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Scholarship a link for culture and education


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POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

Top scholars at the University of Hawaii may apply for a prestigious scholarship that not only opens the doors to studying in Japan, but also to the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, where they have a chance to meet the emperor and empress.

The Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship was founded by Honolulu residents in 1959 as a wedding present to Akihito and Princess Michiko, who had indicated they did not want material gifts. Akihito agreed to lend his name to the scholarship as a bridge for international understanding.

“;This is the only organization, I understand, in the United States that is allowed to use the imperial crest,”; said Ed Hawkins, president of the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation. “;It's a nice touch. I think it's just indicative of the importance that the emperor and the Japanese government apply to this scholarship as far as relationship building.”;

Akihito and Michiko, now emperor and empress, have traditionally invited the scholarship recipients to the palace for a private audience each year. The imperial couple is coming to Hawaii this week to attend a banquet Wednesday marking the scholarship's 50th anniversary.

Two graduate students from UH-Manoa are chosen annually for the award, which sponsors study in Japan in the field of their choice for up to two years. Meanwhile, two Japanese scholars are selected every year to come to UH-Manoa.

“;I couldn't comprehend at the time the impact it would have on my life,”; said Sharon Minichiello, a scholarship recipient who went on to teach Japanese history at UH-Manoa and direct the Center for Japanese Studies. “;It did open many doors for me, and it has funded many of my graduate students. It's touched my life in many ways.”;

About 70 scholarship recipients and their spouses will attend the banquet at the Hilton Hawaiian Village and have a chance to mingle with the imperial couple at a private reception afterward. The banquet was open to the public, with subsidized rates for senior citizens, but the reservation deadline has passed. More than 1,200 people are expected to attend.

Katsugo Miho, a scholarship foundation trustee, will be hosting two tables of fellow World War II veterans and their wives. That is because the empress once asked him about his experiences with the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, the highly decorated Japanese-American unit that fought in Europe.

“;She was definitely interested in the nisei vets,”; he said. “;My battery boys are coming to this function in uniform, in their 442nd Veterans Club white shirts and military overseas caps,”; Miho said. “;It should catch the eye of the emperor and empress, I hope.”;

Recent scholarship recipients have delved into diverse topics, from composing music for the traditional bamboo flute known as shakuhachi to investigating HIV patient treatment. For many awardees their time in Japan helps set their life course.

“;I think the impact was tremendous,”; said Christine Yano, who received the scholarship in 1991 and is now a UH professor specializing in the cultural anthropology of Japan. “;It was the boost I needed to take myself seriously as a future academic. It is what took me to Japan, and I've made my career studying Japan ever since.”;

“;It was really a key turning point for me,”; Yano said. “;I think you'll find a lot of scholars feel that way.”;

Nippon Keidanren, the Japan Business Federation, is the scholarship foundation's counterpart in Japan.

“;The networking that was made available was as valuable as the money and the support—especially in a place like Japan,”; said Yano, who studied “;enka,”; an old-fashioned form of popular music.

Local community leader Ralph Honda came up with the idea for the scholarship as a way to strengthen U.S.-Japanese relations, according to Siegfried Ramler, a senior adjunct fellow at the East-West Center.

“;He passed away several years ago, but this was his dream and his vision,”; said Ramler, a founding member of the scholarship foundation. “;The visit of the emperor and empress underscores their recognition of the importance of Hawaii as a bridge between the United States and Japan, both from a geographical and cultural perspective.”;