2020 Tazuko Ajiro Monane and Noma-Reischauer Prize Winners Announced

December 11, 2020

On Monday, December 7, 2020, faculty, students, families, and staff attended a Zoom gathering 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 virtual event was well attended. To accommodate those joining from other countries, the ceremony was held at nine in the morning--meaning attendees in Japan would likely head to bed after the ceremony ended, close to midnight in their time zone.

whitelaw smiles in front of a framed piece of Japanese calligraphy
Dr. Whitelaw welcomes participants to the virtual ceremony.
Dr. Gavin Whitelaw, Executive Director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, acted as moderator, welcoming the far-flung participants: ”Good morning, good afternoon, good evening--depending on where in the world you are.” Acknowledging the unprecedented circumstances due to COVID-19 and the closing of Harvard’s campus for the Fall semester, Dr. Whitelaw said, “2020 has been a challenging year for all of us, but it’s also been filled with a lot of unprecedented events, including this one . . . unfortunately, [unlike previous years,] we don’t have sushi to serve to everyone today, but we do have an international event, with people joining us from not only various parts of the United States, but also from Japan, Brazil, Hong Kong, and elsewhere.” The order of award presentations this year differed from prior events, where the Tazuko Ajiro Monane Prize was presented first, followed by the Noma-Reischauer Prizes. Following his words of introduction, Dr. Whitelaw thanked this year’s committee readers, Dr. David Odo of Harvard Art Museums and Professor Merry White of Boston University, and announced the graduate Noma-Reischauer recipient. The award, given this year for the 25t
Jesse LeFebvre, wearing a black blazer and tie, is in the midst of saying something
Jesse LeFebvre thanks the Reischauer Institute for the graduate Noma-Reischauer Prize and their financial support for his research efforts in Kyoto.
h time, recognizes the best essays on Japan-related topics written by both graduate and undergraduate Harvard students. The 2020 graduate recipient, Jesse LeFebvre, a sixth-year PhD candidate in Buddhist Studies in the East Asian Languages and Civilizations department, specializes in the medieval and modern religious culture and history of Japan with a special interest in Buddhist traditions, spaces, art, literature, and social impact. LeFebvre was awarded the Noma-Reischauer prize for a paper titled “The Politicization of Image: The ‘Elite Populism’ of The Illustrated Narrative Scroll of Major Counselor Ban and Its Implications for Medieval Large-Format Illustrated Scrolls.” The paper explores the intersection of power and ideological media in the form of large-format illustrated scrolls.

Joining the event from Kyoto, where he is currently in his second year of research for his doctoral dissertation on the proliferation of the Hasedera Kannon in the face of disasters, LeFebvre began his acceptance speech by thanking the Reischauer Institute for their support of his research, and the staff who supported the virtual awards ceremony. He went on to explain the topic of his paper in greater depth, describing it as “a case study of the historical circumstances that gave rise not only to a particular illustrated scroll, one that called into question the unilateral authority of the Emperor’s ability to wield lethal force under the law, but an entire genre of scrolls whose content and structure were shaped by the concentration of power in the office of the retired Emperor.” He described the experience of receiving the prize as an honor and a “tremendous source of inspiration,” thanking the prize committee for their comments on his paper, as well as the faculty on his own advising committee, Professor Helen Hardacre, Professor Melissa McCormick, and Professor Ryûichi Abé of the East Asian Languages and Civilizations Department. Finally, he thanked his parents, who were in attendance, for their love and support.

Next, Dr. Whitelaw introduced the recipient of the undergraduate Noma-Reischauer Prize, João Paulo Krug Paiva (Cabot House), Class of 2020. Graduating last May with a concentration in Theater, Dance, and Media, Paiva conducted research for his senior thesis project while studying abroad at the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies in Fall 2019. Paiva’s winning submission for the Noma-Reischauer was unusual as it was comprised of both written and choreographic components, which Whitelaw said “really impressed” the judges. Titled “A Choreographic Contribution to the Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, the Narrative Interrupted: is it a Bad Time to Talk?”, the project was devised as Paiva’s Senior Tutorial honors thesis with advising from Professor Debra Levine and Professor Jill Johnson of the Theater, Dance, and Media Department. The written component explores “how dance choreography, and performance art more broadly, channel the narratives of victims of the atomic bomb create understanding and consensus around the necessity of nuclear disarmament.” Referencing a video interview with Paiva from KCJS, Whitelaw praised the student for thoroughly impressing his instructors during his time abroad.

