On June 30, 2017, over 200 members of the UCLA Japan Alumni Association and their guests joined at the Grand Hyatt Tokyo to celebrate the 2017 Westwood Reunion, an annual gathering of UCLA alumni, friends, and family in Japan.
In attendance from UCLA were Chancellor Block and his wife Carol Block, Vice Provost for International Studies and Global Studies Cindy Fan, Director of UCLA Engagement in Asia Stephen Tan, and Director Hitoshi Abe from the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies.
The celebratory activities began with the UCLA Japan Alumni Association Global Forum, a series of illuminating talks about the current and past activities of members affiliated with UCLA and Japan. Chancellor Block greeted everyone, and thanked them for their continued support of UCLA and efforts to promote UCLA in Japan. He then introduced Irene Hirano, President of the U.S.-Japan Council and Chair of the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies.
Chair Hirano spoke about the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies’ 25th Anniversary celebrations held in the previous May and the history and legacy of Dr. Paul I. Terasaki. “Dr. Terasaki believed that it was important to connect younger Japanese Americans to Japan,” she said. “He left a significant and meaningful legacy with the hope that the UCLA Center for Japanese Studies, along with Japanese American organizations, would carry on in the future.”
Next, former UCLA Japan Alumni Association President and member of the UCLA Terasaki Center Board of Advisors Kiyoshi Kurokawa made an impassioned speech about his history with UCLA, and encouraged everyone in attendance to step forward and help realize UCLA’s Centennial Campaign goals. In particular, he emphasized the importance of bringing new faces into the UCLA network, and called on young Bruins to reinvigorate Japanese business and society. He finished his talk by introducing UCLA Japan Alumni Association Vice President Mizuto Aoto, a young man that he could not help but add that he saw a lot of himself in.
Vice President and UCLA Alumni (2012) Mizuto Aoto spoke about his experiences as a high school dropout who preferred to spend his mental energies on baseball rather than schoolwork. However, after a personal experience with meditation, he found himself fascinated by biology and neurology. This passion, he explained, was the motivation he needed to finish his GED and pursue further education at UCLA. After graduating with a degree in neuroscience in 2012, Mr. Aoto founded his own company, DAncing-Einstein, a start-up that is pioneering the field of NeuroEDTech in Tokyo. He expressed his deep gratitude to UCLA for giving him the education he needed to pursue his dreams, and vowed to support the UCLA Japan Alumni Association so that other young people in Japan might discover their passions as well.
UCLA Vice Provost Cindy Fan followed Mr. Aoto’s presentation by echoing his support for international education, and introducing the work that is being done at UCLA to bring in more students from all over the world. She then introduced the new UCLA Global video produced by the UCLA International Institute that gives an overview of UCLA in eight languages, making UCLA’s campus, student life, and achievement more accessible to an international audience than ever. In closing, Mrs. Carol Block thanked all of the speakers and led the attendees in the famed UCLA Eight Clap.
The forum was followed by a cocktail reception and dinner, where the guests had a chance to talk with the speakers and other guests and make new connections. UCLA Japan Alumni Association President and member of the UCLA Terasaki Center Board of Advisors Tomohiro Tohyama opened the dinner by introducing the evening’s distinguished guests, including Minoru Nakasato, President of the Harvard Club of Japan, and Hiroshi Minoura, Chairman of the Wharton Club of Japan. As newly appointed President of the Alumni Association, Mr. Tohyama stated that one of his goals for the organization was to forge stronger relationships with other Alumni Associations active in Tokyo.
The highlight of the dinner was a speech by Yasushi Hara, the oldest UCLA alumni in attendance having graduated over 60 years ago. He described how UCLA honed his intellectual abilities and changed his way of thinking, and told a series of humorous anecdotes about how different the United States was then than it is now. During his time as Washington correspondent for the Asahi Shimbun, many Americans, unfamiliar with Japanese, had a hard time pronouncing the name Yasushi. When he returned as the Washington Bureau Chief for the Asahi Shinbun in the 1980's, he told people to call him "Yah, Sushi!", as sushi was then popular in America, and he believed it would help people pronounce his name. He jokingly recounted the story of how as a result of this, the White House staff would call his name out loudly on purpose, and he would hear the cries of "Yah! Sushi!" echoing down the halls. He finished with a touching tribute to his mentor UCLA Professor Emeritus Hans Baerwald, saying that he was sure Professor Baerwald was smiling down on all of them from heaven.
The dinner was wrapped up by former UCLA Japan Alumni Association President and UCLA Terasaki Center Board of Advisors member Masaru “Vic” Murai, who announced that the Alumni Association had successfully formed a Memorandum of Understanding with UCLA for the UCLA Japan Center in Kashiwa-no-ha City. He emphasized that the center was the Alumni Association’s contribution to the Centennial Campaign, and that it will help greatly in supporting UCLA’s presence in Japan and encouraging young Japanese students to study abroad at UCLA. Former President and UCLA Terasaki Center Board of Advisors Member Yuji Tsutsumi concluded the evening by briefly recounting his history and experiences with the Alumni Association, and expressing his sincere hope that its mission and activities will continue far into the future.