Tomoko Sadahiro "Sako"

Japan: Like lava from a volcano

From her passion for music to meeting Fr. Giussani and choosing to join Memores Domini. Sako from Hiroshima recounts her story.
Paola Ronconi

"During my college years, as a non-practising Buddhist, I knew nothing about Christianity. My only link was having to sing at the Christmas and Easter masses with my choir." That was it for young Tomoko Sadahiro, known as Sako, a student at the Elisabeth University of Music Jesuit university in Hiroshima.

At home, she looked curiously at the art images of the Pietà in the books her father bought. But nothing led her to make the connection between that woman who was so sorrowful over the body of a man, and the man on the crucifix that she saw in many of the university’s lecture rooms. "Then I began a singing class with Uchida Yoichiro, a teacher who was different from others." People in Japan are very reserved about their personal lives; relationships are very formal, and many people are extremely shy. Therefore, "a teacher who goes so far as to introduce their family to a female student is a very rare thing." Professor Uchida had married an Italian woman, Angela, who struggled with the language despite living in Japan for years. "So being together, drinking coffee after class, I would help her and she taught me a little Italian" – the language of music par excellence. "Life here is very stressful," Angela told her one day. "We go to mass to catch our breath. Do you want to come too?” Sako began to go to church and her interest in Christianity and those welcoming people began to grow. This was in the mid-1980s. A CL young group was beginning to form around Angela, who had encountered the movement and Fr. Giussani a decade earlier in Italy.

"'Do not get too involved,' my mother told me, worried about future relationships. In Japan, the wife follows her husband's religion. Being a Christian would have been an obstacle to a Japanese marriage...." But Sako went ahead on that path. Angela and new friends became increasingly important companions. Because of her culture and upbringing, she did not immediately understand their Christian words: "I would hear these friends say, 'Reality is Christ,' but I did not grasp its full meaning." But, little by little, the desire grew within her to belong totally to that experience: she received Baptism on October 13, 1985.

Christianity with those friends was a life to be lived. CL became WIK, an acronym for the Japanese equivalent of “communion with God,” "communion with brothers," and "liberation." Sako continued to follow her passions: music and singing. She thought about starting a family but over time she felt that these desires were fading away, failing to fully satisfy her. "Angela began to tell me about this form of life called Memores Domini. And it struck me. I understood that it was a witnessing of Christ with one's life in the work environment. Is it for me?. I started walking with the feeling of being called in that direction."

There were no other Memores Domini in Japan. So in 1990 she left for Italy. Angela wanted her to meet Fr. Giussani. They showed up outside the Aula Magna before class at the Catholic University in Milan, which is where Fr. Giussani was teaching. Angela stopped Giussani: "There is a Japanese friend who wants to understand what the Memores Domini are." "Bring her to me tomorrow morning at Via Martinengo," he replied. The next day the two talked and Sako came out of that study with a task. In fact, three: "Pray to Our Lady to make your path clear; do School of Community; be faithful to the sacraments."

Back in her country, Sako continued to devote herself to music, organizing operettas, giving singing lessons. She lived forty kilometers from downtown Hiroshima, which is where the church was that offered daily mass at 7 a.m. The task entrusted to her by Giussani was not so immediate. One evening, returning from a concert, she was at a cab stop. Waiting with her was the bishop of Hiroshima, Joseph Misue. They talked. They stayed in touch, and when a couple of months later his “housekeeper” stopped working, Sako was the first candidate for the job. In the bishopric, in addition to the priests' house, there was an apartment for those who worked with the bishop. "It was the opportunity for me." And it was to that house that first Fr. Francesco Ricci, and then later Fr. Ambrogio Pisoni, would go periodically when Giussani sent them to visit the Japanese CL communities.

In 1994, at the end of May, Sako left for Italy with the bishop's permission to live in the Memores Domini house for some time, and to verify if that was her path. "I knew a little Italian thanks to singing, but expressing myself was exhausting," she says. 'I am a 35-year-old woman and I cannot say what I think,' I thought. So frustrating!" There was one thing that struck her: "I often heard those who were accompanying me, like Maria Teresa, talk about ‘faith becoming culture’. Japan and Italy are two totally different worlds, but those words found total harmony in me. Fr. Giussani insisted on the "elementary needs" proper to every man. It was about delving into the depths of my life, my passion for music, to my heart and its questions. And this went beyond the country I came from and its culture."

In 1998, she made another trip to Italy. Step by step, her path became clearer, until her eventual profession in Memores Domini in the summer of 2000.

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Today Sako lives in Hiroshima with Marcia, who is also a Memor Domini originally from Brazil and who spends several months of the year in Japan. She no longer serves as the bishop's housekeeper, but works in an orphanage which came into being thanks to some nuns after the war, and that now takes in children who, for various reasons, have been taken away from their families. "Fr. Giussani's charism is a presence that lives on here through us," Sako concludes, "In this small community of a dozen people. Then again, the heart cannot be contained, it erupts like lava from a volcano, even in the timid Japanese society. The One who fulfills this heart is Christ, who is reality. And I want to keep saying yes to Him."