Happy Memories of Being the First Japanese Student at Villanova University in 1957

Masakazu (John) Sugiura, Class of ‘61,is the former chairman of Rokuoh Shoji Co., Ltd., which distributesKonica cameras and films and he is the President of Villanova AlumniJapan (which was officially established in 1997). He is also activelyinvolved in international business affairs and has traveled widely allover the world.

In June, 2001, Mr. Sugiura received the Medal Award of 2001 St.Thomas of Villanova Alumni from Villanova University. But almost 40years ago, Mr. Sugiura was the first Japanese student to attendVillanova University. When Mr. Sugiura and his wife visited theVillanova University campus in July, 1996, and also in June, 2001, hefondly recalled his many good experiences studying and living atVillanova in the 1950s.

Mr. Sugiura mentioned four reasons that he had decided to study atVillanova: He came here because he was interested in studying in theUnited States, studying business and marketing, and studying at anexcellent Catholic University. He was also interested in increasing hisunderstanding of a foreign language, society, people and culture.

Even present-day Villanova students might experience some cultureshock if they were transported back to the campus of the 1950s. Forexample, there were no female students, Tolentine was a dormitory forfreshmen, and all students were expected to wear jackets and ties inthe classrooms and cafeteria. In those days, there was an entranceceremony for incoming students. Also, so that they could be easilyidentified, the freshmen students were expected to pull up their cuffsand the sophomore students had to wear white caps.

In addition, the freshmen had to memorize the university song andcheers. (If they failed to do so, the punishment was that they had to“quack” like a duck!) “Discipline” was one of the important values, and“Attention!” and “Look proud, men!” were among the orders given tofreshman by the inspecting officer, Sergeant Reilly.

Beginning in his sophomore year, Mr. Sugiura lived with an Americanfamily, Mr. and Mrs. Massey, in Bala Cynwyd. Having Sugiura stay withthem gave the eldest son in the Massey family, Joseph (class of ‘62) aninterest in Japan. In fact, he later became Assistant United StatesTrade Representative for Japan and China under the Reagan and BushAdministrations. (Currently he is a professor at Dartmouth College.)

Mr. Sugiura enjoyed his campus life and made many friends. He oftenwent bowling and dancing with his friends but spent most of theweekends catching up on his studying.

In addition, while at Villanova he met Fr. Purcell, who had alreadybeen in Nagasaki as a missionary, and they have been good friends eversince. Also, Mr. Sugiura recalls that at his graduation ceremony in1961, Cardinal Cushing spoke for about two hours!

And when Mr. Sugiura finally returned to Japan, he experienced“reverse culture shock.” For example, he observed what a closed societyJapan was: in order to keep harmony in the homogeneous society, peopleare not encouraged to show any originality or individuality.

So what are Mr. Sugiura’s impressions of present-day Villanova? Ofcourse, Villanova is now co-educational, and he noticed that there aremany new buildings and many more shops and restaurants around thecampus.

He is also impressed with the Villanova Japanese program. (Fortyyears ago, most students knew very little about Japan. For example,they asked him if there were any streetcars or automobiles in Japan.)Mr. Sugiura enjoyed visiting the Japanese summer class, and he remarkedthat the students seem bright, sincere and hard-working.

Now, in appreciation for all that Villanova University gave him, Mr.and Mrs. Sugiura have given their generous donation to the university.Also, Mr. Sugiura has established an Alumni Association for Villanovagraduates in Japan with the cooperation with the Alumni Office. Theywould also be happy to see Villanova faculty, staff and students inJapan.

An interview by Masako HamadaAssistant Professor/Program Director of Japanese Program,Dept. of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures