Through the droning mumble of a crowd, I heard the faint sound of a shamisen. A loud smack followed by excited shouts distracted me; a sumo wrestler meandered away from the scene. The unfamiliar talking robots, bunraku puppet theater performances, and sumo wrestling that I first encountered at the “Bridges to Japan” cultural exhibit at the Indiana State Fair fostered a general interest in East Asia, which later evolved into a passion for Japan, U.S.–Japan relations, and international affairs.
Entering high school, I read every book on Japan in my local library and developed a passion for Shingon Buddhism. Joining the Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP), an online program for U.S. high school students nationwide to learn about Japan and U.S.–Japan relations, gave me the opportunity to turn my passion into a career.
Across the program’s 13 units, I learned about Japan’s modern history, culture, politics, and society. Along the way, I developed an interest in the program’s namesake—U.S. Ambassador to Japan Edwin O. Reischauer. Lectures from national renowned scholars on U.S.–Japan relations and conversations with Japanese students in the RSP’s sister program, e-Japan, let me compare the public education systems of the U.S. and Japan and better understand my background as a homeschooler from the American Midwest. As I presented my end-of-course research for the RSP to former Consul General Jun Yamada and Ambassador (Ret.) Michael Armacost, I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to U.S.–Japan relations, driving me to pursue a career in international affairs inspired by Ambassador Reischauer’s legacy.
I have drawn from what I learned in the RSP every day since completing the program. Majoring in East Asian Languages and Cultures at Indiana University, the RSP provided me with a strong foundation to study and research the political and economic environment of East Asia. Working at U.S. Embassy Tokyo, I used my knowledge of U.S.–Japan trade relations when writing one pagers and daily action reports for the Embassy’s Economic Section. At the Edwin O. Reischauer Center for East Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), I directly contributed to the sustainment of Amb. Reischauer’s legacy by conducting research on East Asian political economy and technology policy with the center’s director—the last PhD student of Amb. Reischauer. I never would have known about these opportunities without the RSP.
As I begin working with the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Japanese Affairs this coming summer, I will try to continue honoring the Reischauer legacy through my work. The RSP fundamentally changed the course of my life and set me on the path I walk today. It gave me the tools and knowledge I needed to succeed and gave me exposure to Japan during my high school studies that wouldn’t have been possible in-person in my home state of Indiana. For any high school student interested in East Asia, there is no better way to learn about Japan, U.S.–Japan relations, and East Asia.