On Thursday, December 6, 2018, faculty, students, and staff gathered at the East Asian Languages Program offices to celebrate the awarding of this year’s Tazuko Ajiro Monane and Noma-Reischauer Prizes. Co-sponsored by the Japanese Language Program and the Edwin O. Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, the event was well attended, including an appearance by the Consul General of Japan in Boston, Rokuichiro Michii, who has supported cultural exchange and study for students.
Professor Wesley Jacobsen, serving in the role of moderator, welcomed the participants and began the proceedings by introducing the Monane prize. Established in 1991, the Tazuko Ajiro Monane prize recognizes outstanding undergraduate students who have completed at least two years of Japanese language study at Harvard, demonstrating both past achievements and a strong potential for future contributions to the study of Japan. Jacobsen welcomed this year’s recipient, Westley Cook, to the podium and presented the award. He then gave the floor to Ikue Shingu, Preceptor in Japanese, who said a few words about Westley and his accomplishments in her classes.
Currently a junior and a fifth-year Japanese student, Westley arrived at Harvard having already studied Japanese for two years while doing missionary work in Tokyo. He has returned to Japan several times for work and study since entering Harvard, including embarking on several Reischauer Institute-sponsored internships. Shingu praised Westley for his “enormous talent and potential” for calmly and fluently presenting on a multitude of topics in Japanese, calling him “one of the very best students I have ever taught in my teaching career, in every way.” Westley delivered a brief acceptance speech in both Japanese and English, attributing his success in the language to his teachers and thanking them for their support and encouragement during his time at Harvard.
Next to speak was Dr. Gavin Whitelaw, Executive Director of the Reischauer Institute, who continued the ceremony by expressing his appreciation for the continuing collaboration between the Japanese Language Program and the Reischauer Institute which made the combined award ceremony possible. He added his own praise for Westley Cook, calling him “exemplary” of the Monane prize winners who have “played an active role in connecting Harvard to Japan.” Westley participated in Reischauer Institute-supported summer internships in Japan in both 2017 and 2018, teaching English and leading workshops for Japanese students, as well as becoming the first Harvard undergraduate to intern at Rikuzentakata, a municipality that suffered in Japan’s 2011 natural disasters.
Whitelaw then proceeded to introduce the graduate and undergraduate recipients of the Noma-Reischauer Prize in Japanese Studies. For the past 23 years, the Noma-Reischauer Prize has been awarded to the best essays on Japan-related topics written by Harvard University students. It was created in honor of Professor Edwin O. Reischauer, who served as Ambassador to Japan from 1961 to 1966. Whitelaw also thanked this year’s Noma-Reischauer Committee readers, Dr. David Odo, Director of Student Programs and Research Curator of University Collections Initiatives, Harvard Art Museums; and Professor Merry White (Boston University), RIJS Associate in Research.
The 2018 Graduate Noma-Reischauer prize was awarded to Sara Kang, currently a first-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History, and a 2018 graduate of the RSEA Program. Her PhD research focuses on the national limitations of women's feminist agendas--particularly in Japan and Korea--that continue to be entangled in lingering memories of the Asia-Pacific War. Her Noma-award-winning paper was her MA thesis, Letters from Occupied Women: Gender and Nation in the Occupation of Japan (1945-2017). Her advisor was Professor Andrew Gordon. In her brief statement about the essay, Sara read a moving excerpt about an Occupied Japanese woman’s controversial criticism of her white American neighbors.
The Undergraduate Noma-Reischauer prize was awarded to Jasmine Parmley ‘21, a current sophomore with a concentration in English, for her paper Yokohama Night Clubs as Contact Zones: Mirroring Constructed Racial Divisions and Building National Identity in Postwar Japan. Written as an assignment for the course “America in Japan,” taught by Edwin O. Reischauer Visiting Professor Shunya Yoshimi (University of Tokyo), the paper examined how nightclubs catering to Americans during Occupation affected Japanese culture and social hierarchies. Jasmine’s brief statement on her paper explained that, despite the fact that the nightclubs upheld postwar racial divisions (with the Japanese generally working as musicians and bartenders and Americans as customers), these “contact zones” laid the groundwork for the emergence of a new and uniquely Japanese brand of Jazz music. As a musician herself, Jasmine found herself especially interested in the influence of music on postwar U.S.-Japan relations.
After the closing of the ceremony, faculty, guests, and students joined in the Japanese Language Program’s end-of-semester party. Partygoers enjoyed tea, sushi, and Japanese snacks and appetizers, as well as lively karaoke performances by JLP students and instructors. Several JLP students also entertained partygoers with a talent show where they showcased singing, breakdancing, and even kendō skills.