WALLA WALLA, Wash. — Torrin Shimono, a recent honors graduate in Asian Studies, is the latest recipient of the annual Connie Jill Carlstrom Endowed Award for Japanese Studies. The Carlstrom Award, which includes a $2,500 cash prize, is presented each spring to one or more outstanding students of Japanese language and culture.
Shimono, who graduated cum laude from Whitman in May, passed his oral examinations with distinction earlier in the spring. He wrote his honors thesis about understanding Japanese society and culture through the medium of golf, a sport that rivals baseball as a national pastime in Japan.
Shimono, a graduate of Woodinville (Wash.) High School, is the son of Timothy and Vicki Shimono of Woodinville.
The Carlstrom Award honors the late Connie Jill Carlstrom of Yakima, Wash., who graduated from Whitman in May, 1993, and was teaching English in Japan when she died in September, 1993. Ms. Carlstrom's family and friends, including her parents Connie and Roger Carlstrom of Yakima, established the awards program. This marks the 11th year the award has been given.
Although his immediate plans are uncertain, Shimono hopes to teach English in Japan through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program. His long-range interests include international business relations, which would allow him to use his Japanese and Spanish language skills. He began taking Spanish language classes as a sophomore in high school and continued through his junior year at Whitman.
Early in his time at Whitman, Shimono considered any number of academic majors, including Spanish and music. He stayed active in music, serving as Phi Delta Theta choirmaster, singing with the Whitman Chorale, playing lead guitar with a college band, and participating in Whitman's first classical guitar ensemble. His educational focus finally settled on Asian Studies, in large part because of an introductory class he took from assistant professor of foreign languages and literatures (Japanese) Ron Takemoto. "That class changed everything for me," Shimono says. "I was exposed to a lot of Japanese concepts just by the way professor Takemoto taught his classes." Completing an Asian Studies major, he says, became a way to develop his own sense of identity by reconnecting with his family''s cultural heritage. His family ancestry is a mixture of Japanese and Chinese.
After being "Americanized" as a child, Shimono says he felt a sense of shame as he grew older because he knew little of the languages and cultures of his ancestors. One of his grandfathers came to the U.S. from Japan in 1913, at the age of six, and eventually gained his citizenship. Nonetheless, he and his wife were stripped of their rights during World War II and placed in an internment camp in Minadoka, Idaho. Once released from the camps, many Japanese responded by shedding their heritage. "Hence, my grandparents named my dad Timothy, they cooked him traditional American food and they didn't teach him the Japanese language," Shimono says.
Shimono's mother, as a young girl, came to the U.S. from China in 1962 as her family fled Mao Tse-tung's oppressive communist regime. The new order viewed her father with suspicion because of his pre-revolution role as a well-educated teacher and head of his village. As family members established themselves in the U.S., they also severed many of their links to the past. Shimono began learning Chinese from his mother as a young child, but she halted that practice after one of his preschool teachers said he was having trouble pronouncing English words correctly. "My mom wanted me to fit in; she didn't want me to be ridiculed," he says. "As a result, I cannot have a conversation with my Chinese grandmother without the help of my mom, and I have always envied my cousins who can speak Chinese."
As part of his Whitman studies, Shimono learned to write Kanji characters, the writing system the Japanese adopted from the Chinese. "Knowing some Kanji has become a way to connect with my mom, who knows quite a few characters," he says.
In addition to completing two years of Japanese language classes, Takemoto says, "Torrin took every class on Japanese literature, art and Buddhism that we offer on this campus, and he supplemented that with independent study courses in Japanese literature and religion."
Shimono's thesis on Japanese golf was "remarkable" in that it "included ideas that he had gleaned from every course he took," Takemoto says. "In talking about the role of golf in Japan, he remembered ideas from classical Confucian, Taoist and Buddhist texts. In talking about the role of golf in modern Japan, he referred to modern Japanese literary sources and to current research in Japanese sociology and psychology. In many ways, he was the best example of a strong Asian Studies student. That is, he tied together all that he learned in Japanese language classes with ideas that he picked up in Japanese and Chinese studies classes."
