Last Friday, December 8, 2017, faculty and students celebrated the winners of this year’s Tazuko Ajiro Monane and Noma Reischauer Prizes. The ceremony and reception were co-sponsored by the Japanese Language Program and the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies. The event was well attended with appearances by the Consul General of Japan in Boston, Rokuichiro Michii, who has supported cultural exchange and study for students.
Established in 1991, the Tazuko Ajiro Monane prize recognizes undergraduate students who have demonstrated past achievement and strong potential for future contributions to the study of Japan. Recipients are chosen among undergraduate students who have completed at least 2 years of Japanese, and are currently continuing their study of Japanese at Harvard.
Yuko Kageyama-Hunt, Senior Preceptor in Japanese and Interim Director of the Japanese Language Program, opened the ceremony by introducing this year’s recipient, Zoe Lu. Zoe began studying Japanese at Harvard during her sophomore year and has since progressed rapidly, currently taking 5th year level Japanese in addition to completing her studies in psychology and neurobiology. Kageyama-Hunt praised Zoe’s “extraordinary fluency and eloquence” in the Japanese language as well as her efforts to foster cultural exchange as a member of Harvard Kendo Club. Upon graduation, the senior from Pforzheimer House will head to Tokyo to work at a consulting company where she will certainly make use of her Japanese language skills. In her acceptance speech, delivered in both Japanese and English, Zoe thanked her instructors and the Reischauer Institute for supporting her experiences and internship in Tokyo.
Executive Director of the Reischauer Institute, Gavin Whitelaw, continued the ceremony by introducing the two recipients of the Noma-Reischauer Prize in Japanese Studies. For the past 22 years the Noma-Reischauer Prize has been awarded to the best essays on Japan-related topics written by Harvard students, in honor of Professor Edwin O. Reischauer, who served as Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966. Both a graduate and undergraduate winner are determined after review from
This year’s graduate Noma-Reischauer prize went to Subodhana Wijeyeratne, a fifth year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History focusing on the history of Japanese space science. He is currently on an RI Supplementary Research Grant. Wijeyeratne’s paper “Death Rays to Diesel Engines, Technology Seizure and Collaboration in Occupied Japan, 1945-1952”was born out of documents found during his dissertation research in the Japanese archives, under the guidance of his advisor Professor Ian Miller. The research is not just a technical account of material exchange between Japanese and American scientists, but it also tells an inspiring tale of bridge-building and cultural exchange. He argues that many people, including scientists and translators, found comfort and delight in the shared work and counter flows between Japan and their Western partners, even in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat. In Wijeyeratne’s words, “it gives me hope for what those of us here can accomplish at the best of times.”
The undergraduate Noma-Reischauer prize was awarded to Ashley Steven Asencios ’17 for his undergraduate thesis titled “ Kokusai Kekkon: International Romance in Japan.” Asencios is currently continuing his Japanese language studies at Keio University’s Japanese language program and has the distinct honor of being a former Tazuko Ajiro Monane Prize winner in 2016, as well as, having received many of the grants that the Reischauer Institute offers for undergraduate students.
In his acceptance speech Asencios thanked his advisors Professor Tomiko Yoda and graduate student advisor, Kimberlee Sanders, for their feedback and emotional support while he undertook this rather personal research project. Curious about how people approached race and people of different identities in Japan, Asencios wondered what other representations of international couples he might find in Japan. To answer these questions, Asencios analyzed various media—including television shows, novels, and manga—and conducted interviews with several couples living in Japan. One image of international love includes a foreigner who is “usually white and he’s usually very rich and has a lot of muscles” as an object of desire, but underneath that portrayal he found a great diversity in the real, everyday experiences of international couples.
After the closing of the awards ceremony, guests and students joined in the Japanese Language Program’s end-of-semester party. Participants enjoyed a wide variety of sushi and Japanese snacks before joining in chorus for karaoke.