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Joseph K. Yamagiwa
LSA Minutes

1906 - 1968

Joseph K. Yamagiwa, Professor of Japanese and former Chairman of the Department of Far Eastern Languages and Literatures, died of a heart seizure at St. Joseph's Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor on December 10, 1968. He was sixty-two years of age.

Professor Yamagiwa was born September 9, 1906, in Seattle, Washington. He was the eldest of four children of Heiemon and Kesano Yamagiwa, immigrants from Nagano Prefecture, Japan. Both parents died in the same year while Professor Yamagiwa was still a high school student in Seattle, and as a result he was thrown on his own resources and left with the responsibility for his two younger brothers and sister. It was decided that relatives in Japan would undertake the care of the younger children, but it had been the parents' wish that all three boys be educated in the United States. Consequently, Professor Yamagiwa remained in Seattle to continue his schooling, and his two brothers were sent from Japan to join him when they reached high school age. The boys worked their way through school, living together, helping one another, determined to obtain the education and make the mark in the world that had been their parents' ambition for them.

On graduating from high school, Professor Yamagiwa entered the University of Washington to study engineering. However, he found such study uncongenial, and after one year, as the fortuitous result of a visit to Washington by the Bates College debating team, he decided to transfer to Bates College in Maine. There he majored in English literature and distinguished himself both as a student and as an athlete. He played football as a freshman, and graduated magna cum laude and was Valedictorian of his class in 1928. In order to continue his studies in the field of English literature and linguistics, Professor Yamagiwa began graduate work at Michigan in 1929. He earned his master's degree in 1930, and remained in Ann Arbor as successively reader, sub-editor, and chief sub-editor of the Early Modern English Dictionary. He continued the pattern of hard work and study that had characterized his life since high school days, taking courses in his field and working part-time both on the Dictionary and in a number of other jobs by which he managed to support himself and his wife, Hanako Hoshino of Tokyo, whom he married here in 1932.

It had been Professor Yamagiwa's intention to take the Ph.D. in English and to continue professionally in the field, but with the encouragement of Professor Robert B. Hall (Emeritus, Geography) and others, who were eager to develop a program in Japanese studies at Michigan, he decided to make use of his already excellent knowledge of the Japanese language and his training in Western methodologies of language and literature studies in order to study Japanese historical linguistics and literature.. It should be emphasized that at this time there were in the United States only a handful of scholars in this field, so that the decision was a bold one, and as later events proved, one that had a special significance for the development of Japanese studies in this country.

In 1937 Professor Yamagiwa was appointed Instructor in Japanese in the then Department of Oriental Languages and Literatures and from 1939 to 1941 he carried on pre-doctoral research in Japan as a Rockefeller Research Fellow, He completed his doctoral work in 1942, the title is The Older Inflected Forms Surviving in the Modern Japanese Written Language.

During World War II, Professor Yamagiwa performed a most important service to the nation and to the development of Japanese studies as Director of the Army Military Intelligence Japanese Language School at Ann Arbor from 1942 through 1946, and also as Supervisor of the Language Program for the Army Specialized Training Program (1943-44) and for the Civil Affairs Training School (1944-45). In addition, in 1945 he was Supervisor of the Japanese Translation Program at The University of Michigan for the Office of the Provost Marshal General, In 1945, he served as a Research Bombing Analyst for the U,S, Strategic Bombing Survey in and Tokyo, In 1960 he was appointed Colonel in the United States Army Reserves.

Professor Yamagiwa was promoted to Associate Professor of Japanese in 1947, and to full Professor in 1953. In 1948, he was appointed Chairman of the newly-established Department of Far. Eastern Languages and Literatures, a position that he held until 1964, He was also instrumental in establishing the Center for Japanese Studies, one of the first language and area centers to be created in this country after World War II, and he served continuously on the Executive Committee of the Center from its inception until the time of his death.

