Japan Day 2017: Recognizing high school students in Japan and the United States

Japan Day 2017: Recognizing high school students in Japan and the United States

mallika and mike Photo caption: Ambassador Michael Armacost with Mallika Pajjuri Rylan Sekiguchi

We often speak about U.S.–Japan relations in grand terms that focus on links between our countries. But the heart of our connection is personal—innumerable interactions between Japanese and American citizens who recognize the national and the individual benefits of such links… This is what gives Japan Day its special significance.

—The Honorable Michael Armacost, former U.S. Ambassador to Japan


The Stanford Program on International and Cross-Cultural Education (SPICE) honored top students of the Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP) and Stanford e-Japan at “Japan Day 2017”—an event held at Stanford University on August 11, 2017. The RSP honorees were Tuvya Bergson-Michelson (Lick-Wilmerding High School, San Francisco, CA), Mallika Pajjuri (Dublin High School, Dublin, CA), and Evan Wright (homeschool, Greenwood, IN), and the Stanford e-Japan honorees were Reon Hiruma (Waseda University Senior High School, Tokyo), Saya Iwama (Takada High School, Mie Prefecture), Mako Matsuzaki (graduate of Keio Girls Senior High School, Tokyo), and Alisa Tanaka (graduate of Keio Girls Senior High School, Tokyo).

Japan Day 2017 began with opening remarks by the Honorable Jun Yamada, Consul General of Japan in San Francisco, who commended the students for their study of U.S.–Japan relations and underscored the importance of educational programs such as the RSP and Stanford e-Japan in strengthening cross-Pacific relations. "There is no better investment for the future of Japan–U.S. relations," he noted, "than in educating and empowering the most promising of our youth, who will become the leaders of the future."

Stanford e-Japan Instructor Waka Takahashi Brown and RSP Instructor Naomi Funahashi presented overviews of the two programs and recognized the honorees for their outstanding academic performance and research papers. The students then took to the podium one by one to present their research to an audience of over 40 people, which included the Honorable Michael Armacost (former U.S. Ambassador to Japan), Ai Hiyama (Advisor for Community Affairs, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco), and Maiko Tamagawa (Advisor for Educational Affairs, Japan Information and Cultural Center, Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco).

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Photo caption: Ambassador Michael Armacost with Mallika Pajjuri

The honorees’ presentations spanned a wide range of topics related to U.S.–Japan relations, including immigration, social media, LGBTQ issues, entrepreneurship, politics, cross-cultural education, and the environment. In several cases, these topics coincided closely with the work and expertise of audience members, making for fruitful conversation and welcome synergies. During his presentation on “Cross-Cultural Education: An Unconventional Path to Immigration Reform and Economic Prosperity in Japan,” Evan Wright spoke about the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program and its role in promoting grassroots and cross-cultural international exchange between Japan and other nations. Tamagawa was pleasantly surprised to hear Wright’s comments, as she oversees the JET Program at the Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco. Wright hopes to participate in the JET Program after graduating from college.

For the students, a major highlight of the day was simply the chance to meet each other in person, after interacting intensively for months in an online-only context. Seeing the students connect with each other in person was also especially gratifying for the instructors. “One of the most rewarding things for me,” commented Funahashi, “is to see the depth of the connections that are established between RSP and Stanford e-Japan students, and how much they learn from one another. In addition to discussing American and Japanese perspectives on various aspects of contemporary society, education, politics, historical memory, and diplomacy, some students develop friendships that last far beyond their participation in these courses.” Brown agreed, adding, “For my students, having the opportunity to interact with peers from the United States was one of the highlights of the program. To see all the RSP and Stanford e-Japan award winners honored at the same event was extremely rewarding.” Ambassador Armacost emphasized the importance of building real person-to-person connections, too. “Personal relationships are deepened by a shared knowledge of language, culture, and history. But they depend ultimately on awareness of the value of personal ties, a proliferation of friendships, and a sustained effort to cultivate and maintain them through events such as Japan Day.”

Following the formal program, the students and their families took a tour of Stanford University campus. Honoree Mako Matsuzaki commented on how much she enjoyed the tour and regrets not having more time to talk with her American peers. She also somewhat jokingly noted, “I can’t imagine how Stanford students can actually study very seriously with so many temptations! (The good weather, many places to nap, frisbees, cycling, and being close to beaches.)” Funahashi and Brown hope that the friendships that have blossomed among their students will continue to strengthen the ties between the United States and Japan.

SPICE has received numerous grants in support of the RSP (since its inception in 2003) from the United States-Japan Foundation, the Center for Global Partnership (The Japan Foundation), and the Japan Fund, which is administered by the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies at Stanford University. Stanford e-Japan (since its inception in 2015) has been supported by a grant from the United States-Japan Foundation.