Thoughts from a Donor: Why I Support the Department of Asian Languages and Literature, by Yumi Iwasaki

Submitted by Elizabeth F Self on

I became acquainted with UW’s Department of Asian Languages and Literature when a good friend, Naomi Minegishi, invited me to join her in her efforts to start a support group for classical Japanese literature studies in the department. I was born in Japan but have spent all my adult life in the U.S. Growing up, I was an avid reader and enjoyed literature, Japanese or otherwise. Although I chose computer science as my field of study, Japanese classical literature, especially poetry and drama, has always been close to my heart.

I learned from Naomi and Professor Paul Atkins about the need for funding for graduate studies in classical Japanese literature because it was difficult for Ph.D. students to undertake dissertation research while supporting themselves through teaching assistantships. It surprised me to hear that Ph.D. students lacked support, because, when I had been a Ph.D. student, I as well as all other students were fully supported by my department throughout our graduate school careers. Undertaking a dissertation-worthy research in any field is a full-time endeavor and can take any number of years. I knew I wanted to help.

Naomi assembled a group of like-minded people from the community to form a fund-raising committee. I thought the group needed a name and that the name should reflect both Japan and the University of Washington. So, I named the group Washin Kai (和心会). “Washin” (和心) means “heart of Japan,” while also sounding like “Washington,” and Kai (会) means “meeting” or “society.”

With support of the members of Washin Kai as well as generous gifts from the broader community, and also thanks to special, one-time help from the Japan Foundation, Washin Kai managed to award our first graduate fellowship in 2019. After this first year of success, we wanted a multi-year plan, so that there would be some predictability in funding and also to give us time to work towards a larger goal. Thus, I joined three other members of Washin Kai in making a three-year commitment to the department. We are very grateful that our commitment was rewarded with a 50% match by the Provost, which ensured enough funding to provide for a graduate fellowship for the next three years. Our goal now is to raise money to establish an endowment to fund a graduate fellowship in perpetuity.

On a more personal note, besides my gratitude to this country, which gave me the best education in the world, my other reason for supporting graduate students in classical Japanese literature is my father. Even though my father, Hiroji Iwasaki, did not grow up in Japan, he spent most of his adult life in Kyoto and loved the city and the Japanese traditional culture the city was steeped in. He knew all the sites in Kyoto: temples, shrines, gardens, festivals, and street markets. Kyoto was his adopted hometown, and he built his career there. An avid reader, he passed his love of books to all of his three daughters. He also loved to travel the world, especially the United States, which he visited many times. He said he would have loved to study in U.S. as a young man if the time had been different. He told me that the best way to get to know a country was to partake with gusto of the local food and drink together with the people there. An enthusiastic guest as well as a gracious host, he welcomed all opportunities to show visitors around in Kyoto. He is long gone, but I feel his presence in me when I am in touch with Japanese traditional culture. I think he is smiling to know that I am doing my small part to support the teaching of Japanese classics in this country.