The UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies recently celebrated its 25th anniversary with several high-profile events that brought together current UCLA professors and students, alumni, advisory board members, donors, community members and center supporters.
UCLA International Institute, June XX, 2017 — A 25th anniversary is a major occasion to celebrate and that’s exactly what the UCLA Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies did this past May. The center recently hosted a slate of high-profile events in honor of its quarter-century of operation, including an alumni symposium, a roundtable with directors of Japanese Studies centers around the world, a lecture and concert at the new Terasaki Research Institute and an anniversary tribute dinner in honor of the center’s benefactor, the late UCLA Professor Paul I. Terasaki (1929–2016). And if that doesn’t sound sufficient, the center and its leadership were featured in three separate videos produced for its anniversary year.
Established in 1991, the Terasaki Center is dedicated to helping students, scholars and the community understand Japan in global and historical context. Since its founding, it has worked to develop an infrastructure for Japanese Studies at UCLA, train a new generation of scholars working on Japan and provide greater national visibility for the university’s Japanese Studies programs.
The center was renamed in 2005 to acknowledge the endowment gift of Professor Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki, pioneering philanthropists committed to promoting a greater understanding of the study of Japan and the U.S-Japan relationship. Dr. Terasaki and his wife, a noted artist, made several generous gifts to the center, enabling it to create two endowed chairs and a visiting professorship at UCLA, a community outreach program and a postdoctoral fellowship. In recent years, their support has also sustained the center’s ongoing global forums with Japan-related programs at institutions worldwide.
Graduates long absent from UCLA reflect on the Terasaki Center
A symposium with Terasaki Center alumni launched the center’s roster of anniversary events on May 18. The alumni who attended had all been supported in their graduate studies by the Terasaki Center while they earned PhDs in such diverse disciplines as anthropology, history, literature, the art of performance and art history. For several, it was their first time at UCLA since they had graduated — and they were amazed by the changes to the campus!
The alums recalled the Terasaki Center and its staff with affection and gratitude, noting that they had attended many talks sponsored by the Terasaki Center when they were students. Several also gave tribute to the late Miriam Silverberg (1951–2008), a UCLA professor of history and a former director of the UCLA Center for the Study of Women, who was an active and inspiring presence at the center.
Marvin Sterling (UCLA 2002), associate professor of anthropology at Indiana University, recalled, “For me, one of the nicest things about being a part of the center was the regular opportunity to meet with colleagues at all levels, whether senior colleagues or graduate students, all of whom had an interest in Japan Studies.
“I gave my first talk ever here in the center,” continued Sterling, “and Miriam Silverberg gave me some really wonderful advice that was helpful to me in my career. In fact, she was the person who let me know that there was such a thing as Japanese reggae, and that became my dissertation project.”
Kristine Dennehy (UCLA 2002), professor of history at California State University Fullerton, commented, “For me, the Terasaki Center was really crucial because I was fortunate to be able to get funding from the Center and never had to be a teaching assistant. I just had so many opportunities here.
“Being in the history department was new for me,” continued Dennehy. “I came from a language background, so the center was important as a place of interdisciplinary study — it forged a very natural connection between the department of Asian languages and cultures and the history department.” Dennehy came back to the campus after graduation, although less frequently over time, and remains in touch with some of the Japanese Studies faculty.
“The East Asian Library has been really crucial for my research,” she commented. “That's been a great connection — especially the Prange Collection. I was there recently and was able to eat lunch at a table with some of the new grad students, who were really open.”
Michiko Takeuchi (UCLA 2009), associate professor of history at California State University Long Beach, said, “The center united scholars from different disciplines and gave you exposure to different methodologies… It advocated and fought for Japanese Studies, which is a marginalized field of study in many other institutions, but the center made it so beautiful here.”
Rosemary Candelario (UCLA 2011), assistant professor of dance theory at Texas Woman’s University, emphasized the crucial nature of the support she received from the center not just for language studies, but also for research in Japan. “I had a transnational project in that I was studying people from Japan, but who lived in the U.S.,” she explained, “I thought it was still really important for my research to be able to go to Japan and research their history and also interface with them when they were in Japan.”
Candelario said her research in Japan changed her relationship with the Butoh dancers Eiko and Koma, whose work was the focus of her dissertation. “I think that was the moment when they took me seriously as a researcher. We had known each other for a number of years,” she recounted, “but they said, ‘Oh, you want to go to Japan — you really want to do this well.’”