Joao Paolo Krug Paiva wears a white collared shirt, smiling and looking down slightly
João Paulo Krug Paiva speaks about meeting nuclear disarmament activists in Japan.
João Paulo Krug Paiva joined the Zoom event from Brazil, where he is virtually enrolled in a Masters program at UCLA, pursuing an MFA in Choreographic Inquiry, through which he intends to continue his study of performance art-based campaigns against nuclear disarmament. In his acceptance statement, Paiva thanked the Reischauer Institute for the award, its staff for facilitating his participation, and the prize committee for their comments on and recognition of “what was and still is a very daunting project.” He also thanked his Japanese preceptors, particularly Ikue Shingu and Tomoko Graham, for instilling the language skills he needed to achieve his goals; and KCJS instructor Kaori Nakata. He closed by expressing gratitude to his thesis advisors and the Japanese activists and researchers who “generously shar[ed] their time, stories, and experiences” with Paiva during his time in Japan.

Whitelaw then invited Professor Wesley Jacobsen to present the final award of the ceremony. Established in 1991, the Tazuko Ajiro Monane Prize recognizes outstanding undergraduates 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. The prize requires no application; recipients are selected by instructors of the Japanese Language program from their entire pool of students. The prize money originates from a fund established in memory of a former Director of the JLP, whom Jacobsen called a “legend who lives on in our program in terms of the goals we strive for, not just in terms of excellence in teaching, but in showing a concern for students and their individual interests; trying to make Japanese study not only pleasurable but something meaningful for each individual student.” Jacobsen announced the 2020 recipient, Justin Tseng, a student of third-year Japanese--“rather unusual,” Jacobsen pointed out, as the prize is usually given to fourth- or fifth-year students.
Professor Jacobsen speaks about the lasting legacy of Professor Tazuko Ajiro Monane

Tomoko Graham, Tseng’s third-year Japanese Preceptor, was then invited to give her comments on the awardee. Graham added her own memories of the late Professor Monane, who “taught us to have appreciation for our students, those students who have a love of learning Japanese.” She expressed that if Professor Monane were here, she would be “delighted” to see Tseng receive this honor. “His progress in learning Japanese has been remarkable over the past two and a half years,” she said. Acknowledging that her third-year Japanese class, in which Tseng is currently enrolled, is “brutal, I know,” she praised Tseng for always coming to class “thoroughly prepared, with a big smile, as if this is the most fun thing of the day!” Graham also talked about Tseng’s excellent final presentation in her class, during which he led a discussion on the gender disparity in Japanese politics, which “clearly culminated” his semester of dedication and progress. “He also shared with me his hopes to help promote understanding among different countries and to speak up for human rights and peace through diplomacy,” she concluded, expressing the hope that his experience in the Japanese program will play an important role in his lifelong pursuit of working toward the public good.

Tomoko Graham brings levity to her memories of Professor Monane with a playful sushi-themed Zoom background
Justin Tseng smiles widely, wearing a white collared shirt and tie in front of a Harvard flag on the wall behind him
Justin Tseng thanks his Japanese professors for their dedication and for inspiring him to pursue further language study
Following Justin’s comments, Dr. Whitelaw concluded the awards ceremony by expressing gratitude to the audience for attending, the faculty for their support, and further congratulations to the awardees. “Group photos” were taken of the attendees and award recipients with their families to round off the event.Delivering his remarks in first Japanese and then English, Justin Tseng spoke about his childhood connection with Japan and gratitude to his Japanese instructors for deepening his appreciation for Japanese culture and history. He plans to carry his experiences in the Japanese Language Programs into his future career and life, no matter what path he pursues.

The awardees and their families (as well as Dr. Whitelaw and event staff Naia Poyer of the EALC Department and Catherine Glover of Reischauer institute) pose for an unorthodox group shot.