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Several hundred past and present members of the College Women’s Association of Japan, which promotes international education and cross-cultural exchange, celebrated the group’s 50th anniversary Wednesday at a luncheon with the Empress and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Foley.

The Empress congratulated the CWAJ for rising to become a “truly international, highly respected (group), with 700 members from 30 countries,” through “superb work” over the last half century.

She recalled her personal involvement in CWAJ activity when she attended an opening ceremony of the annual print show fundraiser for the group’s scholarships.

The Empress said she felt a strong empathy toward the group’s dual objectives — providing scholarships and promoting educational and cultural activities.

She said she was impressed by the joyfulness of the group’s members at the print show 19 years ago and again this time working for the anniversary, noting that it must come from the fact “that the association founders started with a definite objective in mind — that of helping those who had the desire to study but not the means to do so …”

She looked relaxed and spoke in fluent English, occasionally peppering her remarks with humor.

Ambassador Foley lauded CWAJ’s achievements, saying the world must be grateful “for your efforts to make an international education available to the generation that now will lead Japan.”

“In the three years leading up to the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Peace Treaty in San Francisco, many civic and professional associations in Japan are marking their 50th anniversaries,” Foley said.

“What particularly struck me is the number of associations which began with nothing more than the passion of a few women … who passionately believed in change and had the commitment and the confidence to go about changing the world.”

CWAJ President Motoko Inoue said the group will have to change in the next 50 years to adopt to the changes in Japan’s — and the world’s — education, social structure, culture and values. In this respect, the CWAJ will have to come up with new programs and projects, while focusing on the same goals, she said.

The CWAJ, an international, nonprofit volunteer organization, was started in 1949 by two Japanese and four American female graduates of Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. The women shared a common belief that higher education was the key to Japan’s future.

The founders raised funds through various activities to help Japanese students who were granted scholarships to American universities but unable to buy tickets for ships to the U.S. because of the strict control of the dollar.

Ever since the first group of nine male and female Japanese students were sent abroad with the group’s financial help, the CWAJ’s travel grant program has provided financial aid to 459 Japanese students between 1949 and 1972.

In 1972, CWAJ established a full female scholarship program to help women develop their skills and talents. The program now offers scholarships for Japanese women to study abroad and for non-Japanese women to study in Japan.

A total of 430 million yen in 241 full scholarships has been offered thus far by the CWAJ, along with 95 additional special awards and grants.

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