Fifteen thousand people live in Murray, Kentucky, West of the Land
Between the Lakes, about four hours West from Louisville. During the
academic year, ten thousand students at Murray State University (MSU)
nearly double the population. This small college-town has spurred some
of Kentucky's finest Japan programs and I had the chance to learn about
them in March by visiting Murray.
Remember Murrary State's buzzer-beater upset in the NCAA Basketball
tournament two weeks ago? Imagine the same intensity applied to Japan
programs and you begin to understand why Japan flourishes in Murray.
Murray State announced an academic major in Japanese in January,
It has already attracted many new students. Establishing a new
major is no small task. Professors in many departments and
administrators must agree that the field is a top priority for students.
Funding must be committed for the long-term. MSU added a new Japanese
faculty member last year, in a very difficult financial year, to bring
the major to reality. No other Kentucky university has an official
The impact for Kentuckians of having a Japanese major is
significant. Our public school teachers must obtain a degree in
Japanese in order to be certified to teach Japanese in Kentucky. Now,
Murray State can train new Japanese teachers for Kentucky's
grade-schools. For now, our kids can study Japanese only in a handful
of schools in Kentucky but Murray State takes them one step closer.
The grade-school students in Murray, however, already study more
Japanese than students in most school systems. Three local school
districts have combined resources and secured a grant from the
U.S.-Japan Foundation to fund a Japanese teacher for their schools.
Nakamura-sensei's students consistently compete at the very top in
Kentucky's world language festival. I was impressed as I watched them
perform skits and sing in Japanese during a local competition.
MSU has built relationships with Japanese universities as well and
sends students to study and experience Japan. I visited with seven
students in medicine who are going to visit multiple schools together in
Japan in May. Their faculty mentor is Dr. Suguru Nakamura, a Japanese
physician-academic who has settled with his family in Murray (yep: his
wife is the busy Japanese teacher mentioned above). These students will
see Japan for the first time and meet their counterparts in medicine,
with whom they may study and collaborate for public health in the
The intensity and enthusiasm of the folks who drive Murray's
flourishing Japan programs may be exemplified by Dr. Tom Lough. Dr.
Lough is a professor in educational psychology at MSU and also happens
to be a former Olympian ('68, modern pentathlon). He told me how he got
involved in Murray's Japan programs. When he moved his family to
Murray from Connecticut in the 90's, his son's study of Japanese was
interrupted because Murray had no Japanese program. Dr. Lough went to
work, bringing people together and finding the funding to bring Japanese
classes to the local school districts. Now many families credit his
initiative for their children's fulfilled interest in studying Japanese.
The Japan programs in Murray thrive on such initiative and
cooperation. Another example is MSU's Japan Programs Committee. Dr.
Lough brought together teachers from departments across campus,
unrelated except that they incorporate Japan in some of their lessons.
Dr. Bommanna Loganathan, a chemistry professor, is Chair of the
committee. Dr. Loganathan studied and taught in Japan previously in his
career. His son and daughter studied with Nakamura-sensei in Murray.
The Japan programs committee meets regularly to discuss Japan programs
at MSU and in the community. Through the committee, Dr. Loganathan and
the others keep the ball rolling for many of Murray's Japan programs.
JASK members know that there is much to admire about Japan, the
Japanese language, and our Japanese friends. We work together in many
communities, in many ways, to share with each other what we have learned
from Japan. Young people, especially, have a growing interest in
Japan. They flock to Japanese language and culture classes in
elementary schools and universities throughout Kentucky, wherever they
can be made available. Murray is one more great example of how a
community can work together, building Japan programs for future
At JASK, we are always thrilled to see up-close the success of
communities who partner to build such flourishing Japan programs
together. The MSU Japan programs committee and JASK are working more
closely now on new programs. They told me they would warmly welcome any
JASK guest that would like to visit Murray. Congratulations to Murray
for their contribution to the Japan/America friendship in Kentucky.