“Being part of the Terasaki Center was an absolutely formative, unquestionably life-changing experience for me,” said Jordan A. Y. Smith (UCLA 2010), associate professor of intercultural studies at Josai International University in Japan. “I am so deeply grateful to the faculty who guided me in research and to the staff members who really mentored graduate students in profound ways,” he remarked.
Today, Smith teaches in both English and Japanese, offering courses in literary translation and intercultural studies. In his course, “Japan and the World,” he says, “We look at images of Japan from different international perspectives throughout time and the way that those images are managed and what their implications are politically, both in Japan and internationally.” Working in Japan has given Smith new perspectives on academic life. “I've learned from working in Japanese universities a spirit of togetherness, really seeing the university as a community that moves together, where we attend other departments’ events without question,” he reflects.
As for his students, who are used to trying to give the “right” answer desired by the teacher, Smith remarks, “I've been trying to shake things up. And Japanese students have had to adapt to my classes and to understand that, yes, suddenly, you're going to have to come up with your own opinion. And yes, you're going to be accountable for having done the reading or not…” Whereas some students struggle in his classes, Smith says “others totally soar, to the point where they end up going abroad after graduation, either to volunteer or for paid work or internships with MPOs (metropolitan planning organizations) and international NGOs.”
Alumni research spans multiple disciplines and time periods
Eleven alumni scholars, most of whom now teach at universities, gave brief presentations on their current research at the alumni event. In attendance were their former UCLA professors, Terasaki Center staff and current graduate and undergraduate students in Japanese Studies. Three separate panels were respectively moderated by UCLA professors Sharon Traweek (gender studies and history), Sejii Lippit (Asian languages and cultures; also associate director, Terasaki Center) and Bill Marotti (history; also chair, East Asian Studies M.A. Program).
Kristine Dennehy spoke about transitional Japanese studies in Orange County and read several haiku poems, noting that she frequently has her history students at Cal State Fullerton write haiku as a way to bring them closer to Japanese culture. Michiko Takeuchi (UCLA 2009, history), gave a lively talk on the relationship between feminists in the U.S. and Japan from World War I until the occupation. Takeuchi noted that she had been deeply inspired by her dissertation advisor Miriam Silverberg, saying later, “She was a genius — so creative — and had a lot of historical imagination.”
Hiromi Mizuno (UCLA 2001), who teaches history at the University of Minnesota, spoke about how Japanese concepts and ideas migrate to other parts of the world and are adapted and/or re- interpreted there. Marvin Sterling looked at the intersection of reggae music and Japan, where the music form is very popular. He pointed out that several of the most popular reggae singers in Japan are of Korean heritage, with reggae closely intertwined with their identities as an ethnic minority in Japan.
Leslie Winston (UCLA 2002, Asian languages and cultures), who teaches at UCLA, spoke about the progression of works on women and gender that influenced her as a graduate student, highlighting the work of Judith Butler in particular, and how those works opened up new possibilities for scholars studying female Japanese writers. Jordan Smith (UCLA 2010, comparative literature), spoke about his decision to take a job in Japan and the trend of poetry as a performance art among young poets in the country today.
Colleague Linda Flores (UCLA 2005, Asian languages and cultures), now an associate professor of Japanese literature at Oxford University, gave a fascinating presentation on the writer Kawakami Hiromi and how she has adapted her work to the post-Fukushima era. The writer reworked the text of the novel that made her famous (“Kamisama,” now “Kamisama 2011”) by integrating references to the March 2011 disaster (an earthquake that caused a tsunami and resulted in a nuclear disaster at Fukushima) — without, however, naming the disaster.
Yoko Shirai (UCLA 2006, art history) spoke about her research on Buddhist art in Japan — noting that she forged many important connections that later proved vital to her dissertation research during a stay in Japan when she volunteered at an archaeological site. Shirai, who now teaches at Occidental College, also highlighted the steadfast encouragement that she had received from the late UCLA Professor of Art History David McCallum, as well as the advice she received from UCLA Professor William Bodiford, an expert in Japanese Buddhism and current chair of the Asian languages and cultures department.
