Cultural Calling

Cultural Calling

A longtime Connections volunteer explains how a chance conversation at the Club led to an entirely new and rewarding career.

With his son set to depart for college in the fall of 1991, American author Harriett Jackson Brown Jr jotted down more than 500 lessons and maxims he’d yet to impart to his boy.

“Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more,” Brown wrote in his bestselling Life’s Little Instruction Book.

Kazuko Morio may not have leafed through those pages, but she knows that sentiment well.

“Volunteering with Connections changed my life,” she says. “I know it.”

Today, Morio, in her volunteer role as director of Connections’ tours, organizes the group’s lineup of annual excursions. She also leads a series of educational garden walks as part of Connections’ enrichment programs. However, when she first joined the Club, her story resembled that of so many other Members.

“After living in the United States for six years, I moved back to Japan,” says Morio of resettling in Tokyo in 2008. “But just joining the Club didn’t allow me to get to know many people, so I attended a Coffee Connections [event] to meet people.”

Over cups of joe and tea, Morio explained to a Connections (then known as the Women’s Group) board member how she originally worked as a high school teacher in Japan before relocating to Ohio, where she occasionally volunteered in neighborhood schools to introduce children to Japanese history and culture.

The board member wondered if Morio would be interested in doing something similar at the Club.

“I’ve been a tour guide with Connections for more than 10 years now,” Morio says. “I’ve led maybe about 80 different tours.”

That decade of explaining the finer points of Japanese garden design and introducing hidden cultural gems to her fellow Members has done much more than just deepen Morio’s ties to the Club community.

“I began to think that guiding is my calling,” she explains. “To become a professional guide, [I would have to get] a national license, which requires a deep and broad knowledge of everything about Japan, including history, culture, geography, politics and the economy.”

After studying for and passing the Japan Tourism Agency-administered exams, Morio became a national guide-interpreter.

“I retired from my 25-year teaching career and became a professional tour guide,” says Morio. “Now, I work in the travel industry.”

The ongoing pandemic has drastically reduced the number of foreign tour groups she leads, but her work with Connections continues. Just as she felt as a fresh-faced volunteer, Morio remains more than happy to pay it forward.

“Most Members have already visited the most famous sightseeing spots and know a lot about Japanese culture,” she says. “I try to find something new and interesting for them, so it’s always a wonderful time.”

Visit the Tours & Excursions page for details on upcoming tours led by Kazuko Morio.

Words: Owen Ziegler
Top image (Kayo Yamawaki): Kazuko Morio