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Prominent Alumni

Edwin Reischauer '27 - Diplomat/Scholar

Edwin Reischauer grew up as an expat American, born in Tokyo in 1910 to Presbyterian missionaries, and like his siblings Robert ‘24 and Felicia ‘32 attended ASIJ. After graduation, Reischauer headed to the U.S., to study history and political science at Oberlin College in Ohio, writing his thesis on Commodore Perry’s opening of Japan. A master’s in history from Harvard followed and a visiting professor, Serge Elisseeff, helped him to obtain a travelling fellowship after he graduated. This five-year world tour took Reischauer to Beijing, Kyoto, Tokyo and the Sorbonne, where he met his first wife, Elinor Adrienne Danton in 1935. Reischauer traveled over land to Tokyo via the Trans-Siberian Railway later that year, marrying Adrienne there before they moved to Kyoto the next year.

The outbreak of the war with China brought the death of his brother Robert and saw Reischauer move to Seoul where he devised a system of Romanization with George McCune. In 1938, Reischauer returned to Harvard, where he taught and received his Ph.D. With a war in the Far East imminent, Reischauer joined the State Department as a senior research analyst, later becoming a Japanese instructor, before he was commissioned as a major in 1944 and joined military intelligence to translate and distribute intercepted communications. A promotion to Lieutenant Colonel followed and he worked on occupation policy for the Sate Department. In 1946, he returned to Harvard as an associate professor. The next decade brought academic success, but saw his wife succumb to heart problems. Following her death, Reischauer took a sabbatical and returned to Tokyo where he met Haru Matsukata ‘33. Within a year they were married, marking a fresh beginning for Reischauer.

By 1960, his work in Asian studies and analysis of U.S.-Japanese relations had attracted the attention of President Kennedy, who asked his former teacher from Harvard to become ambassador to Japan. He remained in the position until 1966, when he returned to Harvard, where he wrote and taught until ill health forced him to retire in 1981. During that time, he published numerous volumes on Japan and Asia and established the Japan Institute in 1973. Reischauer remained active, writing his autobiography and working with NHK on a documentary of his life, until 1990 when he passed away at his home in California. His wife, Haru, outlived him by eight years.

Oswald Wynd '31 - Author

Born in Tokyo in 1913 to missionary parents, Oswald Wynd spent his childhood imbibing the culture and language of his adopted home. Later in life his dual citizenship was both a curse and a blessing. Interned by the Japanese when his unit, the 9th Indian Division, was captured retreating through the Malaysian jungle in 1941, Wynd spent the rest of WWII in Hokkaido. Although initially his Japanese citizenship meant he was accused of treason — a crime that usually brought execution — he escaped with imprisonment, and his superior language skills and knowledge of his captors enabled him to help fellow prisoners and survive the remainder of the war.

Once peace came, Wynd left Japan vowing never to return and began a second career as an author. His first novel, Black Fountains, about a young American-educated Japanese, was published by Doubleday after winning their writing contest. Wynd went on to write several other novels including the 1949 fantasy When Ape is King and his best-known work The Ginger Tree. Drawing heavily on his family’s experience in Japan and China, the novel is a poignant tale of a Scottish woman’s struggle to make a life in early twentieth century Tokyo. Filmed by the BBC in 1989, The Ginger Tree was well received by the public and critics, although Wynd himself added a postscript to a letter to ASIJ saying he disliked the adaptation. The series renewed interest in Wynd’s writing, which also includes a series of thrillers under the name of Gavin Black. Like much of his work, these tales of mystery and suspense feature an outsider — Paul Harris, a Scotsman in Malaysia attempting to assimilate into Asian culture.

Between successful thrillers such as Dead Man Calling (1962) and A Dragon for Christmas (1963), Wynd also turned his pen to essays, radio plays and TV scripts, working from his house on an island in the Hebrides off the coast of Scotland.

With time his post-war revulsion at the behavior of his once compatriot Japanese lessened, and he hungrily devoured snippets of news from ASIJ classmates. Unlike his fictional characters who left Scotland to face the test of living in Asia, Wynd spent his latter years trying to fit himself into a culture as homogenous and different as that of his birth. Certainly his unique perspective fueled his writing and, as he tells classmate Miye Hirooka ‘31 in a letter dated 1947, the spirit of his early years here remained with him. “I realized that although your people had been my enemies for years and I had done my utmost against them, still they were my people too, from my birth in Japan, from my years there and the happiness I had certainly known there.” Wynd passed away in 1998.

