Published on 17 July 2023
The chair of the North East Japanese Women’s Association Sayoko Smith has been awarded an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Sunderland.
The nomination has been made in recognition of Sayoko’s valued contribution to the region and beyond.
Accepting the award on behalf of all members of the North East Japanese Women’s Association, Sayoko said: “I am honoured to accept this award on behalf of all our members. We have worked tirelessly to give help and support to Japanese women and their families and to help them to quickly and easily make new friends and experience the very best of living in the north-east.
“It is wonderful all of this has been recognised by the University of Sunderland and I am incredibly proud.”
Despite moving to the UK more than 50 years ago from her native Japan - Sayoko Smith never forgot her roots and the values instilled into her by her parents.
Those values were to respect education and the life-long benefits it brings, to always care about others, and the importance of supporting your community.
These values and beliefs she has passed on to her own children, and has always looked for ways to support Japanese people living in the UK, especially in the north-east, which is home to many Japanese companies and families.
In 2007, by chance, Sayoko met five young Japanese ladies in a restaurant who talked about their lives in the region and discussed the idea of forming an association.
As a result, The North East Japanese Women’s Association was born and Sayoko agreed to become its voluntary Chair and lead its development.
The first event in May 2008, a lunch held at Wynyard Hall, drew over 50 people from the across the region.
The Association has since provided a focus for Japanese ladies and their families, enabling them to make the very most of their lives in the north-east.
The Association has also introduced Japanese culture, music, arts, crafts, and events to the region, enjoyed not just by the Japanese communities but by all people across the north-east.
For Sayoko, one of the Association’s proudest achievements was its charitable effort following the earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011. The association provided a focal point for fundraising to support aid and reconstruction on Japan’s north-east coast.
At the end of 2020, after 13 years of leading the Association, Sayoko retired but is still active in its activities.