The Takahashi prize honors our former colleague and friend, Ms. Yukiko Takahashi who joined the Department of Asian & Near Eastern Languages as a visiting instructor in the fall of 1984. After two years of teaching here, she was admitted to the Ph.D. program in Chinese and Comparative Literature. Yukiko finished the M.A. in Chinese in the spring of 1990. Throughout her student years here, Ms. Takahashi served as a Teaching Assistant in Japanese; she won the Graduate School’s teaching award and served as Teaching Associate. This prize honors her teaching excellence; Yukiko passed away in 1991 leaving a standard for language teaching that all of us aspire to reach.
Takahashi Prize Recipients
2016 Yung Shu Wong
2015 Andy Luo
2014 Wenyun Fang
2013 Katerina Klafka
2012 Sichong Han
2011 Samir Unni
2010 Phoebe Tran
2009 Gregory Rippberger
2008 Ashley Greve
2007 Jeffrey Beckett
2006 Benjamin Trevor
2004 Austin Wang
2002 Yeuk San (Susan) Mo
2001 Christine Yew
2000 Sang Ho Rhee
1999 Dorothy Hoffmann
1998 Yookyung Chung
1997 Jisun Yu
1996 Yenny Kohar
1995 Priti Mody
1994 Micah Auerback
1993 Karl Gruendel
1992 Shyanne Haviland
Japanese National Honor Society-College Chapter Inductees
2016 Trenton Greif, Moniqua Guo, Katarina Klafka
2015 Nicholas Palermo
2014 Jerome Molasky, Amanda Whalen
2013 Andrew Corrubia, Molly Reissman, Shuyi Shang
2012 Gregory Rippberger and Mai Phuong Tran
2010 Shelby Carpenter, Nicholas Cavallo, Ashley Greve
Yi Na Betty Hu, Aaron Jasny, Alexander Mateo
2009 Kim Yeong Yamamoto
2008 Robin Chisnell, Jonathan Clark, Jonathan Friedman, Margaret Mann
Clara Park, Jessica Polak, Lucas Schwartze, Benjamin Trevor, Melanie Veale
2012 KCJS Ginger Marcus Prize
25th Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest in Chicago (2011)
Eugene Kwon: 2nd Place (Advanced)
23rd Annual Japanese Language Speech Contest in Chicago (2009)
Jonathan Clark: 2nd Place (Advanced)
Young Kyung Lee: Bonjinsha Award
Japan America Society Speech Meet (Japan-America Society of St. Louis)
Sneha Tambe: 1st Place (Advanced Level) 2011
Eugene Kwon: 1st Place (Advanced Level) 2010
Jonathan Clark: 1st Place (Advanced Level) 2009
Keita Uchida, "Risshin shusse and Nintai: Oe Kenzaburo, Existentialism, and the Portrayal of Success in Contemporary Japanese Literature," Wittenberg University East Asian Studies Journal, Volume XXXV (Spring 2010): 1-8
From Owen Rosa (class of 1999), Senior Associate at Sojitz Corporation of America, New York, New York
Giving Back: Volunteering in Tsunami Devastated Japan
During the first two weeks of June I found a way to give back to the country and people who gave me so much in my life and are now suffering from such tremendous pain and loss. From the ages of 22 to 28 I lived in an area north of Tokyo, in Iwate, Japan. This is a region that not until the great earthquake and tsunami of March 11th did most people even know existed let alone have any interest in. It is a place whose people are thought to be reserved and close-minded, but I found them to be extraordinarily warm and open, opening their hearts and pockets during the September 11th WTC attacks. As a New Yorker living in Iwate during 9.11 it was scary and lonely to watch my friends and family suffer while I was helpless, living halfway around the world. But it was in this place that my friends and even strangers came together to support me and my family’s local fire department. They helped me raise money and collect letters of support for this fire station which lost 9 fire fighters in the attack.
In an effort to return this kindness, this past June I traveled to Iwate to volunteer at a Japan relief volunteer center called Tono Magokoro Net, in the City of Tono, 30 miles west of the devastated coastline. Every day I went with a group of volunteers to one of three cities: Rikuzentakada, Kamaishi City, and Otsuchi to help with removing debris left behind by the tsunami, while at night I slept with over a hundred other brave volunteers in a community center gymnasium.
Prior to leaving for Iwate it took almost two months of reaching out to Japanese government organizations, searching on the Internet, and contacting old friends until I found a place willing to except me to participate with others in the clean-up activities. Surprisingly, it was actually through a posting on my Facebook wall from a Japanese friend that I learned about the Tono Magokoro Net Volunteer Center. I asked my friend to check if I could also volunteer with only a tourist visa and travel insurance, and despite all the bureaucracy and frustration I faced using the normal channels, Tono Magokoro Net was accepting and grateful to me for my willingness to travel all the way from New York City to help their effort.