Emily Anderson (UCLA 2010, PhD, history), who was UCLA Professor Emeritus Fred Notehelfer’s last doctoral student, narrated how her work as a scholar has traced an arc from academic teaching to museum curation to working with outreach programs that touch people’s lives in local communities. Rosemary Calendario recounted the history of Butoh dance in post-World War II Japan and the ways in which the unique dance form — now adapted by troupes in countries around the world — was misinterpreted as “archaic” by U.S. dance critics, when in fact it represented a consciously modern sensibility, albeit with gestures long established in the Japanese performance canon.
And Eiichiro Azuma (UCLA 2000), associate professor of history and Asian American Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, spoke about how his interest in topics that bridged departmental and disciplinary boundaries was not rejected, but rather welcomed and encouraged at the Terasaki Center. One of the most distinguished scholars working at the intersection of Japanese and Japanese-American history, Azuma noted that he is considered an “Americanist” in his history department, a label that he found very strange. Noting that his research has always looked at the intersecting boundaries of two cultures, he remarked that writing the history of the Issei generation of Japanese immigrants in the U.S. required deep immersion in both the Japanese and U.S. historical contexts of their lives.
Following the alumni symposium, the afternoon turned to the presentation of awards to current UCLA students. Christie Yamasaki received the McCallum Prize for best undergraduate paper in a humanities course for her paper on the writings of her grandfather, a Japanese American who was interned at the Gil River camp, enlisted and served in Japan as part of the occupation forces following World War II.
And Toulouse Antonin-Roy was awarded the Notehelfer Prize for the best unpublished research paper written by a UCLA Japanese Studies graduate student. Antonin-Roy’s winning entry was an essay for an independent study taught by UCLA historian Katsuya Hirano; his research focused on the Japanese colonial government’s “pacification” policies against the indigenous people of Taiwan, as framed by the development of the camphor industry in the early 1900s.
The afternoon came to a close with remarks by Professor Emeritus of History Fred Notehelfer himself, who recounted how he and his colleagues had overcome the institutional barriers created by the original University of California distribution of organized research units (“Asia” had been assigned to Berkeley) and created a Japan program at UCLA.
Chief among their concerns was to promote not only the study of Japan through courses and public talks, but to secure funding to help graduate students study the language and conduct research in Japan — activities that remain a vital part of the Terasaki Center’s mission today. Prior to the anniversary celebrations, Notehelfer was interviewed in a video prepared for the Terasaki Center’s Oral History Project that will become available in summer 2017.
Other major events conclude weeklong celebration
The day after the alumni event, the Terasaki Center hosted directors of Japanese Studies centers from around the world at a second daylong forum featuring presentations and round table discussions on how to re-vitalize and re-envision the field of Japanese Studies in the 21st century.
That evening, the center hosted a reception, together with a concert and lecture by L.A.-based Japanese composer Kunihiko Murai, at the new Terasaki Research Institute. The institute, designed by architect and Terasaki Center Director Hitoshi Abe, is dedicated to continuing Paul I. Terasaki’s groundbreaking work in organ transplant tissue typing. (Abe is the subject of a recent video prepared by UCLA Global, also to become available in summer 2017.)
The center’s 25th anniversary events closed out with a tribute dinner in honor of the late Dr. Terasaki on Saturday evening, May 20, at the UCLA Luskin Conference Center (see the short video prepared for the occasion). Preceded by taiko and kabuki performances performed by UCLA students, the dinner brought together center leaders, staff, advisory board members, associated UCLA faculty and local community organizations and donors to honor Dr. Terasaki’s work and philanthropy.
During the dinner, Director Hitoshi Abe announced the creation of the Paul I. Terasaki Centennial Scholars Endowment. Supported by generous donations from the Teraskai Family Foundation and the Moor and Shapiro families — matched on a 50-percent basis by UCLA funds under the UCLA Chancellor’s Centennial Scholars Match — the endowment will support undergraduate scholarships at UCLA for students focusing on Japanese Studies. The center is particularly grateful to the endowment’s generous donors, as the new endowment will enable it to deepen it support of and relationships with UCLA undergraduate students.
Director Hitoshi Abe with donor and Board of Advisors member Ralph Shapiro and his wife Shirley. (Photo: Reed Hutchinson.)
While U.S. celebrations of the Terasaki Center’s quarter-century of operations have concluded, plans are afoot for another celebration at the UCLA Japan Center. The Tokyo center, which opened in June 2016 to serve as a resource center for the UCLA Japan Alumni Association and promote U.S.-Japanese intellectual exchange, will soon be able to support UCLA scholars doing research in Japan. Stay tuned.