Joan Fontaine '35 - Actress

Walter de Havilland placed one finger above the Thames in London on his globe; the index finger of his other hand moved over the North Pole and came to rest on a spot at the same latitude on the far side — over the island of Hokkaido. This is how he came to travel to Japan, gradually work his way south to Tokyo (and later Kobe) and how Joan de Havilland came to be born in the Far East. Just over a year younger than her sister Olivia, Joan was born in 1917 and spent the first two years of her life in Tokyo before her parents’ disintegrating marriage brought about a relocation to Europe and California, where her mother met George Milan Fontaine and married him in 1925.

At 16, she returned to Japan, where her father still resided, and boarded at ASIJ. Granted a weekend pass by the principal, de Havilland was the belle of many balls and enjoyed dancing with American Ambassador Grew and drinking sloe-gin fizzes with British bachelors. But as she asserts in her autobiography, her time in Tokyo was “not all gimlets and galas.” By the next year, her relationship with her father had worsened and she returned to the U.S. unannounced. At 17 de Havilland found herself living with family friends supported by her sister Olivia, who was touring in a Shakespeare play, when a stroke of luck brought her acting debut.

After a tempestuous childhood, Fontaine threw herself into acting. As Olivia de Havilland was already signed to Warner Bros., Joan was forced to take a different stage name, settling on Fontaine. Contracted to R.K.O. at 18, Fontaine worked her way up from bit parts in Katharine Hepburn movies to leading roles. Within six years, she found success and critical acclaim starring in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca and was nominated for an Academy Award in 1940. Oscar night a year later was more successful and Fontaine walked off with the award for her role in Suspicion, beating her sister who was nominated for Hold Back the Dawn — Olivia later won two Oscars herself. Further screen successes included Ivanhoe (1952) and Tender is the Night (1962), and many stage performances also followed.

From the broken homes of her childhood and the lifelong rivalry with her sister to four failed marriages, Fontaine has overcome many obstacles to raise two children and charm audiences worldwide. She currently resides in California.

Oleg Troyanovsky '37 - Diplomat

From his time on the junior cabinet during his middle school days at ASIJ, to a childhood country hopping in the wake of his father’s distinguished diplomatic career, Oleg Troyanovsky seemed destined to take a position on the global political stage. After leaving his native Russia as a child, he spent six years in Japan attending ASIJ from 1929-32, while his father Alexander was Soviet ambassador to Japan. The family’s next posting took Troyanovsky to the States where he spent most of the thirties. There he attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, playing on the football team. On returning to the Soviet Union, he put his linguistic talents to use working for the official news agency Tass and served in the Red Army. In 1944, he entered the foreign ministry and quickly rose through the ranks acquiring fame in diplomatic circles as a master English interpreter, the product of 12 years of American schooling.

He served as assistant to the Foreign Minister for five years from 1953 and then became Assistant to the Chairman of the Soviet Council of Ministers. During the 1960s, Troyanovsky, as Soviet Prime Minister Krushchev’s assistant, acted as translator during meetings with U.S. President Kennedy, and he later played an integral part in the Cuban Missile crisis. “Khrushchev was always anxious about our prestige, he was afraid the Americans would force us to back down somewhere. He’d worked too long with Stalin and well remembered his words, ‘When I’m gone, they’ll strangle you like a kitten’,” Troyanovsky told the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper in 1997, 35 years after the crisis.After the dramatic events of the early 1960s, Troyanovsky spent the remainder of the decade in his childhood home of Japan. As Soviet ambassador to Japan he stayed in the capital from 1967-76, claiming on his arrival that he had forgotten all of his Japanese. On leaving Japan, he took up the position of ambassador to the United Nations in New York in 1977 and acted as president of the Security Council during many of its sessions over the next decade. His fluent English, easygoing nature and joke telling made him a popular figure at the U.N., not least with the diplomatic press corps.

In 1986, Troyanovsky returned to Asia and the political spotlight when he took up residency as Soviet ambassador to China.

Beate Sirota Gordon '39 - Writer/Cultural Ambassador

Born in 1923 in Vienna, Beate Sirota displayed a flair for languages at an early age, quickly picking up fluent Japanese in addition to English, Russian, German and French. The daughter of renowned concert pianist Leo Sirota, she toured Europe and Asia with her family, before they settled in Tokyo. After attending ASIJ, Sirota left for California to study at MillsCollege outside of San Francisco. When war broke out in the U.S., Sirota used her fluent Japanese to translate intercepted radio messages and write propaganda. Listening to the broadcasts, she tried desperately to find word of her parents who remained in war torn Japan as stateless exiles. After the war, she returned to Japan, the country she regarded as her home, to try to locate her family. The first civilian woman allowed back during the occupation, she worked at General Headquarters, helping to draft the new constitution in secret. Aged only 22, Sirota wrote the section devoted to women’s rights and the family, and translated during negotiations with the Japanese government. As the title of her autobiography says, she was The Only Woman in the Room.

