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Bruce Stronach - President of Showa Boston Institute

Updated: Jul 14, 2023

How long have you been in Boston?

In some ways I have been in Boston all my life. I was born in Weymouth but we moved to Maine when I was about one year old. However, my grandparents lived in Quincy so we visited Boston about twice a year. In addition, I studied at BU for two years, did my graduate work at the Fletcher School and Harvard GSAS while living on Comm Ave between Dartmouth and Exeter. And even when living in Tokyo, we had an apartment in Brookline for my wife, who worked at Harvard, and kids, who went to middle and high school in Brookline.

What does your organization do?

Showa Boston Institute (SBI) is the American campus of Showa Women’s University (SWU), a private women’s university in the Sangenjaya District of Tokyo, two subway stops west of Shibuya. In addition to serving as a study abroad location for SWU students, SBI also serves students from other Japanese universities and runs a number of summer short term programs for elementary school, middle school, and high school students. We also have a variety of Japanese language classes available for the public.

Showa Boston Institute is one of the very few American campuses of a Japanese university and it is an integral part of SWU’s global education strategy. SBI also acts as a nexus of Japanese-American cultural and academic exchange through programs with local universities. Our mission is to educate Japanese students about America and American students about Japan. SBI offers students the ability to improve their English while studying global issues by active participation and engagement through field trips, guest speakers, as well as project-based research assignments.  

What are the benefits and challenges of working in America?

Institutionally the benefits are tremendous. SBI is one of the very few true overseas campuses of a Japanese university in the US. It allows us to educate our students in a simultaneously Japanese and American context.

Personally, it is very interesting to be back in Boston after all these years. I lived in Japan for 36 years between 1976 and 2020, and the last stint was from 2004 to 2020. Although I remain what I have always been, a boy from Maine, over the years there is a certain amount of Japanese-ness that has seeped into me. I have only been here at SBI for two months so I am still adjusting to life in an American context.

One example of what I am trying to express is that in my mind, Boston was always “my” city.

However, now I realize that, as much as I love Boston, actually Tokyo has become “my” city.

What is your favorite thing about Boston?

I am old enough to remember Scollay Square, the Howard, the pinball arcades, and the sailors on leave. I saw the West End go through urban renewal; in grad school I did my weekly shopping at Haymarket (where my Dad was a butcher in the late 40s), and when I was back teaching at Merrimack College and living in Belmont in the late 1980's I saw the beginnings of the Big Dig.

So if you ask me what I like about Boston I have to fight the “Those were the days, my friend” nostalgic memories of riding in the same Green Line train cars that my mother rode when she was in college in the 1930's, and the sawdust on the floor and the original waiters from the 1860's at Jacob Wirth’s, to admit that in reality Boston has never been cleaner, more open, more diverse, more beautiful than it is today.

Finally, two favorite Boston memories. One was having to leave the Green Line car somewhere between Boylston and Copley Square because a fire started in the place next to the line where they stored CD survival goods. It was 1975, no one panicked, and everyone just walked by the tracks to Boylston talking with their neighbor. “Hey, how’s going? Boston, huh.” (laugh) The second is flying into Boston in 1978 after having been away for my first two years in Tokyo and just being shocked by the realization of what a green city it was, even then. But of course that was in comparison to 1978 Tokyo.

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