Upon reaching Tono and the volunteer center, I remember my first night there. I was lying down in the gymnasium surrounded by about 50 or 60 Japanese men, all there to assist with the clean-up. I questioned what motivated them all to do this kind of work every day? These people seemed to be of different generations. I also noticed a few other foreigners, mostly women, volunteering. I wondered how many other foreigners I would meet over the next 10 days. I also remember on my first night questioning my own motivation, mostly likely out of fear and loneliness. I asked myself why I felt so obligated to come here and do this after giving so much to Iwate only a few years before.
The first day I went to the disaster area, or in Japanese, hisaichi, I chose the worst hit city called Rikuzentakata because I wanted to start off with the hardest experiences, then hope things would become easier as the days went on. After joining the group headed to Rikuzentakata in the morning, I was lucky to sit down on the bus next to a retiree named Hoshino-san from Okinawa Prefecture who had been volunteering for over a month. Hoshino-san was already an expert on working in the hisaichi and understood the best ways to pace yourself and handle the horrific scenes that I was about to witness when I arrived at our assigned clean-up area, a small farming and fishing neighborhood called Yonezaki-cho in Rikuzentakata. Hoshino-san showed me the ropes. He instructed me on what I needed to do and how to handle myself with safety gear as well as how to pace myself. It was a comforting feeling to talk to someone so kind all day and really helped me relax when I first saw the devastated areas.
I can’t explain what it was like to see the tsunami impact on this town. It had just erased the entire city and left only a few buildings along the shore. I will never forget seeing the Capital Hotel, gutted and looking like a site after a nuclear fallout. The whole city of Rikuzentakata look like a massive bomb had dropped on it, without the crater; or it could have been the scene of a war zone, like Bosnia or Beruit after the bombings.
It was a strange feeling to get used to it so quickly. Once we got into our work of cleaning out an agricultural drain, I started to forget about the craziness or shock of the surroundings and was able to concentrate on my work. I thought I could do this because I wasn’t from around the area, because it wasn’t my real home. I also thought it was the reason why so many of the volunteers were from faraway places in Japan, like my friend Hoshino-san. The locals could not handle the mental shock of seeing these cities so close to their hometowns destroyed.
On the bus ride back to the gymnasium, I will never forget how hard it was for me to close my eyes and sleep. I could not forget what I had seen. When I got back to the center Hoshino-san gave me the best but hardest advice to follow which was to not think about it but to remain numb during my time here.
On my second day, I decided to continue to work at Rikuzentakata. It was still just as much a shock as the first day at the hisaichi. When the bus reached the hisaichi, around 2 or 3 miles inland from the coast, everyone went silent and our group leaders told us not to take any pictures out of respect for the families returning or still living in the area. Despite this, I must admit I witnessed many people still taking pictures and filming with their phones, and actually on this day I saw one woman hit a man in the head who was taking pictures, while telling him to stop. Everyone stared out the windows of the bus, imagining what must have happened on March 11th. As we drove past the cemetery of crushed cars, we looked at debris everywhere and could almost hear the voices of people screaming as the water ploughed through buildings, destroying everything and everyone in its way.
On that day I was also fortunate enough to be with Hoshino-san and supported again by him as I was selected to be a hancho or team leader for 9 Japanese men. My experience teaching karate in Japan helped me with leading this team, but it was truly Hoshino-san who made it easy for me by making sure I covered all my responsibilities. I didn’t want to be a honcho on my second day but there weren’t enough people with at least one-day experience (which is the requirement to be a hancho) and Hoshino-san pushed me to raise my hand because he said he was too old to do it.
One of the great aspects of Tono Magokoro Net is that it is an amazing organization that encourages free thinking among its volunteers and leadership, from anyone willing to help. It is unlike traditional Japanese bureaucracies that usually have so many restrictions, making it difficult for both Japanese and non-Japanese to make a difference in these situations. It was inspiring to watch people from all parts of Japan and from many different backgrounds to be giving of themselves in this way. They were driving or taking buses from all parts of the country just to help out for a few days. They were also very impressed and appreciative that I had come all the way from America to volunteer to help Japan in this way.
People would come up and personally thank me. For instance, a women and her mother who were at a rest stop on our way home said that they were living at a temporary housing facility just outside Rikuzentakata. Hoshino-san and I sat down behind them as he explained to them that I had come all the way from New York to help with the clean-up effort. The mother commented about how dirty my clothes were and bowed and apologized that this disaster had happen and that I was putting myself through this sacrifice.