Shimono, who played two seasons of varsity golf at Whitman, first discovered the sport at age 13, after having spent several years in formal karate training. "After making one solid, long and straight shot, I was hooked,"8 he recalls. "The challenge was how to repeat that same shot, which seemed very elusive. I found the key to repeating that one sweet shot was to conduct the 'perfect practice' I learned during my karate training. I paid particular attention to having the correct form, balance, focus and attitude. I found golf to be a new outlet for practice and I grew to love the game not only as a way to spend time with my father, but also to experience the many challenges and fascinating aspects it presents mentally, physically and spiritually."
As noted in the opening chapter of Shimono's thesis, golf was introduced in Japan during the latter half of the Meiji Period (1868-1912). An English tea merchant founded Kobe Golf Club in 1903 and golf soon became the preferred sport of the Japanese corporate elite. The Japan Golf Association was formed in 1924 and by 1937 Japan had 70 courses. With the start of World War II, the Japanese government declared golf an "enemy" sport and converted many courses into military bases or used them for agricultural purposes.
By the time U.S. occupation forces withdrew from Japan in 1952, only 18 golf courses remained. Interest in the sport once again blossomed, and by the 1960s golf became a prerequisite for managerial success in the Japanese corporate world. Today, Japan's golfing population is the second largest in the world, trailing only the U.S. More than 13 million Japanese, or about 10 percent of the population, play golf. There are more than 2,000 courses, using 1.25 percent of the nation's land, and about 10,000 driving ranges.
In the second chapter of his thesis, Shimono examines the reasons why the game of golf has appealed so readily to the Japanese. Because golf has an elaborate set of rules and code of conduct, and because it calls on players to police themselves, the game "echoes the Japanese idea of bushido, a concept deeply woven into the Japanese cultural fabric that emphasizes Confucian ideals of morality and proper behavior," Shimono says. Golf is an "easily relatable activity to the Japanese because it mirrors their ideas of ritualism and decorum already in play in their own activities."
The samurai, a ruling class that was abolished during the Meiji Restoration, created a foundation for national morality that remains integrated in Japanese society, Shimono notes. The samurai valued honor in an extreme and strict way, to the point of committing ritual suicide, or seppuku, if their honor was ever impinged. Golfers, too, have displayed such self-sacrifice. In the 1925 U.S. Open, for example, Bobby Jones called a minor rules infraction on himself that ultimately cost him the championship. In a sense, Shimono says, Jones committed "tournament seppuku" to preserve his honor.
As an activity, golf also mirrors the Japanese tea ceremony in terms of proper conduct, etiquette and orderly process. "This social attentiveness ultimately facilitates harmony with a group — a desired state for Japanese society in general," Shimono says.
In the third and fourth chapters of his thesis, Shimono looks at the ways the Japanese have molded golf into their own business leisure activity, routinely incorporating a mid-round lunch with a post-round bath and round of drinks, and the importance they place on preparation and playing the game in the right way. Japanese golfers spend countless hours at hundreds of 24-hour practice ranges, paying as much as 50 cents per ball they hit. In 1999, the average Japanese golfer played about 25 rounds, spending an average of 622,000 yen, or $5,924. Club memberships commonly exceed $400,000.
In exploring Japanese society through golf, Shimono notes in his concluding chapter, he gained a profound appreciation for two Japanese concepts: asobi, the Japanese idea of "play" as an essential and significant function in life, and wabi-sabi, the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent and incomplete -- the beauty of things modest, humble and unconventional. Playing golf during one of his last breaks from his collegiate studies, Shimono became more accepting of shots that were not perfect, more appreciative of each passing moment and the beauty around him, and more cognizant of the interdependency of all things.
Now, Shimono says, "playing golf through direct, personal and sincere participation continues to communicate wordlessly to me its great significance, its expressive value, its ideals of the individual and community, its notions of honor, its ideas of belongingness, its feelings of empathy, its thoughts on reciprocity, its philosophy of practice, and its spiritual aspects." In sum, he adds, playing golf has become "my way of life — a portal to the universe at large."