2021 Tazuko Ajiro Monane and Noma-Reischauer Prize Winners Announced

December 15, 2021

On Thursday, December 2, 2021, 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 ceremony honored three Harvard students for Japan-related academic achievements.

Dr. Gavin Whitelaw, Executive Director of the Reischauer Institute of Japanese Studies, welcomed participants and gave the floor to Professor Wesley Jacobsen for the presentation of the Tazuko Ajiro Monane Prize. Professor Jacobsen, Director of the Japanese Language Program, opened with an explanation of the Tazuko Ajiro Monane Prize’s origin and significance. An award whose recipients are nominated and chosen by consensus of the JLP instructors, the Monane Prize is a monetary prize in memory of a former Director of the Japanese Language Program at Harvard. “A legend in many ways,” Jacobsen explained, “she was known for the excellence of her teaching, but even more so for the way she won the hearts of the students [. . .] I think many developed an interest in Japanese just because of that personal connection with her.” The prize fund was set up by former students, colleagues, and friends after Tazuko Ajiro Monane’s sudden passing in 1991, to be presented to one JLP student per year who demonstrates a love of learning Japanese and great potential for maintaining and using their language skills in their future career.

Wesley Jacobsen opening remarks
Professor Jacobsen speaks about the legacy of Tazuko Ajiro Monane.

Jacobsen introduced the 2021 Monane recipient, Lourdes Vivanco, a third-year Japanese student. Tomoko Graham, Vivanco’s current Japanese teacher, was invited to say a few words.

“When I asked other teachers what they remembered about Vivanco-san, Kageyama-sensei, the first-year teacher, said she remembered her coming to office hours every week. Asakura-sensei, the second-year teacher, also remembered Vivanco-san for that reason. And this year, in my class, she showed up exactly at 8:45pm every Tuesday toward the end of my sleepy office hour on Zoom—she wakes me up and wants to practice Japanese!” Graham related with an astonished laugh. “Later,” she continued, “I realized she also met with Takehara-sensei every week. Those are not enough for her, so she also attended Japanese conversation table biweekly, and participated in the Japanese Speech Conference for Boston-area college students this Fall.”

Graham speaking about Vivanco
Graham-sensei speaks affectionately of Vivanco’s determination to practice Japanese.
"There is a perfect Japanese proverb,” Graham mused after a pause, “to describe how special Vivanco-san is: ishi no ue ni mo san nen (石の上にも三年). ‘Three years on a rock.’ Namely, sitting on a cold rock for three years will eventually make the stone warmer! This is her third year studying Japanese, and her achievements have been just remarkable in every aspect.” Finally, Graham commended Vivanco’s aspiration to become a sociology teacher, and her plans to travel to Japan after graduation to work or study.

After Graham’s introduction, Lourdes Vivanco was invited to give an acceptance speech, first in Japanese and then English. She began by thanking the JLP for “this incredible recognition,” and her friends and family for encouraging her to pursue her passions. “I’ve only recently learned of Professor Monane’s rich legacy, but I can honestly say that I’ve felt it long before, through my instructors. Each and every sensei I’ve had the privilege of learning from approaches their class with immense dedication, passion, and enthusiasm. They bring out the best in their students, and give them the agency to find what makes Japanese meaningful to them.” Vivanco concluded: “While I don’t know what the future may hold for me, I want to thank my senseis and the Japanese Language Program, from the bottom of my heart, for letting me start the journey here.”

Lourdes Vivanco acceptance speech
Lourdes Vivanco delivers a speech full of gratitude and warmth in both Japanese and English.
Professor Jacobsen thanked Vivanco for her heartfelt words, and commented that it was the second time he had heard her give a speech in Japanese, recalling her recent Japanese Speech Conference appearance, where she discussed learning about other cultures through knitting. “I was very impressed to learn of your interests and how well you were able to express yourself in Japanese.” He also thanked Vivanco’s parents for joining the Zoom event all the way from Peru.

Before giving the floor back to Dr. Whitelaw for the Noma-Reischauer Prize presentations, Jacobsen expressed regret for the very recent passing of Albert Craig, Harvard-Yenching Emeritus Professor of History, who until recently had served as one of the readers on the selection committee. “I want to keep him in our memory today as we enter the awards ceremony for the Noma-Reischauer Prize.”

Dr. Whitelaw added that Professor Craig had been the Reischauer Institute Director for some years prior to his retirement. He also thanked the Reischauer Institute’s current Director, Professor of Sociology Mary Brinton, for being present at the ceremony that day. Appreciation was also extended to those in the Japanese Language Program and Reischauer Institute staff who helped make the prizes and their awarding possible. Finally, Whitelaw thanked this year’s Prize Committee readers, Dr. David Odo of Harvard Art Museums and Professor Bill Tsutsui, the new President of Ottawa University.

