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Virginia Hunt Newman International Award

2007 Yoko Yagishita


Yoko Yagishita exemplifies the spirit of the Virginia Hunt Newman Award and the pioneering, innovative spirit of Virginia herself. Both are little dynamos. Both share a special heart for babies. Both share the foresight, intelligence and conviction to foster teaching methods that allow the tiniest swimmers to grow and learn in their aquatic environment in tear-free and positive lessons. Yoko is both the first woman and Asian to receive the Virginia Hunt Newman Award.


Yoko graduated with college degrees from Nihon and Keio Universities. She is a licensed Japan Counseling Association Psychological Counselor.


After college, Yoko traveled through-out the provinces of Japan reporting on national political campaigns. Two of the young men she covered became her friends and eventually served as Prime Ministers of Japan. Under the radio name of Yoko Hamami, she continued her trail-blazing media career as a female disk jockey for Japan National Broadcasting, interviewing John Lennon, Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton and others. However, the birth of her son in 1978 led to a significant career change for Yoko. During her son’s baby swim classes, she realized what a wonderful experience it was to spend precious time with him enjoying the water. In 1980, she decided to train to become a baby swim teacher and received her “Baby Swim Instructor” qualification from the Japan Swimming Club Association. After meeting Virginia Hunt Newman ten years later at the World Aquatic Babies Conference (WABC) in Tokyo, Yoko was inspired to adopted a ”wait until the flower blooms” swimming program, spreading this joyous manner style of teaching in the parent/child group class format. Her tiny students are never forced to perform skills.


At the 1995 WABC Conference in Melbourne, Yoko became so inspired by a video showing smiling babies, above and under the water, that over the next 12 years, she made twelve, two-week trips to the United States to study under the direction of Rob and Kathy McKay’s Lifestyle Swim School in Boca Raton, Florida, to observe and absorb these gentle methods. Only a pupil during the first several years at the McKay’s swim school, she was soon acting as a guest teacher in the United States. To finance the trips, Yoko worked long hours at nights driving a delivery truck and days teaching her baby swim students.


Virginia Hunt Newman’s, gentle approach to swim teaching inspired Yoko to start a new chapter of her life. She became a woman on a mission becoming something wonderful in the lives of children, their parents and the teachers to whom she promoted the gentle, patient approach. She began to realize her dreams. Speaking only several words of English during her first trips to America, she communicated with her smile, playfulness and gentle manner. Nothing stopped her, not even a bout of cancer which she fought and survived with her typical strength and optimistic attitude. Her positive teaching techniques for babies, while also integrating special needs children into her classes, slowly began to spread to clubs and aquatic programs though-out Japan. She combined the best of Western and Eastern technique to make a culture and community of nurture, joy and fun for mothers, fathers and their babies.


Yoko has been featured in many Japanese media, including among others, mothering and baby magazines “Akasugu” and NHK Educational Journal. She has appeared on television’s “Good Morning Japan”. She swims three days per week, practices yoga, and has hiked the Grand Canyon. Yoko is also a licensed antique replica doll maker.


Like Virginia, Yoko is short in stature, but a giant among men and women. She is opening baby swim programs for the Tipness Group of Sports Clubs and has revamped or begun baby swim programs in multiple locations in Tokyo, Nagoya, Osaka, Yokohama and Kanto. She is scheduled to open a new program in the prestigious Tokyo Metropolitan Gymnasium. She has trained over 500 teachers in Japan, creating positive shockwaves through-out the country with many thousands of happy babies and their parents smiling in the water from coast to coast. Yoko has, bravely and against all odds, given voice to those who have no voice, making Virginia Hunt Newman happy to know that her gentle legacy continues above, as well as below, the surface of the water.

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