In 1947, she returned to the States with her husband Lt. Joe Gordon, and after an aborted attempt at teaching dance, became a cultural impresario. Once again capitalizing on her linguistic and artistic talents as well as the flair for entertaining that she inherited from her mother, Sirota became Head of Performing Arts at the Asia Society. Responsible for bringing renowned artists from all over Asia to the States, Sirota works tirelessly to promote the arts and introduce Japanese and Asian culture to the West.

John Cornyn '69 - US Senator, Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference

Since taking office as Attorney General in January of 1999, John Cornyn became the first Texas Attorney General in nearly 20 years to personally appear before the U.S. Supreme Court, doing so on two occasions. As the state’s chief law enforcement officer, he heads the largest law firm in Texas, with more than 3,500 employees. After six years as a District Court Judge in San Antonio, he was elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1990 and 1996. Cornyn resigned in 1997 to run for Attorney General. He is the first Republican to win the position since Reconstruction. Business Week magazine called Cornyn a national leader on privacy protection interests and the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas presented him with an award in 2001 for his efforts to promote open government. Cornyn also served as a member of the Bush-Cheney Transition Advisory Committee. Born in Houston, Cornyn graduated from ASIJ after moving to Tokyo in 1968. His father John Cornyn, a B-17 pilot in WWII, was an oral pathologist in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed at Tachikawa Air Force Base. In November 2006 he was elected unanimously by his fellow Republican Senators to the position of Vice Chairman of the Republican Conference, the fifth-highest Republican leadership position in the United States Senate. He succeeds his fellow U.S. Senator from Texas, Kay Bailey Hutchison, who was elected to the fourth-highest leadership position as Chair of the Republican Policy Committee.

Linda Purl '73 - Actress

Born in Connecticut, Linda Purl spent her early years in Japan attending ASIJ from 1960-69. She went on to become the only foreigner to train at the Toho Geino Academy and began her career with roles in The King and I, Oliver and The Miracle Worker at the Imperial Theater in Tokyo. On leaving Japan, Purl studied under Marguerite Beale in the U.K., before returning to the U.S. to refine her craft at the Lee Strasberg Institute.

Considering her training and pedigree (her sister is Mara Purl), it should come as no surprise that she became an accomplished stage actress with a range encompassing everything from playing Juliet in Romeo and Juliet to Sandy in Grease. Such performances have earned her six Dramalogue Best Actress Awards, a Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Actress and the Connecticut Critics Award for her role in The Baby Dance.

A familiar face on TV, Purl played two characters in Happy Days. She has guest starred in favorites such as Murder: She Wrote, The Waltons and Hawaii Five-O. Purl has also co-starred with giants such as Lawrence Olivier in The Last Days of Pompeii, Toshiro Mifune in Time Traveler and a gorilla in the Disney comedy Mighty Joe Young.

Hikaru Utada '00 - Musician

Hikaru Utada is a rare commodity in the world of Japanese entertainment. She not only has an artistic pedigree — her mother, Keiko Fuji, was a successful enka star and her father Teruzane Utada is a music producer — she also writes her own lyrics and melodies. What makes her unique though, is her phenomenal success. Her album, First Love, released back in 1999 while she was still at ASIJ, sold over 9.5 million copies, making it the best selling album in Japan ever. No one-hit wonder, her carefully crafted and surprisingly mature songs continue to dominate the Top Ten.

Born and raised in New York, Utada began writing songs age 10 and made her debut back in the 1990s, releasing her first album in Europe and the U.S. in 1996 under the name Cubic. She spent the last two years of high school at ASIJ combining school and her burgeoning music career. The hit singles, her own radio show, TV spots and live performances could have dominated the 16 year-old’s life, but Utada managed to balance school work with her music career and was accepted to ColumbiaUniversity in New York.

With a second album, Distance, under her belt — its first week’s sales of over 3 million helped quash the naysayers — and several new projects under way, Utada is taking a sabbatical this year to spend time in Japan working and promoting the album.

Although she says she plans to retire early, like her mother, and thinks she’d like to pursue a second career in neuroscience, it appears as if Utada’s sights are set on conquering the Western music market. Already profiled by Time magazine, Utada recently sang a track on the Rush Hour 2 soundtrack, which featured a cameo by Foxy Brown and she is set to start working on some English songs for a future album. In February this year, she signed a deal with a new record company, Island Def Jam, who will market her non-Japanese releases and potentially end the luxury of anonymity that she currently enjoys Stateside at university. While President Bush has already had the pleasure of her company during his recent visit to Tokyo, his fellow Americans will have to wait just a little longer to get to know Japan’s princess of pop.


Edwin Reischauer '27 & his wife Haru Matskata '33

Oswald Wynd '31

Joan Fontaine '35

Oleg Troyanovsky ' 37

Beate Sirota Gordon '39

John Cornyn '69

Linda Purl '73

Hikaru Utada '00