First Japanese head of UNITAR Hiroshima Office seeks to strengthen training programs

by Daigo Kanezashi, Staff Writer

Mihoko Kumamoto took a walk in Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park soon after taking office in January as the new head of the Hiroshima Office of the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR). Pushing a baby buggy with her one-year-old daughter, she said, “I feel a sense of peace very close to me. It’s a humbling feeling. There are things that can be done only in Hiroshima.” With these words, she reaffirmed the significance of the UNITAR office in a city reconstructed from an atomic bombing.

UNITAR serves as a training center for diplomats and government officials from the member states of the United Nations. Its office in Hiroshima was opened in 2003, at the invitation of Hiroshima Prefecture, and is located in a building which overlooks Peace Memorial Park. Ms. Kumamoto is the first Japanese head of the Hiroshima Office. “I would like to strengthen our ties with the local community,” she said. In addition to improving UNITAR’s training programs on peace building and reconstruction, she plans to organize picture exhibitions and other activities in order to raise awareness of the organization’s work.

Ms. Kumamoto was born in the city of Dazaifu, Fukuoka Prefecture. Since the time she was in junior high school, she studied English diligently, wanting to become a diplomat or pursue an international career. While working for six years at the Kyushu Electric Power Company, she was involved in training those invited from various nations in Asia and became interested in development assistance. After furthering her education in the United States, she joined the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), which lends support to developing nations, in 2001.

At UNDP, Ms. Kumamoto served in five countries, including Indonesia and Samoa, where she offered guidance to governments on measures to counter climate change. “Basically, the United Nations can only provide support from behind, no matter how hard we work. Local human resources are crucial.” Through this work, she grasped the importance of building up the capacity of local players. When she learned that UNITAR was seeking a new head for its Hiroshima Office, she applied.

Ms. Kumamoto’s favorite phrase is “ichigo ichie,” a Japanese saying which means, “For this time only” or “Only once in a lifetime.” She enjoys cooking and going out to eat, and would like to try Hiroshima’s oyster dishes. She lives in Asaminami Ward with her husband, 48, who is American, and her daughter.

(Originally published on January 30, 2014)