towards Absolute World Peace”, I won the support from the Japanese government including the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, and organizations including UNDP and ICAN which allowed us to gain the trust needed to have our voices heard.
I have also been interning at the Human Rights Watch office of Tokyo since January of 2018, where I have been conducting research and advocacy on both domestic and international human rights issues. We are currently dealing with an array of projects including women prisoners’ rights in Japan, transgender rights under the special act law, and research on sanction laws.
I have also recently been recruited and assigned as the Secretary General of the Japan Youth Platform for Sustainability (JYPS) (along with Takashi Fuchigami, a fellow Soka University Student), which is the single uniting platform in Japan gathering the voices of youth and attempting to increase the influence of the voices of Youth in the domestic and global decision-making process.
How do you want to apply your experience with extra-curricular activities for your future?
Right now, my initiatives are still small in terms of impact. I hope to learn from all of the mistakes I make, in order to improve myself, and also to understand the limits of what I am striving towards. However, of course, ceilings are meant to be shattered.
Let’s talk about your selection to the G(irls)20 summit, what made you want to apply to this summit?
As a 1st generation Japanese-American born and raised in the United States by immigrant parents, I possess a special identity that is not fully American or fully Japanese. I grew up learning and living with Japanese values in my home, and with an American education system outside of home. Because I possess such an identity, I am able to see and view things from a completely different perspective. I believed that my initiatives can bring a fresh perspective to the agenda of women and gender equality.
You represented Japan and a Soka University student was selected for the 4th straight year, how does that feel?
I was honestly terrified at first. I wasn’t sure how I was going to live up to everyone’s expectations. Instead of putting pressure onto myself, I shifted my mindset in thinking of it as a great honor being able to take on the name of Soka University to go out into the world, to meet and have dialogue with passionate individuals who are serious about creating a change in the current world system.
How was the summit and what did you learn or experience at the summit?
I had 2 important findings from the summit. First is the importance of taking action. I met published authors, founders of NGOs, poets, journalists, and United Nations interns. All of these amazing young women I met had a clear vision for what they were striving towards. But what made these women different from all of the other people I’ve met, was that they took their vision and created a way for tangible action. They didn’t wait for others to give them permission: these were girls that took matters into their own hands. I learned that no matter how difficult or unattainable something may seem, you should not give up until you have made efforts to attain them. The next finding was that, what seemed to be common sense to me, may not always be the same common sense as someone from another country or background. This has really allowed me to realize the diversity of thoughts, and made it really easy for me to accept different ways of thinking.
What do you want to do after you graduate Soka?
By building the foundation of my life here at Soka University, and learning the philosophy of our founder, I am determined to become a Human Rights Lawyer who can fight back against injustice and become the voice of those who are unheard and forgotten. My mission statement ‘Eradicate all forms of profit made at the expense of peoples’ happiness’ is what I will work towards in life.
After graduating from Soka University, I hope to enter Law School in California, USA and pass the bar exam in order to become a lawyer. This title will help me in my works for Human Rights, enabling my voice to be heard, which will allow me to fight back against bigger injustices and corrupt powers.
You are also an RA for Manyo International dormitory, what are some experiences you are gaining?
As an RA, our mission is to foster the growth of my students and cultivate within them the 3 necessary principles of a global citizen: courage, compassion, and wisdom. Although there are language and cultural differences that may act as barriers, students at Manyo are not afraid to go out of their comfort zone in order to shatter these barriers.
I learn all the time from the students at Manyo, and I am very grateful to be able to spend valuable times with these students, who are striving to become global citizens.
Through this interview, you are very busy person. How do you manage to do all the necessary things?
There are definitely tons of opportunities and things I am missing out on. I think that the most important thing is knowing where to focus your time, and prioritizing what the most important things are. I always put an emphasis on time management and find pleasure in filling up my calendar on an hour-by-hour base (although I know this is a bad thing). However, I do tend to stay up until very late (like 2 or 3 AM), so my goal for this coming year is sleeping early and waking up early.
Message for future Soka University students
I think that the 2 most important methods to develop oneself is going out of your comfort zone and taking action to create the necessary change. Soka University is the ideal place to build the foundation of our lives. Please work earnestly to find your own purpose and mission in life, and start working towards that during your time here at Soka.
Year and Major:
3rd-year Faculty of Law
Flute, Marimba, Music, Photography, Talking with friends, Sleeping, Eating, Dozing-off
The Little Prince
Favorite Place on Campus:
Manyo International Dormitory, Path up towards Global Square from Sodai-mon Gate.