Willamette University

Sharing Kaneko’s Vision: 20 Years of Tokyo International University of America

It has been 20 years since the first group of students traveled from Kawagoe, Japan, to Salem as the inaugural class at what is now known as Tokyo International University of America (TIUA). Each of these initial 61 students traveled to the U.S. to participate in a program in American studies that was brand new, but they were supported by a quarter-century’s precedent: The relationship between Tokyo International University (TIU) and Willamette has been growing since the mid-1960s.

TIUA is vital to Willamette. It has shaped the university’s academic character, campus culture and physical footprint, and its impact remains as keen as ever 20 years after it began. It is part of what all new students and visitors learn when they come to Willamette — and they leave with an understanding of how the Willamette community values it.

In June, TIU held a 20th-anniversary reunion event in Kawagoe, Japan, to commemorate the last two decades of the TIUA program. Many Japanese and American alumni were in attendance, and the event was a unique opportunity to celebrate some of the people who have been instrumental to the program’s success. Another joint celebration, which took place in September at Willamette, reaffirmed the institutions’ collective enthusiasm for the milestone.


President M. Lee Pelton and President Takayoshi Arai celebrate the WU/TIU partnership.

Portrait of a Partnership

The TIU/WU partnership began with Taizo Kaneko. In 1965, Kaneko initiated contact via letters with 50 U.S. universities, including Willamette, with the hope that he could open up a mutually beneficial exchange of students and ideas. Willamette President G. Herbert Smith extended an immediate reply that helped cement the relationship. The result: The International College of Commerce and Economics (as TIU was first known) was created in Kawagoe, and Willamette became its partner school in Salem.

The programmatic and physical structure of TIUA arrived in 1989. Kaneko Hall, whose construction was completed just as the first students were arriving on campus, served as the main academic base for TIUA and as a shared residential facility in which TIUA students lived with other Willamette students (though TIUA students have always shared all of Willamettes’s residence halls). The facility received an extensive renovation in 2007 with the financial backing of TIUA and the Kaneko Foundation, and it stands today as a primary example of Willamette and TIUA’s shared vision of immersive learning and environmental responsibility.

The partnership between TIU and Willamette is fitting for many reasons. The most immediate are the institutions’ joint focus on international exchange and their commitment to increasing cultural awareness and collaboration on a global scale. As current TIU President Takayoshi Arai reminds us, robust exchange programs allow students to progress beyond simply seeing difference to understanding the ways of thinking behind it. This capacity allows them to participate as global citizens who will take an active and productive role in their world community.

During the 2009 academic year, TIUA welcomed a record-setting 147 students to Salem.


Masao's Flag

Returning Masao's Flag

By Chelsea Robinson ’10

The story about the flag started before my second visit to Japan. Carl, a friend of my father’s, explained to me during a phone call that he had been holding on to a Japanese flag covered in signatures for a number of years. He had received it from his father without explanation in high school; he only knew that it was something his father had brought back from his time in the Navy during World War II. I asked him to tell me more.

During college the flag had decorated his dorm room wall, he said. It wasn’t until later that a Japanese friend had looked at the flag and explained its significance. The writing covering the front was apparently a series of messages written by the friends and family of a man by the name of Masao Ko – nomyo – , on the occasion of his enrollment in Yokozuka Communications School and subsequent deployment to the warfront. Carl would explain later that after he learned these details, he was unable to think of the flag as something that belonged to him. He had seen stories on the news of similar items being repatriated, and since that time he had harbored a hope that the flag his father had given to him might also be returned.

Carl asked me if I would be interested in taking on the task of returning the flag to its family. I was a little overwhelmed by the request — I had no idea how I would go about searching for relatives of Masao Ko – nomyo – . But the story was so moving, and the opportunity so unique, that I agreed to do whatever I could.

The flag

I returned to Japan to join the Japanese Studies Program at TIU. I brought the flag with me and took it to my previous host father in Nagano, Tokio Oda. He suggested that we explain the story to the mayor of the town where I had attended high school. The next day we went to visit the mayor, accompanied by local reporters. He admired the flag reverently and offered his services and those of his office to search for surviving family members. He warned us, however, that this kind of search was likely to take a long time, possibly years. We were immediately sent a variety of contracts to sign, which stated basically that we had no intention of gleaning a profit from the item should its owners be found.

The issue of finding living relatives was simplified by the fact that Ko – nomyo – is a very uncommon family name in Japan. In December 2008, only four months after we had requested the mayor’s help, we received notification that Masao had two siblings and numerous other relatives living in a town called Mano on the island of Sado, located to the west of the main island in the Sea of Japan. Mayor Oda established contact with a young man who turned out be a nephew of Masao’s — we learned that he worked for the Sado city government and was the one who first received notification that a search was being conducted for the family of the flag.

We decided that we would travel to Sado to return the flag in person. My father and stepmother were planning on making a three-week trip to Japan the following month, so it made sense that the timing should coincide with their visit. Our group consisted of me, my father, my stepmother, my host father and his friend.

I remember my heart beating during the car ride to the Ko – nomyo – family residence. I had been told that I would formally present the flag to the oldest brother of Masao, a man who was 92 years old and sick “as if he’s asleep.” The night before, Tokio had helped me wrap the flag and pack it in a simple but decorative box, and he also instructed me on the proper way to present it. I knew there would be reporters waiting with cameras when we arrived, but I didn’t have any idea how many or how the whole visit would go.

We arrived at the house. I stepped nervously through the door and was faced with a wall of people, a jumble of bowing faces framed with white hair, bustling young women wearing aprons and reporters hidden behind camera lenses and notebooks. We bowed, removed our shoes and were ushered into a receiving room. The room contained a large family altar, over which hung numerous photographs of deceased family members. Among all the photos of adults was an illustrated portrait of a young man in military uniform.

Chelsea in Japan with members of the Konomyo family.

Chelsea in Japan with members of the Konomyo family.

After our introductions (during which I translated all that I could for my parents, who speak no Japanese), we decided that we ought to carry out the presentation. My host father handed me the box, and we moved into a second, smaller room, at the far end of which was the hospital bed in which Masao’s 92-year-old brother lay. His eyes were open and he stared at the ceiling. I was ushered to the side of his bed, and the room went silent as I gave a brief description of the circumstances under which the flag had come into our hands. I then unwrapped the flag as I had been instructed, and others around helped me to stretch it out, facing the man in the bed. Masao’s brother turned his head toward us, and though his illness prevented him from speaking, I could see his eyes moving across the length of the flag. When his sister stood by the bed and asked him gently if he knew what this was, he nodded slightly, eyes wide. There was something very profound about the minute I spent kneeling on the floor, watching his eyes, and I found myself fighting back tears. My dad stood behind me, his hand on my shoulder.

We returned to the receiving room and an elderly man, whom we later learned was Masao’s cousin, told us what he remembered of the time that the flag was signed. He pointed out his own signature. He said that the family was notified of their son’s death in Borneo by a teacher who lived nearby. Masao had been 18 years old. I looked back up at the picture above the altar and was brought to tears when I realized that he was two years younger than I am now. The family received no death certificate, nor any article of their son’s — nothing to confirm that he had been killed except the message passed on from the teacher.

With tears in his eyes and his voice shaking, Masao’s cousin said that, after all these years, it was as though Masao had finally come home to them.

None of us knew what kind of a reception to expect during our trip. I think that my parents and I felt a certain amount of apprehension as representatives of the country whose military might have been responsible for Masao’s death. But we were given hospitality in exchange for the return of a piece of the family that had been missing for more than 60 years.

I feel extremely fortunate to have been involved in this story. I am honored to have played a small part in a healing process that, even after so many years, was yet incomplete.

Chelsea Robinson ’10 is majoring in Asian studies.