This indirectness and feeling of guilt of the Japanese at first always confused me, but now it is something I have learned to accept and understand. When I listened to this women who had lost her home and suffered so much pain apologize to me, an American who had lost nothing, I knew that it was her way of saying thank you and just smiled and returned to the bus with Hoshino-san.
Over the next few days I volunteered at other hisaichi called Kamaishi and Otsuchi, two cities damaged just as bad if not worse than Rikuzentakata. During this time I was teamed up with other volunteers, one a young man originally from Mongolia who had moved to Japan 10 years earlier and was now married to a Japanese woman in the Osaka area of Japan. Unfortunately I don’t have the correct spelling of this name, but remember his nickname, Tetsujin or ironman. Tetsujin was my hancho when we worked in Kamaishi in a neighborhood called Hakozaki-cho, where we cleaned up a temple and school that were remained standing despite the tsunami reaching both buildings. I remember watching Tetsujin and seeing how aggressive he was to clean out drainages and throw out dangerous debris with rusted nails. He moved without hesitation or fear, as dedicated as his fellow Japanese volunteers. I will never forget his reaction to seeing Prime Minister Kan on our way home from Kamaishi on the 3rd month anniversary of the great earthquake and tsunami.
The then Prime Minister was visiting a temporary Self-Defense Force base in Kamaishi City just outside the hisaichi to participate in a moment of silence called mokuto on June 11th at 2:46pm. This was held at the exact time of the great earthquake when he was to give a speech about the reconstruction efforts. As his bus was leaving the base, our bus of volunteers pulled up along his. As the Prime Minister stuck his head out to bow and thank us for our help, my friend yelled out to him to come volunteer with us in the hisaichi. It set off a reaction in the bus and everyone began to yell out at him, saying “Why were you here?” and “Go home!” It was at this point I realized how angry the people of Japan were and that their feelings of hopelessness were directed towards the government. Someone even suggested to me that President Bill Clinton come to Japan to lead them out of this mess, which could have been the most shocking comment I heard in my many years of experience with Japan, dating back to my high school AFS experience.
Different from the crippled national government, the Tono Magokoro Net Volunteer Center was a grassroots organization established with a freedom to operate based on the will of the volunteers. It is a symbol of how efficient and cooperative people can work when there is organization and strong planning. The center was actually planned after the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995 in Kobe City in anticipation that someday a tsunami or earthquake of this proportion could one day happen in Iwate.
The center’s leaders were not government officials or paid employees but rather just local Iwate and non-Iwate people wanting to help in the effort. At the time of my stay a former Japanese Self-Defense Force jet pilot named Hayashi-san was the center’s leader, a man who had the greatest respect of all the volunteers and would speak to all of us every morning reminding us of the dangers and a sacrifice we were facing. He reminded us that in the face of danger remember the three “A” words: Awatenai “don’t panic”, Akiramenai “don’t quit”, and Aseranai “don’t rush.” I will never forget that right then, when he was speaking to us, there was an aftershock and with absolutely no fear or hesitancy he points at us and says “Awatenai,” reminding us all to stay calm.
In addition to Hayashi-san, there were a number of other volunteers who were taking leadership roles in either leading entire groups (usually groups of 50 people) to one of the selected disaster areas, or just running the back office administrations of the center. Many of these volunteers had families and jobs they had left behind in far away cities and were now living here for weeks and even months at a time. One individual, Kurozumi-san, the leader of the entire Rikuzentakata area, had worked for almost 50 days straight with no days off accept for when it rained. He had a family back in Okayama prefecture. I only survived 4 straight days in the hisaichi before I took my first day off, and I could only imagine the mental strength and dedication Kurozumi-san and the others had to do this every day for months at time.
What I realized during my time in Tono was that many of the volunteers in addition to helping the clean-up efforts wanted to better their own lives through using this act of good will. They were actually using the experience to build their own self-confidence and appreciation for themselves through taking leadership roles at the center. I honestly believe the leaders of Tono Magokoro Net understood this dual purpose of the center and reminded us every day that our efforts were a sacrifice and that we too were victims of this tragic event.
As both the U.S. reached its 10th year anniversary of 9.11 and Japan reached its 6th month anniversary of the great earthquake and tsunami of 3.11 I can only hope that the leaders of both of these countries reflect on the great sacrifices and efforts of their citizens to recover from these tragedies.
I hope too that they are resilient in the face of danger, as the volunteers of Tono Magokoro Net, and that they are able to themselves find a way through the current political paralysis to develop a clear strategy for the future of both Japan and the United States.