In 1958; Professor Yamagiwa was Fulbright Lecturer in Japanese language, literature and thought at Oxford University, He was named Chairman of the Committee on Far Eastern Language Instruction of the Committee on Institutional Cooperation of the Big Eleven in 1961, and in 1963 served as Director of the first Far Eastern Language Summer Institute sponsored by the CIC,. He served thereafter as program coordinator of successive CIC Far Eastern Language summer institutes until his death. In 1963 he was also one of eight United States delegates to the United States-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange. In 1965 he was resource participant in Far Eastern Thought at the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies.

Throughout his professional career, Professor Yamagiwa maintained active membership in many professional organizations, including the Modern Language Association; American Oriental Society, and Association for Asian Studies, and Linguistic Society of America, He held important secretarial and directorial positions in several of these organizations, and in addition was Director of the Linguistic Institute in 1954 and Secretary of the Committee on Far Eastern Studies of the American Council of Learned Societies from 1947-1950, As one of the pioneers in modern American studies of Japanese language and literature, Professor Yamagiwa was a founding member of the Association of Teachers of Japanese and served continuously on its executive committee from the founding of the association until his death.

Professor Yamagiwa was the author or editor of many publications in the field of Japanese language and literature, His chief publications include: Modern Conversational Japanese (1942); Translations from Early Japanese Literature (with Edwin O. Reischauer, 1951); Japanese Literature in the Showa Period. A Guide to Japanese Reference and Research Materials (1959); Japanese Language Studies in the Showa Period (editor, 1961); A Topical History of Japan (with Madoka Kanai and Hideharu Nitta, 1966); and Bibliography of Japanese Encyclopedias and Dictionaries (1968), His complete annotated translation of the Japanese twelfth-century classic, Okagami (The Great Mirror) was published in 1967. In addition, Professor Yamagiwa served as editor of the Bibliographical Series of the Center for Japanese 'Studies at The University of Michigan, and editor of the Publications of the CIC Panel on Far Eastern Language Institutes. He also edited and compiled a series of annotated reading materials in several disciplines for intermediate and advanced students of Japanese: Readings in Japanese Language and Linguistics (1965); Readings in Japanese Literature (1965); Readings in Japanese Political Science (1965); Readings in Japanese Social Anthropology and Sociology (1966), and Readings in Japanese History (1966). His Forty-Nine Documents, an annotated selection of ancient and medieval documentary materials for advanced students of Japanese history and literature, remained unfinished at his death.

Professor Yamagiwa was widely known and liked for his frinedly affability throughout the University community. He served on numerous academic committees, was an ardent football fan (scarcely missing a single home game during his whole life at Michigan), and until a first heart attack in 1964 required him to give up strenuous exercise, played water polo regularly with a group of colleagues from a number of different schools and departments. He and his charming wife Hanako were extremely hospitable and were constantly entertaining students, colleagues and visitors from Japan and elsewhere. Since Professor Yamagiwa's name in Japan was for long practically synonymous with Japanese studies in the United States, hardly a Japanese academic visitor to this country failed to make a visit to Michigan an essential point on his itinerary. The unfailingly cordial and gracious reception such visitors received from Professor and Mrs. Yamagiwa did much to enhance the reputation of this university and of its program in Japanese studies in Japan.

Professor Yamagiwa is warmly remembered by a host of students whom he helped to train and launch on careers over the years. In addition to the academic specialists in Japanese throughout the country, there are the several hundred graduates of the Japanese language programs which he directed during World War II, some of whom are now leaders in the foreign business community in Japan. while others hold important positions in government, the legal profession, journalism, and the like. In August of 1968 a reunion was held in Ann Arbor of graduates of these Army language classes, which was attended by more than a hundred men and their wives, The reunion was in large degree a personal tribute to Professor Yamagiwa for the contribution he made to so many lives and career.

At the time of his death Professor Yamagiwa was looking forward to making a visit to his daughter and her husband, Professor and Mrs, Gustav Alfaro of Stanford, California. and to seeing his little granddaughter, Anna Elisa, for the first time. Although this happiness was denied him, it is some consolation to reflect that he remained vigorous and active until the end. He will be long missed and remembered by his students and colleagues, who will recall with affection and respect his scholarship and his teaching.