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Sep 29, 2017 - Winner of The Travel and Peace Essay Contest 2017 Calls on Men to Fight Gender Inequality

The Travel and Peace Essay Contest is an annual essay contest held by Peace Boat. Through this contest, Peace Boat strives to empower young people who want to learn about peace through travel. The contest was judged by former Asahi Newspaper reporter and international journalist ITO Chihiro, and writer KAMATA Satoshi.

An award ceremony for the 12th annual essay contest was held at the Peace Boat Center in Tokyo on Tuesday, September 26th. The award was given to HAKOYAMA Kota, a 23-year-old student currently studying to be a doctor in Hokkaido. During the event, Mr. Hakoyama gave a presentation on the highs and lows of his journey, which he based his essay on. As first place winner of the essay contest, he was awarded with one free ticket for a round-the-globe voyage on Peace Boat.

"Experiencing Pregnancy while Traveling the Globe" by HAKOYAMA Kota

The word Peace always seemed aimless and vague to me. Whenever I heard the word, the image of children's faces came to mind. Children are the one's who will create a better tomorrow, and every child has limitless possibilities. I think a more peaceful world can be realized by supporting children.

A little while ago, I went on a special journey, hoping to change the world for the better in my own small way for children and their mothers. I traveled around the world and asked men I met along my journey to experience what it was like to be pregnant, and tried to inspire them to become caring fathers.

The inspiration for my journey actually came to me in my second year of middle school when a saw a photo at an event. It was at a lecture given by a person who had spent 7 and a half years traveling around the world on a bicycle, and he spoke about different experiences and showed us many photos from his travels. One of those photos was of a boy in Africa. The boy showed off his pearly white teeth through a huge grin, and his dark eyes glistened under the vast blue sky. I often remembered this photo and the way it made me feel. I dreamt that I could go to such a beautiful place.

In my last year of high school, I had to choose what I wanted to do after graduation. I thought becoming a doctor would be perfect, as doctors all around the world were helping and supporting people around them. At that point, my goal was to become a doctor in one of the African countries and make the whole country happy and healthy.

After being accepted to medical school, I joined a student group which focused on international medical aid. Through this group, I became interested in maternal and child healthcare, especially because my mother was a single mother, who had raised three children on her own. I wondered if mothers and children living in poverty stricken countries were suffering, and if there was something I could do to help them. I decided to pursue my dream of traveling around the world.

Three months before my departure, I decided I wanted to do something a little more interesting, something only I could do that would make my journey unique. That was when I decided to bring a 'pregnancy jacket' with me. A 'pregnancy jacket' is a 10kg device that can be attached to one's abdomen to experience what it feels like to be in the final days of a woman's pregnancy. In Japan these jackets can be tried on at hospitals and in some schools. I decided to wear this jacket in different countries and ask men I met along the way to experience the hardships of pregnancy with me. The main objective of my journey was to create a world that is kinder to all mothers.

I put the jacket on and walked around town in different countries around the world. I would greet different men I met, and then show them the translated paper I prepared in advance asking them to try on the jacket. Most men would decline at first, but I would try to persuade them. Once they agreed to try it, I would have them put the jacket on, and then ask them to try walking, picking things up from the floor, and to try to laying down. I would ask them what it was like to experience what pregnant women all around them were going through everyday.

After they experienced the jacket, there was something I would say every time. "Please take care of your babies, your wife, and your mother. Respect women, and be a good father!!"

I ended up traveling to 43 countries during a period of a year and three months, and during this time 1,070 people tried on the jacket. 1 in 3 men that I asked accepted the challenge. The most common reasons that men gave me for not trying it on were that they didn't have enough time, they were not feeling well, or because it was not something a man should do.

In many Islamic countries that I visited including Iran, people told me that "pregnant women and mothers are treated with the utmost respect, as the Koran says they should be treated." When I told people in Japan about this, they always seemed so surprised, which was always a little bit sad.

I spent 4 months in Africa. I realized that my high school dream of making an entire African country happy, came from a mindset in which Africa was a place that needed saving. By traveling to different countries and meeting people, I was able to overcome my bias that I had about Africa. The sky was as vast and as blue as the sky I saw in that photo in middle school.

Traveling around the world really changed the way I see things, and I realized that before trying to change the world, I had to know more about it. I don't have a specific goal in life anymore, but I would like to enjoy the journey that is life. And during this journey, I would like to support children, so that they can go on to create a better tomorrow.

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