Yoko Ishi was born in Fukuoka, Japan. She is a political activist who has been working as a journalist and artist since 2012. She is the President and her husband Mr. Hidetoshi Ishii, is the Executive Advisor of Free Tibet Fukuoka. A supporter of Tibet, Yoko Ishii is also known to her fans as “Random Yoko” as she started posting videos to YouTube in 2006. In 2011, she won the first YouTube Next Up award and now she has more than 54,000 subscribers.
Excerpt from an interview with Yoko la.
1. As the President of Free Tibet Fukuoka, can you talk to us about your organization? How did the name come about?
Free Tibet Fukuoka is only a couple of years old. My husband and I have been engaged in all these activities against CCP for human rights, freedom, and democracy and we've been working on these issues for years. We work not only on Tibet but also highlight the human rights issues in East Turkestan, southern Mongolia, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
It was the President of SFT Japan who suggested the name, Free Tibet. As we live in Fukuoka prefecture, he said, let’s go with the name Free Tibet Fukuoka. In Japan, there are a lot of supporters for Tibet. Protests often take place in front of the Chinese Embassy in Tokyo.
From an activist's point of view, I think it's important that we raise our voices simultaneously and it means a lot that we do it locally here in Fukuoka. I talk to people from literally all around the world and what I talk about often with friends overseas is that China is every country's problem and that understanding is actually shared beyond the borders of categories like liberals or conservatives.
2. How has HH Dalai Lama influenced you and your organization?
I can’t even describe what His Holiness the Dalai Lama is to us all. I am not even Tibetan but I just feel how great he is and when I see him, I see Tibet and I am really praying for him and his people. When it comes to supporting the activities of Tibet, his existence is very important and great.
My husband and I actually were very fortunate to have an audience with him twice in our life. Once in 2018, when he was visiting my prefecture Fukuoka, we organized an event, and a small number of organizers including my husband and I and were invited to his hotel room and had an audience that was a special moment that I will never forget.
I also visited Dharamsala in 2019 with my husband to participate in the 8th International Conference of Tibetan Support Groups and we were all again fortunate to have an audience with him. He had teaching there and then a small group of each of us got to have the opportunity to see him and that was great. Special moments like that add to our purposes of why we fight for and what we fight for and I really pray for his long life.
3. After the Dalai Lama’s exile into India and the creation of the Tibetan government-in-exile in Dharamshala, Japan continued to take an active interest in the resolution of the issue of Tibet through dialogue. How popular and important do you think the Tibetan cause is in Japan?
Japanese lawmakers have supported Tibet's struggle against Chinese annexation and that is the foundation and that is something that pushes the government. Our parliamentary support group has the biggest number and is the biggest in the world with members from both the governing parties and opposition parties so it's like the entire Japanese National members standing up for the Tibetan people. The idea to form this Tibet support group was mooted during His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Japan.
What is good is that the parliamentary support group helps us to act and help Tibetans concretely. For example, as part of Official Development Assistance our ministry of foreign affairs carried out a construction project of water supplies, storage facilities, and public toilets in Himachal Pradesh in India. The project was completed last year, there was a little bit of delay due to covid and so on but because we have a parliamentary support group like that we can push our government to activities like this and put in a budget and it really helped. I really find that it is very significant.
4. You were part of the protests in front of the consulate-general of China in Fukuoka, Japan, for Global Day in action 2022. Please share your experience of the same.
We organize protests on Tibetan Uprising day. Our protest is against the oppressive regime of the CCP and we stand for Tibetan people and all those who are oppressed from other areas like East Turkestan, Southern Mongolia, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. Now we are in the social media era, where we take the advantage of this digital technology and we make sure that we share it so that our voices are heard. I think that I am lucky to have a certain amount of followers to reach out to people. And also I am connected to the media so that is something I try to make the best of to spread information about what is happening to the Tibetan people.
5. As a representative at the Japan Tibetan Support Group's annual meeting in 2023, can you highlight the five-point resolutions against China, and what were your takeaways from the meeting?
It was the third time the supporters got together annually. What is interesting is that the way people support Tibet is different. It was great that we got to hear what others are up to and we passed a five-point resolution, in which, among other things, the members warned China not to interfere in Tibetan religious matters, including the selection of high Tibetan Lamas, especially the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama. The representatives of the support groups spoke about the groups` activities and condemned the Chinese policy to eradicate Tibetan identity, religion, and culture. They expressed shock and outrage at China’s destruction of religious idols, prayer wheels, and flags and yet claimed authority over the selection of reincarnated Lamas. So that was a great confirmation that we took and it was the first time that we had a resolution. So I think it was a great new step for supporters in Japan.
6. Sikyong Penpa Tsering visited Japan on a week-long official visit from 21 to 27 September 2022. How do you think such visits have aided the Tibetan cause?
Sikyong Penpa Tsering came to Japan last year for the first time. On the first day of his arrival, Sikyong visited the Japanese parliament building at Nagatacho, where Chairman Shimomura Hakubun of the Japanese Parliamentary Support Group for Tibet and the members received and welcomed him. My husband and I participated in the general meeting too where Sikyong spoke and that was great. I saw him attending another meeting as well here at the universities, like gatherings and so on and that was great. The former Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, we had a great relationship with him too.
It's really important that we meet face to face and we got to do that. After the meeting, we got to talk briefly about what we are going to do in the future and that sort of opportunity to talk is such a great opportunity.
And just by him being here, Japanese people learn about how Tibetan people are feeling and what they are going through, and we hear it from him directly is very important.
So his visit played such a big role. I believe that the Parliamentary Support Groups for Tibet of course played a big role. The important thing is that we need to keep working together like this and it's not about doing something one day and you celebrating, but rather we need to continue such activities.
7. Arbitrary Detention of Tibetans in occupied Tibet is one of Tibet's main issues. This is happening in other areas where CCP is committing grave human rights violations too.
Yes, recently my friend in Mongolia who is Mongolian got arrested by his own government Mongolia for the crime of “collaborating with a foreign agency to basically spy against the CCP”, a crime he definitely did not do. He was arrested by his own government because the government is influenced by China and he faced trials and was sentenced to 10 years in prison. He was a writer, poet, journalist, and so on and received high awards, and was very famous.
Yes, things like that happening inside and outside Tibet. It is happening in the so-called democratic countries now too. China ignores all rules and laws.
But I guess that what we can do is just share information about all the cases that are happening in the world and let people know that this is really happening in the modern era. Basically, expansionism and colonization continue to happen in this century. I think raising awareness is key to addressing problems like these.
8. What is your message to the Japanese government about the Tibetan cause and how the Japanese government can support the cause?
Japan is a unique country. We don’t even have laws like the Magnitsky Act and so on, but we are working on them, and it's taking time. What I would push is to continue with more vigor the projects to help Tibetans and benefit Tibet and Tibetan people- projects which are being carried out now aim to benefit the welfare, water, sanitation, and other health projects in Tibetan refugee settlements in Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand. While working in close coordination with parliaments around the world to support the cause of freedom, democracy, rule of law, and human rights, I strongly feel that the issue of Tibet must be brought to the international level.
9. It has been 64 years since Tibetan Uprising Day.
We protested in front of the consulate-general of China in Fukuoka prefecture and it was just a small number of us. I really hope that more Japanese people know about what is happening in Tibet and come out supporting Tibet and openly say that we are with the Tibetan people. I really hope to spread our voices again this year.