The Noma-Reischauer Prize, given this year for the 26th time, recognizes the best essays on Japan-related topics written by both graduate and undergraduate Harvard students. Dr. Whitelaw mentioned that it was “especially gratifying” to see both 2021 recipients share a connection to the Regional Studies—East Asia Program at Harvard: the graduate recipient as an alumna, and the undergraduate having now entered the RSEA program as a first-year MA student.

Gavin Whitelaw introduces Yingxue Wang
Dr. Whitelaw invites audience applause as he gives the floor to Yingxue Wang.
The graduate recipient, Yingxue Wang, a third-year PhD candidate in the History of Art and Architecture Department at Harvard, specializes in early Japanese Buddhist art, and researches the transmission of religious art and material culture in East Asia from the 3rd to 7th centuries. Her winning research paper, written for a Spring 2021 doctoral reading and research seminar with Professor Yukio Lippit, is titled “Why Beetle Wings?: An Ecological Approach to the Tamamushi Shrine.” The paper confronts “the little-discussed use of biological materials—namely, thousands of wing cases taken from a beetle species endemic to Japan—on one of the most-studied early artifacts of East Asian Buddhism: the 7th-century Tamamushi Shrine.” Whitelaw called it a “very rich paper—and one that’s reflective as well as scholarly.”

Yingxue Wang acceptance speech
Yingxue Wang thanks Dr. Whitelaw for his glowing introduction of her winning paper.
Yingxue Wang opened her acceptance speech by thanking the ceremony attendees and the Reischauer Institute for supporting her research and honoring her with the Noma-Reischauer Prize, as well as to the prize committee readers for their thoughtful comments on the paper. Adding to Dr. Whitelaw’s summary of her paper, Wang explained that the iridescent beetle wings initially caught her interest with their literal sparkle, and later drew her to wonder at the lack of scholarly commentary on the use of so many animal parts as decoration on a Buddhist monument. Wang uses the eye-catching beetle wings as a jumping-off point to explore the ecological aspects of Tamamushi Shrine, reassessing its function and meaning in 7th-century Japan. Influenced by her own experience of the COVID-19 pandemic, “Why Beetle Wings?” also examines the decision to use beetle wings in the context of Japan’s first encounter with smallpox. Luminous, iridescent colors, associated at the time with medicine, allowed the Tamamushi Shrine to become a space of healing for worshipers, argues Wang. She concluded by thanking her advisors, Professors Yukio Lippit, Melissa McCormick, and Eugene Wang, who provided insight and criticism throughout the research and writing process, as well as other faculty and colleagues from around the university.

Finally, Dr. Whitelaw introduced the recipient of the Undergraduate Noma-Reischauer Prize, Chihiro Ishikawa, Class of 2021. Graduating last May with a joint concentration in Sociology and East Asian Studies, Ishikawa is currently a first-year student in the Regional Studies—East Asia MA Program, where she focuses on gender issues in Japan and Korea. Ishikawa’s winning paper, “The Global Diffusion of the #MeToo Movement: SNS Usage and Anonymity in Japanese and Korean Feminist Activism” was conceived and written as her undergraduate thesis project. In it, she examines the different trajectories of the #MeToo movement in Japan and South Korea and the role of social media in online activism, as well as the possibility of reconceptualizing online spaces as “safe spaces” for feminist activists in East Asia.

Chihiro acceptance speech
Chihiro Ishikawa greets the “many familiar faces” she spotted among the ceremony’s attendees.
In her acceptance statement, Chihiro Ishikawa expressed gratitude to the Reischauer Institute and the Prize Committee for recognizing her work, as well as for Dr. Odo and Professor Tsutsui’s “kind and helpful comments” on her paper. She thanked her thesis advisors, Professor Paul Chang of the Sociology Department and Professor Tomiko Yoda of East Asian Languages and Civilizations, without whom the project “could not have come to fruition.” She cited her initial surprise at the differing manifestations of #MeToo activism in two countries with such similar social contexts as the starting point of her research. South Korea, said Ishikawa, seemed to experience a much more “active blossoming” of the movement compared to Japan, and she was “curious to know what caused these regional differences.” By analyzing social media posts and conducting interviews with activists in both countries, Ishikawa concluded that access to anonymity could significantly impact individuals’ willingness to speak out and participate in local organizing. Ishikawa concluded her speech by saying she hoped to explore this topic further in her career as a Master’s student at Harvard.

Concluding the ceremony, Dr. Whitelaw thanked attendees and wished them a happy and healthy New Year, and once more issued heartfelt congratulations to the Prize winners. Professor Jacobsen chimed in with the hope that next year would see the return of the in-person Monane and Noma-Reischauer ceremony, and the sushi reception party that usually follows. Jacobsen, Whitelaw, Graham, the Prize winners, and some family members stayed for a final gallery-style “group photo” with their Prize certificates before signing off.

Group shot of winners, family, awarders
Recipients pose with family members, Whitelaw and Jacobsen.



See also: Japanese