Waseda Alum Returns HomeThu, Nov 5, 2020
This article is a reprint of a contribution piece originally published in the Waseda USA Newsletter Vol. 11 (Spring 2018).
It’s not unusual to read about Waseda alums achieving success. My own story is no exception. Or is it?
As a 20-year old undergrad in 1985, away from home for the first time, I could not have imagined the impact Waseda would later have on my career or personal life. What still amazes me is the education I received outside the classroom… lessons ranging from culture and aesthetics (exploring Tokyo) to friendships and family. Life.
Yes, Waseda opened professional doors. I’ll never forget what seemed like the strangest job interview. I recall facing four Japanese executives in a conference room. It was my first real job interview after graduation. I must’ve struggled in Japanese to convince them that my language skills would improve once I joined their company. That interview ended with, “You start Monday.” Thank you, Waseda, for opening that first of many doors.
Over time I rose to become the marketing director for a Japanese consumer electronics manufacturer. But those opportunities weren’t based on language skills or expert knowledge of cultural differences. Looking back, my success grew from an ability to look beyond cultural differences. And I credit Waseda with fostering my willingness to communicate regardless of title, language or time zone.
I still have vivid Waseda memories. There was our economics professor, Wada-sensei, who opened my eyes to the world of manufacturing. (I had never been in a factory until our field trips to production facilities.) There was Keiko-san, who was much more than an advisor to the international students. From academics to social taboos, she kept us housed, informed and out of trouble. We certainly didn’t make her job easy. I can’t forget Hongo-san, the Waseda student who volunteered to “acclimate” me during my first week in Japan. And what a first night! We drove to Chinatown in Yokohama for Chinese food, and ended the evening at a public bath. I still remember the laughter, the awkwardness, and the look of shock on the manager’s face when she saw me. I also remember what I shouted after jumping into that boiling bath!
But the real hero in my Waseda story is Mrs. Yaeko Momoi. But I call her by her other name, Oka-san. (That’s “mom” in Japanese.) Imagine the courage it took for her to welcome a complete stranger, someone with zero language skills, into her home. The Momoi’s welcomed me as a member of their family, and for that I am forever grateful. Being there, living in that house in Nishi-Funabashi, showed me the insignificance of cultural differences. And to an impressionable young adult learning about the world beyond his own, my new family demonstrated just how alike we all really are.
And, so it happened. After too many years of not keeping in touch with Oka-san, and feeling guilty for it, I returned to Nishi-Funabashi in December 2017. It took a while to find my way around, but I did it. I found the house. (There’s been a lot of new construction since I last walked around the neighborhood.) It was a wonderful, emotional reunion. Oka-san’s face hasn’t changed. And she’s still just as lively and outgoing as ever.
Thank you Waseda for creating this extraordinary family story. I’m already planning my next visit.
Michael H. Kaplan
Waseda International Division ’85