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Drum-playing Akihito scholar breaks language barriers with music

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Karin Mackenzie, (808) 956-4051
Education Specialist, Community Relations, College of Languages, Linguistics & Literature
Posted: Jun 5, 2017

Seated are Junichi Yagi and Jennifer Yoo.  Standing are Allen Uyeda, Yasushi Misawa and Yoko Misawa. Center for Japanese Studies photo.
Seated are Junichi Yagi and Jennifer Yoo. Standing are Allen Uyeda, Yasushi Misawa and Yoko Misawa. Center for Japanese Studies photo.

What do you get when you combine an American singer, a Korean-Japanese guitarist, an American-Japanese bassist and a Japanese drummer?  For Junichi Yagi, the answer is inspiration.  

Playing drums in a band with work colleagues may not be a natural pathway to become a Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship (CPAS) recipient, but it was for Yagi.  He went from practicing paradiddles, to meeting Japan’s Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko.  What a difference a scholarship makes.

Yagi is a PhD student in the Department of Second Language Studies of the College of Languages, Linguistics & Literature at UH Mānoa, where his coveted Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship (CPAS) will continue through 2018.  For Japanese students, the scholarship is awarded to a graduate student in Japan for study at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa who is pursuing a subject area leading to better understanding between Japan and the United States.

Yagi was working on his MA in language and culture from Osaka University when he was offered and accepted the scholarship.  UHM had always been his first choice for doctoral study, having heard much about the renowned program, including from his academic advisor who received his MA from Second Language Studies.

During Yagi’s first semester at UH Mānoa, he bounced a research idea off his advisor, Dr. Gabriele Kasper: to determine how people learn language in everyday, non-classroom settings—specifically in music-related settings such as jam sessions and rehearsals.  Yagi wanted to study how these interactions, particularly those that involved second language use, afforded opportunities for language and culture learning.  Kasper loved the idea.

Hawaiʻi is a perfect backdrop for Yagi’s research, with its diverse and embracing communities.  One might believe that his days are full of conducting exciting research by attending concerts and other live performances.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  According to Yagi, “Typically, I wake up, go to class, take a coffee break, and study at Hamilton [Library] for about six hours straight.  Then I go home and eat bento I bought at 7-Eleven (I’m still a student, by the way).” 

After earning his PhD, Yagi’s professional goals include being a successful researcher who can make social changes with his empirical work, and to be an inspiring teacher who can guide students with theoretical and methodological knowledge.  Academic aspirations, for sure—but uniquely rooted in music and an occasional jam session. 

The College of Languages, Linguistics & Literature (one of the four Arts & Sciences colleges) of the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa offers a broad curriculum in English, foreign and heritage languages and literatures, second language studies, and linguistics.  Its Asia and Pacific focused curricula is unique in the nation and its faculty regularly teaches more than 25 languages.

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(Full caption) Standing, from left, CPAS Foundation Chair Allen Uyeda, and Consul General of Japan Yasushi Misawa and wife, Yoko.  Seated are CPAS recipients Junichi Yagi (2016-18) and Jennifer Yoo (2017-19). Photo courtesy of Center for Japanese Studies.