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.
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.
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.
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.