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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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.