Biography

Shizue Tomoda was born in Japan in March, 1949, where she lived until 16 when she moved to the United States against the adamant opposition of her parents about her leaving home so early in life.

By the time she began her formal education, Japan was re-emerging from the ashes of total destruction in the war, under new ideals of democracy and gender equality.   However, most adults around her kept their stereotyped expectations of boys and girls, a constant reminder that gender discrimination was still very much part of her society.  She found this extremely stifling.  Against this backdrop, she nurtured her independent spirit:  her strong desire to leave home and Japan as soon as possible and make her way to the U.S. where she thought she would be able to breathe freely, was fulfilled soon after turning 16.

Suddenly having to study in English and make ends meet while going to school were difficult enough, but they were challenges for which she had been prepared from the outset.  She enjoyed her independence and freedom of spirit.  The U.S. was then going through a great social upheaval where its gender, racial/ethnic and religious values were seriously being challenged.  The escalating war in Vietnam also contributed to creating social divisions along political beliefs.   She witnessed the most powerful nation on earth in distress.

Nevertheless, she fully enjoyed her stay in the U.S. where she ended up living for about 10 years, during which she earned a high school diploma in Minneapolis, a B.S. (sociology/political science) from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls, an M.S. (sociology) from the Southern Connecticut State University and an M.A. (social linguistics) from the University of Arizona.

Having left Japan as an adolescent, however, she began to suffer from identity crisis in her early twenties.  She was undeniably a Japanese, but aware that she did not have sufficient knowledge about her native country to claim her nationality with confidence.  This made her increasingly uncomfortable with herself and she was convinced that the only way to overcome that problem was by returning home and re-educating herself close to her roots.

She returned to Japan where she found a teaching job in Tokyo.  Her five-year stint proved an excellent way to develop a clearer self-identity with which she felt more comfortable.  Around this time, she became increasingly interested in labor issues and began attending evening lectures open to the public.  In her fifth year of teaching, she reduced her workload drastically to devote time to studies in labor economics and international labor laws by enrolling in a one-year non-degree graduate program at the International Christian University in Tokyo.  Immediately thereafter, she received an employment offer from the International Labour Office in Geneva, the UN specialized agency promoting social justice in the world of work.

So she was to leave Japan again, this time to become an international civil servant, pursuing a long career with the ILO for 25 years.  Her work required extensive travel to different parts of the world.  She was based in Geneva for many years, but was also on assignment for three-year terms in Jakarta, Indonesia and Colombo, Sri Lanka.  She found her work highly enjoyable and rewarding and derived immense satisfaction and enrichment from all she learned.

For several years after retiring from the ILO, she continued to live in Ferney-Voltaire, a small French town on the Swiss border near Geneva, with her feline companions.  There she enjoyed the magnificent view of Mt. Blanc and other snow-capped mountains in the French Alps from her apartment (see photo in the header) and pursued her interest in creative writing as a member of the Geneva Writers’ Group.   As all her sick and aging cats left her, she returned to her native country after more than 30 years of being abroad, and now enjoys a beautiful view of Mt. Fuji from her apartment in Tokyo.

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