FUKUSHIMA--The tiny African nation of Rwanda is probably best known for the genocide that raged a quarter of a century ago, its mountain gorillas and even the quality of its coffee.

It was through coffee that I met Marie Louise Towari, who lived through the mass slaughter of Tutsi during the Rwandan Civil War that flared in 1990.

Towari, who is 53 and Rwandan by birth, heads a nonprofit group called "Think About Education in Rwanda," based in this prefectural capital.

After serving a steaming, fragrant cup of coffee, she talked about the genocide, how she escaped and ended up living in Japan, and what she is trying to accomplish in this country.

It emerged that Towari also imports coffee and tea from Rwanda, which she sells at local events and through other means. She sends the proceeds to her far-flung homeland to enable young Rwandans to receive an education.

Towari believes that serving aromatic cups of coffee to Japanese who were affected by the nuclear disaster here in 2011 could serve as a bridge to heal the wounds of the past.

“Both young Rwandans and young Fukushima Prefecture residents have undergone hardships,” she explained, referring to the triple meltdown at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant triggered by the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami disaster. “I want to give them a push so they can join hands someday to share their respective pasts and build a better society toward the future.”

She said she believes that Rwandan coffee can serve as a bridge for that purpose.

Landlocked Rwanda, one of the smallest countries in Africa is only slightly bigger than the Japanese island of Shikoku. Although it is located just south of the Equator, most of the country lies above an elevation of 1,000 meters, so its 12 million people are generally blessed with a moderate climate somewhat like that of Nagano Prefecture in central Japan.

I visited Rwanda in 2016 to learn how the country was faring after the genocide that broke out in April 1994, particularly in the context of this current age of conflict and antagonism in many parts of the world.

The majority Hutu ethnic group in Rwanda was at loggerheads with the minority Tutsi even before the country won independence from Belgium in 1962.

But the bloodshed that was spilled over three months in 1994 was triggered by the assassination of the national president.

Spurred by radio propaganda, including calls to “kill cockroaches,” people used farming tools and other objects in daily use to kill one neighbor after another. It is believed more than 800,000 perished over the course of about 100 days.

Towari is a living witness to those events.

She worked as a dressmaking teacher in the Rwandan capital of Kigali when her ties with the Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers led to the opportunity to study in Japan in April 1993. She did homestays in Sukagawa, Fukushima Prefecture, and elsewhere before she returned to Rwanda in February 1994.

Two months later, the genocide was in full swing. She recalled how her mind went blank when she saw innumerable bodies in a road.

Towari took refuge in neighboring Zaire, today’s Democratic Republic of the Congo, before coming to Japan again in December 1994.

She was living in the city of Fukushima when the Fukushima nuclear disaster hit.

“I saw the ocean for the first time in my life when I visited Ukedo beach in Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, while I was studying in Japan,” she said. “Never did it occur to me that I would no longer be able to go to that area of the ocean.”

She often makes the rounds of temporary housing complexes and other locations across Fukushima Prefecture, where she treats evacuees to cups of Rwandan coffee and tries to share “experiences” with those who invite her in.

“The important thing is never to bear a grudge against what happened in the past,” Towari said. “I believe you have to be living the present properly while at the same time embracing the past as such.”


Museums have been set up across Rwanda to ensure the genocide is not forgotten.

One of them, which stands on the former site of a church where 500 people were locked in and burned alive, has a section covered with photos of children who fell victim to the genocide.

“Which side were you on, the majority ethnic group or the minority group?” I asked Towari over the coffee she had brewed for me.

“I was neither of them,” she answered. “I am Rwandan.”

I took that as a declaration of her resolve to ensure such bloodshed never occurs again.