“Meeting the Needs of Society
Courage to Launch New Innovative Programs
A Strong Belief in Women’s Leadership”
These principles have guided the path of CWAJ’s history since its founding in 1949.
It all began when American and Japanese alumnae of Mount Holyoke College met in Tokyo soon after the end of World War II. Seeing young students who lacked the economic means to cross the Pacific and study in the US, they founded an alumnae association to raise funds in dollars to support them. Recent enmity between their two countries did not prevent these women from cultivating friendships and taking joint action to meet the needs of society. Soon alumnae of Wellesley College and other US universities joined the group. The name “College Women’s Association of Japan” was adopted officially in 1963 and by that time membership was extended to women of all nationalities.
I. Making a Difference – Educating a Woman is Educating a Generation
CWAJ is dedicated to education because education is an asset that cannot be destroyed by war or natural disaster and will be carried into the next generation to build a path to peace.
In 1951 the first travel grants were offered to nine students. At this time of great restrictions on foreign currency, support by CWAJ Travel Grants in US dollars helped many young men and women pursue their dreams and become valuable leaders in the recovery of Japan. CWAJ organized various fundraising events to support the Travel Grants such as opera, a gala and a charity ball.
A new program succeeded the CWAJ Travel Grants in 1972. CWAJ made the major decision to transform the Travel Grant into a scholarship program especially designated for Japanese women to study at graduate schools abroad. This was particularly important for aspiring women when the rate of college admission was only 12.7% for women as compared to 41% for men.
In 1976, CWAJ established a new scholarship program for both women and men with visual impairments. The recipients have overcome many difficulties and proved to society that they are true leaders and role models for the community at large.
CWAJ Scholarship inaugurated another program in 1988 to support non-Japanese women studying in Japan, the Non-Japanese Graduate (NJG) Scholarship. Special Relief Scholarships have also been offered at the time of major natural disasters to support stricken areas through education; Hanshin Kobe Relief Scholarship in 1997-98 and Fukushima Relief Scholarships from 2012 to the present. From 2021 through 2023, CWAJ awarded Pandemic Response Scholarships for Nursing Students.
CWAJ has awarded nearly one billion yen to more than 870 grantees and scholars, including non-Japanese students from 49 countries.
II. Excellence in Education Through Excellence in Art
Highly regarded Travelling Print Shows have been held abroad several times in places such as the British Museum in London and the Museum of New South Wales in Sydney. In 2007 prints from the CWAJ Print Show 50th Anniversary were exhibited at the Library of Congress in Washington DC and these prints were donated to the permanent collection. The most recent show abroad was the 60th Anniversary Print Show “Kanreki”, held at Highfield Hall and Gardens in Falmouth, Massachusetts in 2016.
CWAJ also supports young printmakers through its Art Grant and Young Printmaker Award.
III. Community Service – Promoting English Education and Cross-Cultural Understanding
Long before the Japanese community became aware of the importance of English as an international communication tool, CWAJ knew that promoting English language and education was an urgent need. In 1962, the English Education Program was launched. Member volunteers were trained in teaching English and seminars and training sessions were organized in cities around Japan. In the Tokyo area, programs were held to offer opportunities for metropolitan high school teachers to practice spoken English with native speakers in order to advance their English skills.
Volunteers for the Visually Impaired, an ongoing program established in 1976, organizes programs for visually impaired individuals to hear and speak English. Important community services include teaching English conversation classes twice weekly at the Japan Vocational Development Center for the Blind. CWAJ members also conduct mock interviews twice a year with students at the high school of Special Needs Education School for the Visually Impaired to help them prepare for the Eiken English test. English Conversation Gatherings (ECG), held three times a year with various themes, are another opportunity for practicing English in a cross-cultural atmosphere. The seasonal Newsletter has about 200 subscribers and 30 readers usually sign up for the ECG event in an effort to improve spoken English skills.
CWAJ has had a long history of providing English lessons for children. For many years, volunteers provided a weekly English learning space to “returnees” (Japanese children who had lived overseas, spoke English, and had returned to Japan). In 2018, we changed focus and are now providing “Fun-in-English” literacy-based lessons to vulnerable children, specifically the children at St. Joseph’s Home, a children’s home in Nishi-Tokyo City. By taking this approach, we feel that we are making an important contribution to the future of the children.
Since 1990, Foreign Students Circle has supported non-Japanese students busily studying in Japanese universities by holding events for them to acquire a deeper understanding of Japan and its culture.
Promoting understanding of Japanese culture has long been part of the mission of CWAJ. Lecture Series, founded in 1966 offered programs on many different themes such as art, culture and current events among others. Experts and specialists were invited to speak on their field to the assembled group. Lecture Series was held 34 times and its spirit lives on in the Culture Program, which now offers a wide variety of events in multiple formats.
IV. Outreach Program – Relief Projects
CWAJ’s spirit of Meeting the Needs of Society is the impetus for reaching out to communities in times of natural disaster. When the Hanshin Awaji Earthquake occurred in 1998, CWAJ collaborated with Japan America Women of Kansai (JAWK) to provide two-year scholarships to 20 female students. When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Japan in March 2011, relief initiatives were immediately sought and Fukushima Relief Projects were launched. CWAJ recognized the importance of mental health care not only in the evacuation shelters but also in the wider area, especially in Fukushima. In 2012, CWAJ donated a medical van with wheelchair lift to a mental health care center in Soma City. Fukushima Relief Scholarship was established to support students studying at Fukushima Medical University School of Nursing so that the unprecedented disaster would not cause future nurses to give up their studies. Twenty scholarships have been offered to nursing students as of 2019 and graduates are now serving the people of Fukushima. Art Program for Children in Fukushima, “Asobijutsu” (Art as Play), generously supported by Tama Art University, was held five times in three cities in Fukushima. This program was a wonderful way to connect directly with the people of the local area.
V. Nurturing Friendship – Work Together, Enjoy Together
CWAJ is a 100% volunteer organization. From scholarship selection to preparation for the Print Show, no matter how big the task, members work together toward a common goal and share the joy of accomplishment. Time for enrichment and pleasure is also important for deepening friendship. That is why CWAJ offers lectures by experts from different fields to broaden one’s views and programs that offer opportunities to explore various hobbies and interests. These activities foster friendship and give members a chance to know each other in a meaningful way. CWAJ is educating, empowering and enriching.
The Association was born in the war-devastated city of Tokyo from warm friendship and good will. Since it has been nurtured by the generous hearts of women of all nationalities for over seven decades. The history of CWAJ is a testament to generosity and tolerance. People who have open minds and respect for others, even from once enemy countries, have overcome the past and understand each other despite differences in culture, religion or historical background. CWAJ will continue to follow this path and make a sustainable contribution to a better future.