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Jaw-Shen and Yoshiko Tsai

by Vivienne Kenrick

The husband in this team is a research fellow at the NEC Fundamental Research Laboratories, Tsukuba. He is also head of the Riken Macroscopic Quantum Coherence Laboratory, Wako. He keeps the title of professor from his guest positions at institutes and universities, which include the University of Tokyo. He is a leader and member of distinguished professional program, research and steering committees. He is an honorary fellow of the American Physical Society.

The wife in this team is an interior designer whose strengths lie in her Japanese heritage, her New York experiences and the Chinese influences she has received from her husband and his family. She is also the inheritor of a company that cares for her own family’s old properties, “lots of them,” in Gunma. Her instinctive interests, she says, are in traditional Japanese aesthetics and lifestyles.

Together, Jaw-Shen and Yoshiko Tsai make a modern couple, up to the minute, able and achieving. He was born in Taipei, where his father was a politician associated with the National Chinese government. She was born in a 250-year-old house in Gunma, which they have made into their retreat, and where they go with their dogs from Tokyo at weekends.

Shen spent some time in Tokyo when he was a boy. “My father was working in the embassy here,” he said. “We spoke Mandarin Chinese, and I learned Japanese here in childhood. I learned English when I went to the States.” At the University of California at Berkeley, he began by majoring in architecture.

“After two years I stopped,” he said. “I realized architecture was open to criticism and I wanted something more absolute. I changed to philosophy, but that didn’t last. I found physics, and that made me happy.” In 1983 he received his Ph.D. in physics from the State University of New York. By that time he had been a U.S. citizen for six years.

He met Yoshiko in New York, where she lived and worked for 10 years. They came to Tokyo to celebrate their marriage. “Then, after I had my Ph.D., we both decided to come here to live,” he said. He began employment at once as a research scientist with NEC Microelectronics Research Laboratories. Steadily for the next 19 years he has received promotion with NEC. Yoshiko meanwhile has worked independently, creating her “Tsai World” in homes and gardens.

This husband-and-wife team have a favorite place in China. This is “south of the Chanjian River, particularly Hangzhou and Suzhou.” There may be some inbred, ancient feeling of nostalgia involved here, Shen admits, although neither of his parents came from this area. “In earlier ages this was a very prosperous, cultured district, a background for poetry and paintings,” he said. Yoshiko adds that she especially loves the harvest moon in Xi Hu. “And I love to watch the spring there, bursting into life with pale green buds on the trees, and bird song filling the air.”

This being so, and having been introduced by friends to Refugees International Japan, Shen and Yoshiko are setting an Art of Dining table under the title “South of Chanjian River in Spring.” Shen from the world of physics may seem an unlikely table setter, but he does have that old feeling for Chinese landscapes and art, and he does have for his partner Yoshiko the designer. The Art of Dining Exhibition this year is RIJ’s 12th annual event. Each year the table settings on show have projected the ultimate in imagination, artistry and personality.

RIJ says that it “showcases beautifully decorated dining tables for the very serious purpose of raising money for the world’s least fortunate citizens.” Since 1979 it has supported over 400 projects in more than 40 countries, distributing more than $6 million to thousands of desperately needy refugees. RIJ channels grants through nongovernmental organizations for the provision of water, food, shelter, sanitation, medical and rehabilitation assistance.

The Tsai husband-and-wife team gladly contribute their thought, time and effort to presenting their individually stylish table setting in this year’s Art of Dining Exhibition. Theirs will be amongst other displays created by supporters in the arts, media and business, and in the international and diplomatic communities. The exhibition is scheduled for March 5, with general viewing from 10:15 a.m. to 4 p.m., in the Westin Tokyo. Ticket donation 3,000 yen.