The following reflection is a guest post written by Stacy Shimanuki, SPICE student intern and a 2018 alum and honoree of the Reischauer Scholars Program. In the fall, she will be a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania.
My passion for Japan extends deep into my very identity as Japanese American. I am ethnically half Japanese and half Chinese; my great grandfather was an immigrant from Japan and thus, I am yonsei or fourth-generation Japanese American on my paternal side. My Japanese American grandfather was born in Hawaii and survived the Pearl Harbor bombing on Oahu; he went on to help make history in the renowned U.S. 100th Battalion and the Military Intelligence Service (MIS) as a Japanese language translator in Myanmar during World War II. I grew up visiting sites like the “Go For Broke” Monument in Los Angeles, the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center in San Francisco, and the Nisei Veterans Memorial Center on Maui. This family history and heritage are always with me, and frames my experience with Japan and with U.S.–Japan relations.
However, because my ancestors immigrated to the United States so long ago, my father and most in his generation cannot speak Japanese and know relatively little of the culture; most of my generation knows even less about Japan. Moreover, since I don’t often visit my Japanese American side of the family in Hawaii, I’m much more familiar with my Chinese cultural heritage and Chinese American relatives here in California, and even identified more as Chinese American when I was younger. Yet, my interest in Japan remained, rekindled by my academic experience with Japan, both through Japanese language studies in high school and SPICE’s Reischauer Scholars Program (RSP), a rigorous and intellectually stimulating online course for high schoolers passionate about Japan and U.S.–Japan relations.
At my high school, beyond foreign language classes, the only international-related courses available were a semester of Global Studies freshman year, AP World History, and AP Human Geography—all three of which I took. However, despite fulfilling the core standards and even being excellent classes, none of them offered an intensive focus on a specific region, much less a single country. Through the RSP, as a mere high school senior I was granted the opportunity to explore a myriad of fascinating topics at a high academic level, such as: conflicts over the historical legacies of Japanese aggression in East Asia during World War II, the aging population and its impact on social perspective, the influence of traditional Buddhist and Shinto thought on a society normally considered extremely secular, the bursting of Japan’s economic bubble and recent recovery, and a variety of other issues.
Moreover, almost no high school class teaches material the way the RSP does. Instead of relying on textbooks and handouts, we learned from more engaging sources: biographies and memoirs, academic journal excerpts, news articles, and lectures and discussions with professionals and expert scholars. Our various speakers such as former Ambassador Caroline Kennedy, a practicing Buddhist monk, a Japanese American internee, a Foreign Service Officer in Japan, and professors from both Japanese and American top-tier universities shared valuable knowledge, moving personal stories, and professional expertise and advice. The students also learned from each other; my classmates, selected for the RSP not only for their interest in Japan but also for their diverse perspectives and critical thinking and communication skills, contributed to thought-provoking and interdisciplinary discussion forums.
Additionally, the basic structure of the RSP—self-driven online learning—lent the freedom to truly learn for the sake of learning and the pursuit of knowledge. It was perhaps the first time I gave my all to studying merely because I was fascinated; at times it didn’t even feel like studying, just reading about and further researching aspects that struck me with interest, puzzlement, and excitement. Certain topics also struck a personal chord; for example, studying Japanese American internment prompted me to reflect on my own family’s struggles during the war both as internees and in the MIS. This in turn sparked me to individually research a longtime curiosity I had always wondered about but never looked into before—that is, the existence or not of World War II Japanese American spies for Japan. The topics that compelled me to individually dive deeper naturally sprouted into my final research project, connected under the theme of language, another area I love and credit with my original attraction to Japanese studies. On SPICE’s Japan Day 2018, I was one of three RSP student honorees and had the opportunity to present my research on the power of Japanese language during the World War II era as a weapon of nationalism, a weapon of assimilation in Korea and Taiwan, and a weapon against peace through mistranslation, and during the postwar period as a hope-inspiring instrument of internationalism. Sharing my findings with and meeting Stanford faculty and Japanese and Japanese American leaders, as well as exchanging friendship and discussion with the Japanese student honorees of SPICE’s e-Japan program, were the ultimate culmination of my semester in the RSP and a doorway into opportunities and people in the U.S.–Japan community.
That is the beauty of the RSP: the opportunity to discover Japan on a scholarly level rarely found otherwise, self-driven but supported by a dedicated instructor, fascinating speakers, and diverse and enthusiastic fellow students. For self-motivated students wanting to learn about Japan, to discover a love for learning, and to expand their perspective and worldview, the RSP is an absolute gold mine.
For me, it was also the stepping stone and foundation for a path of global discovery, scholarship, and service. The summer after the RSP, I received a scholarship to study abroad in Kyoto for a month, attending a private language school in the mornings and exploring the city in the afternoons. As my first time in Japan, I not only fell in love with the beautiful landscape—the endless sea of green mountains punctuated by bits of city or the brilliant fireworks display at Lake Biwako—but also the people, appreciating the friendly warmth of my host family and the kind earnestness of Japanese university students, whom I now consider close friends. This past year, I immersed myself in studying Mandarin at a high school in Beijing as a gap year through the National Security Language Initiative for Youth (NSLI-Y), following my aspiration of being trilingual in Japanese, Mandarin, and English. Currently, I am incredibly grateful to work with SPICE for the summer as an intern, connecting further with the people and projects that have had such an impact on my education. And this fall, I will enter the University of Pennsylvania in the dual degree Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business. Focusing specifically on Japan and Japanese language, I will also study abroad for a semester at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo. From my birth and family background, to my academic experiences including the RSP and my aspirations of East Asian expertise and contributing to diplomatic friendship across the Pacific, my journey is inextricably tied with Japan and her people.
For more information on the Reischauer Scholars Program, visit reischauerscholars.org. To be notified when the next RSP application period opens, join our email list or follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
The Reischauer Scholars Program is one of several online courses for high school students offered by SPICE, Stanford University, including the China Scholars Program, the Sejong Scholars Program (on Korea), Stanford e-China, and Stanford e-Japan.