From the College of Humanities and Social Sciences
Bridge to the World
Made in Utah

Meet Japanese Aggies Saburo Yamasaki, Ken Kitamura, and Akinori Murakami.

Made in Utah

They came from the north, south, and center of Japan and might never have met each other, save the opportunity each man had to study on the campus of Utah State University. And it’s an experience they’ve never forgotten.

In fact, just this fall the three men returned to USU to reminisce about the good old days of the late 1970s, when all three —Kenjiro Kitamura, Saburo Yamasaki and Akinori Murakami — became friends as they studied at USU’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences’ Intensive English Language Institute.

“Every time I drive through the mountain pass and see Cache Valley, it feels like I am coming back to my hometown,” said Kitamura after his recent return to campus.

As with most study abroad experiences, the things the three learned at USU and the mutual experiences they shared as strangers in a strange land are carefully stored in a cherished corner of their minds.

“Every person I met on campus was friendly,” said Murakami. “Even this year, Dr. Rogers at IELI invited us to his house for a barbecue dinner and we had a pleasant time. I have no words to express my gratitude.”

All three men spent time studying English through IELI before moving on to take regular classes toward their degrees. Murakami received a bachelor’s degree in political science in 1977 after studying English with IELI for two quarters.

“I still remember attending the 84th annual commencement in June,” he said.

Murakami moved back to his hometown of Nishiwaki about 10 years ago after spending most of his career in Tokyo working for a Swiss pharmaceutical company. Kitamura too is a CHaSS alumnus, having majored in journalism with a focus on television broadcasting. He graduated in 1977 and began working for a Japanese language television program in Los Angeles and ended up working in the United States for 27 years before returning to Japan in 2005. He continues to work as a freelance video journalist in his native country.

Although Yamasaki wasn’t able to complete his USU degree in political science after being called home in 1976 to help with the family business in Kagoshima City (a highly successful wholesale shoe company), he nevertheless feels his time at USU was well spent and remembers his years in Logan with great fondness.

“I enjoyed seeing sports games, football, basketball and also movies, pool, bowling . . . all these things were so good for foreign students,” Yamsaki said. “So I’ve experienced many things and had a pleasant time with roommates and friends.”

Yamasaki was lured to the United States by a federal advertising campaign just prior to the nation’s bicentennial celebration. “I still remember seeing the poster of a cute American girl eating a watermelon shaped like a football,” Yamasaki said. “So I asked my father about studying in the United States after graduating from Kagoshima College of Economics.”

The three friends had various reasons for wanting to study in the United States, but the decision to come to USU was based mostly on economics, opportunity, and something all three mentioned: safety. IELI was also a factor.

“The advisor of overseas study at a travel agency in Japan recommended USU above all,” Murakami said. “He replied to my questions that there was IELI and students could enter USU without passing the TOEFL [Test of English as a Foreign Language] because of IELI. I remember he also said Utah was a very safe and educated state. That’s why I decided to go to USU.”

Christy Glass and Alison Cook

Kitamura had somewhat similar thoughts about choosing to come to Utah State as a CHaSS student.

“You could come to big cities like L.A. or New York,” he explained. “But it is so expensive and not so safe to study there. On the other hand, Logan is such a nice place to live and study. You can find great professors and facilities to have a high-quality education.”

Although the three continue to live busy lives in diverse areas ranging from Nishiwaki to Kagoshima, their shared USU experience keeps them in touch and every once in a while, as happened this fall, the call to come home to Cache Valley becomes too loud and persistent to ignore.

“Logan and USU are so special in our minds,” Kitamura said. “All of us are proud of being students there once before even though many years have already passed.”

The trio’s most recent visit to campus included much reminiscing, visits to favorite old haunts, a dinner hosted by IELI’s Jim Rogers, getting acquainted with old friends, and making new ones at IELI.

Friendships with USU students and faculty are especially precious to the three. “My journey was supported by my friends, my family, and USU. The most important thing was these relationships,” Yamasaki said. “I hope they are always as unchanged as Aggie Ice Cream.”

One thing that did change for the men upon returning to Japan was a heightened ability to conduct international business. All three of the men said learning English was a major motivation for coming to the United States in general and USU’s IELI program in particular.

“When I worked for a Swiss pharmaceutical company in Japan, my English conversation skills were needed to talk with my counterpart in Switzerland,” said Murakami. “I believe my experience studying at USU has absolutely helped me in my career.”

Saburou Yamasaki’s experience with the English language also has been helpful in his shoe business he said. However, he believes his experiences at USU helped in a broader sense as well.

“At USU I believe I gained a global point of view,” he said. “I learned ideas that were not just Japanese, but also from the USA and other countries. For the first time, I could see Japan from the outside. USU gave me chances to think about new ideas and I’ve worked my business with these ideas.”

With such positive experiences, it’s no wonder Murakami, Kitamura, and Yamasaki all say they would highly recommend the study abroad experience for today’s young Japanese students. But beyond that recommendation, the men also suggest and invite current and future USU students to consider a study abroad experience in Japan.

“Come to Japan and stay in the countryside,” Kitamura said. “People are so friendly and you can find real Japanese mindset and culture there.”

Yamasaki said Japan welcomes American students with open arms.

“Please come to Japan not only as a student, but also as a traveler,” he said. “You can choose unique subjects at universities in Japan and this travel will be a good opportunity to understand Japan and we Japanese.”

Yet, despite their obvious love and pride for their native land, all three say Logan is a special place, full of special people and special experiences that they loved and now often miss.

“One fall morning I was watching students hurrying to classes from my dorm window of what was then called East High Rise,” Kitamura recalled. “The sky was so blue and the mountains looked so close and I could see a far distance to the north. I had never seen such a wonderful moment.”

Many such wonderful moments continue to be treasured by international students who have studied at USU and many similar moving memories are shared by and waiting for USU students who choose to study abroad.