Good-bye, Agnes

-By Bob Huey, CJS Director

The Center for Japanese Studies is sad to announce the passing of Dr. Agnes Niyekawa, Professor Emerita and former Chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures.  Her life’s accomplishments will be spelled out in other obituaries.  I would, instead, like to share my personal experiences with her.  When I came to UH in 1985, she was one of a few faculty who still smoked.  We would gather outside in the stairway foyer of Moore Hall for an afternoon cigarette – Jim Araki, Agnes, and myself, a newbie in awe of such company.  Strange to say that such a bad habit brought me good fortune in getting to know those two.  (Considering Agnes was nearly 90 when she died, it doesn’t seem that smoking harmed her all that much, though she and I both quit a year later.)  We’ve kept in touch ever since then. Fast forward to July 2009.  I was invited to join a group that was going to meet the Emperor and Empress of Japan at Kapiolani Park.  Agnes was there, too, and sat next to me as we waited (and waited, and waited).  She mused how the last time she’d seen a Japanese emperor she was just a school girl, and she and her classmates had to lie face down in the street as he passed by.  Their teachers had terrified them with the consequences of trying to steal a glimpse of the Imperial Presence.  Now here she was, about to shake the Emperor’s hand, and chat with him!  After he passed down the receiving line, she broke ranks and darted out to get a photo of him.  There she was, in the background, on the news video that evening.  It made me laugh.  It still makes me smile, as do all of my memories of her.