Yukiko Ono Information Center The Japan Foundation
Since 1973, a year after its inception, the Japan Foundation has honored individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to international cultural exchange and expected to remain influential in the field by presenting them with the Japan Foundation Awards.
The Japan Foundation Award recipients for 2010 were film critic Mr. Tadao Sato for the arts and culture category; Dr. Savitri Vishwanathan, a former professor at the University of Delhi, for Japanese language; and Professor Ben-Ami Shillony, professor emeritus of Japanese studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, for Japanese studies and intellectual exchange.
Here I would like to introduce the latter two recipients to acquaint readers unfamiliar with their names.
Dr. Vishwanathan laid the foundation for the development and promotion of Japanese studies and Japanese language education that serves as the basis of Japan-related studies in India today. It was when this small and very charming lady was thirty that she became involved in Japanese studies and started to learn the Japanese language. She visited Japan for the first time in ten years to attend the award ceremony. During all those years she read Japanese online newspapers every day to force herself to think in Japanese. She believes the Japanese language is essential to understanding Japan and its people. When teaching at university she was very strict about speaking only Japanese in class.
At the award presentation ceremony her speech was given in fluent Japanese. "Please allow me to be personal. I started my Japanese studies at the age of thirty, and this was when I started to learn Japanese. I struggled to acquire the language but somehow I made it. Being able to communicate in Japanese has helped me a lot in pursuing Japanese studies, while gaining a better understanding of Japan and Japanese people and feeling closer to them. As part of my studies I made strenuous efforts to read Japanese books and materials and to talk with Japanese people."
Professor Shillony is a leading scholar in Japanese studies and well-known for his research on modern and contemporary history of Japan and its imperial system. He is also a well-liked man. As a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, more than 500 students were enrolled in his class every year. Moreover, many of his friends attended the award presentation ceremony and his commemorative lecture.
After completing his master's thesis at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he received a scholarship from the then Ministry of Education, Science, Sports and Culture, and came to Japan in 1965 for the first time. Looking back on those days he recalled, "That was a year after the Tokyo Olympics. Japan was a poor country back then, but its people were optimistic and positive. I've always appreciated that the Japanese government gave me an opportunity to concentrate on studying without having to work at all."
In his acceptance speech he said, "I believe greatness of a country should be measured by its cultural achievements. In this sense, Japan is one of the greatest nations in the world because Japanese culture, whether traditional or modern, is one of the world's most precious treasures. Japanese people should be highly praised for their contributions to the world through culture, and this is something we should always keep in mind."
From the speeches by these two award recipients I could tell that they have always strived to understand Japan and Japanese people by reading Japanese books and materials and by communicating with Japanese people. They passionately talked about the history, culture and charm of Japan that we tend to forget, and the audience was captivated by their speeches.
After the ceremony Dr. Vishwanathan left Japan on October 30, 2010, and Professor Shillony on November 4. The staff members of the Japan Foundation Awards were relieved that the big event went well, but soon began to miss their smiles.
The presentation ceremony for the Japan Foundation Awards (2010) and the commemorative speech by Mr. Tadao Sato can be viewed on the Japan Foundation's video archives JF Video Square.