National

Longtime Harvard Japanese teacher Yori Oda dies at 82

by Daisuke Kikuchi

Staff Writer

Yori Oda, a decorated teacher who taught Japanese at Harvard University for 35 years, died earlier this month after a recent illness. She was 82.

In 2013, Oda was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays, by Emperor Akihito in recognition of her significant lifelong contributions.

In 2004, in recognition of her significant contribution to the promotion of cultural exchanges between Japan and the United States, Oda was awarded a special Minister of Foreign Affairs commendation by the government.

Oda died on Feb. 5.

“Ms. Yori Oda was dedicated to the promotion of Japanese language education while also introducing and acquainting the New England, and global, community to Japanese culture,” said Rokuichiro Michii, the Japanese consul-general in Boston, in a recent email interview with The Japan Times.

“Ms. Oda was forever passionate about cultural exchange between the U.S. and Japan even up until just before her passing. In addition, Ms. Oda was a keeper of tradition and known and admired for her style, as she was often seen dressed in kimono at various Japanese cultural events,” he said.

“Oda-san was a quiet force that connected people and groups. She gave hundreds of Harvard students (and others whom she tutored or encouraged) the hard-earned gift of Japanese language which enabled them to study and live in Japan,” said C. Rose Cortese, a program administrator at Harvard’s regional studies East Asia and Inner Asian and Altaic studies, who was a close friend to Oda.

“Her long-lasting gift to those visiting Boston,” she said, “is the Kyoto House in the Boston Children’s Museum. With over 500,000 visitors to the museum each year, visitors are transported to a Japanese home because of Yori Oda’s determination to see it through.”

Born in 1935 in Tokyo, Oda lived with her family in Shanghai before war broke out between Japan and China. After World War II ended, her father, who worked for the Bank of Japan, was sent with his family to Hiroshima to help rebuild the city.

After living in the city for some time, Oda went on to attend the Sacred Heart Women’s School in Tokyo, and later earned a Bachelor’s degree at the University of Manchester.

Oda arrived at Harvard in 1966 to study economics in the Regional Studies East Asia program.

“Like many who knew Yori, I am heartbroken to have lost my friend of so many years. On the grander scale, I am left wondering who will take on the nurturing of this Japan-U.S. (Boston) friendship that Yori Oda has left behind,” Cortese said.