BY INGRID TOYODA, CWAJ PRESIDENT 2009
The College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ)’s origins date back to the combined efforts of Japanese women and their American counterparts in alumnae clubs from US Ivy League colleges in Tokyo, just after World War II. Alumnae clubs from two American institutions in particular, Mount Holyoke and Wellesley, laid the foundations for what was first called College Women’s Club of Tokyo. This small group of ambitious alumnae ladies joined forces to raise funds for travel grants given to students who had places to study, but no means of getting there. Thanks to the efforts of these pioneers and their successors, this year celebrates the 60th anniversary of an organisation empowered by women for women, seeking excellence in education in order to pursue their dreams for a better world.
CWAJ is an accomplished organisation with a distinguished history of outreach by energetic Japanese and foreign women to enrich the lives of a cross-section of society in Japan. Its main beneficiaries are women who want to further their education—Japanese and foreign—supported through CWAJ awards to make their professional dreams come true.
Of course, volunteers with CWAJ also benefit from their time with the group. As Monita Griffiths says: “When I first arrived in Tokyo, I was at loose ends. Having always worked, no matter where we’ve lived, and not being able to find a job in which to progress professionally here, it became important to me to find an avenue through which I could develop interpersonal relationships and contribute to an organisation working for a greater cause. Volunteering to help with the annual Print Show and just knowing that the whole organisation will be pulling together for this massive endeavour is truly an amazing experience.
But it’s not all work and no play. Joining the CWAJ has given me the opportunity to meet wonderful women from different backgrounds and attend monthly luncheons hosting fascinating speakers. I have enjoyed spending time and chatting with the ladies at the Japanese conversation group and the Hiking Group’s organised rambles in far away places.”
Creative Fundraising was born in 1956 following an exhibition by Elisabeth Keith, a well-known American artist living in Japan. This show was the forerunner of CWAJ’s annual, world-acclaimed Print Show. Keith was the first woman to master the Japanese technique of printing in the traditional manner of woodblock and colour etching. This first exhibit held at International House, Roppongi, resulted from the simple wish of a CWAJ member, herself a print artist and student of Japan’s distinguished artist Un’ichi Hiratsuka, to introduce Japanese artists to a wider audience. The subsequent success of the Print Show owed much in the early days to the support of Mr. Hiratsuka, and of writer and art critic Oliver Statler.
In the mid ‘50’s and early ‘60’s, CWAJ attracted a large number of attendees to its many social events such as teas and luncheons, with a highlight being the Imperial Ball at the Hotel Okura in 1962. Socialising played a big role in boosting fundraising efforts with names like Haru Reischauer, CWAJ honorary president and wife of the US Ambassador, Broadway stars from the US, British potter Bernhard Leac, and Yukio Mishima, the Japanese novelist, to name just a few.
Internationalisation changed Japan in 1964 with the Olympic Games held in Tokyo. The rapidly growing Japanese market began to attract foreign businesses, and advertisements from the ‘60s CWAJ Print Show catalogues recall some of the earliest foreign companies to start business in Japan.
1963 marks the beginning of CWAJ English language teaching, unique at the time. CWAJ’s native English speakers were trained to assist Japanese high school teachers.
As the foreign community grew, so did the interest in learning more about Japan. In 1966 CWAJ’s cultural seminars developed into the annual Lecture Series, which over 37 years covered many important cultural topics and attracted the best speakers in their fields.
By the end of the ‘70s, the economy was growing to new heights, and Japan as the ‘superpower’ became the world’s largest financial empire with the Tokyo Stock Exchange valued higher than Wall Street’s. Japan’s bubble economy was at its peak.
From 1972 more Japanese companies expanded overseas and CWAJ started offering orientation programs for wives to prepare them for expatriate life. In the same year, the travel grants were replaced by full-time scholarships for women postgraduates only.
‘Scholarships transforming lives…’ as one of their very first scholars Miiko Kodama has stated in a message to CWAJ. She embarked on her journey to America in 1972 with a $5,000 CWAJ Scholarship, and there she came to realise the importance of racial equality and the open minds of the people around her. Her experiences broadened her horizons and influenced her future life.
In 1978, in recognition of the difficulties blind students face in Japan, a scholarship was founded for the visually impaired, open to men and women at all university levels, and in 1981 the scholarship program for non-Japanese graduate women (NGJ) to study at Japanese universities was established. Since that time all four categories of scholarships have continued to change the lives and aspirations of many scholars. This year, to celebrate their 60th anniversary, CWAJ awarded four special awards—Scholar Grants—to outstanding previous scholarship recipients, and for the first time awarded an Overseas Scholarship to a medical student in the Philippines, as well as their 11 regular scholarships!
CWAJ Print Show:
The Print Show’s 30th anniversary in 1985 was commemorated by a travelling show to leading art galleries in Honolulu, Washington DC, Chicago, New York, Salem, Vancouver, and London. Later, the prints were donated to the British Museum’s permanent collection of contemporary Japanese prints. The 50th Print Show was celebrated in 2005, and most of the prints were donated to the Library of Congress in Washington DC where they formed a major exhibition in spring 2007.
For more information about CWAJ and their impressive annual fundraiser, the Print Show, which this year (its 54th) featured over 188 prints by 182 artists, visit www.cwaj.org.