Yuri Watanabe: Class of 1916

Already a graduate of Tsuda College in Japan, Yuri Watanabe came to Earlham in the fall of 1911 to begin her education in America. She was part of a large family of a former samurai, and since her grandmother feared that her wavy hair would prevent her from ever finding a husband, “she was given an education so that she could make the most out of a spinster’s life.”

YuriWEncouraged to come to Earlham by her teacher and mentor Michi Kawai, a founding member of Japan’s Y.W.C.A., Yuri immersed herself in student life. She majored in French and Bible Studies, participated in Le Circle Francais, the Young Women’s Christian Association, and the Student Volunteer Band, a student group for those planning to devote their lives to missionary work. She wrote several articles for the Earlhamite (linked below) and was involved in writing the class song for the Class of 1916. Yuri’s roommate, Georgia Henderson also the class of 1916 remembered a charming anecdote, “In Japan, Yuri had never seen a feather pillow, but in the United States she learned to like sleeping on one. When she went back to Japan after graduating in 1916, she wanted to take each member of her large family a feather pillow. Everyone told her that it would take up too much room. On her way home, without the pillows, she was in a hotel in San Francisco and she decided to buy some feathers and make pillows. I don’t know how she thought that she could do this. When she wrote to me, she said, ‘Georgia, how do you make feathers stay put?’ I can imagine what had happened. Even a very few feathers loose and flying in a hotel would create problems. The hotel no doubt remembers the little Japanese girl who liked feather pillows”.

After graduation Yuri returned to Japan and worked with Michi Kawai on various educational and missionary projects with the Y.W.C.A. and Keisen Jogakuen, a Chrisitian school for girls founded by Michi Kawai. Despite her grandmother’s fears, Yuri did marry, becoming Yuri Isshiki and had a daughter, Yoshiko in 1928. She stayed in touch with many of her classmates and often acted as a hostess and guide for various Friends and Earlhamites who went to Japan. She was thrilled to renew her friendship with classmate and friend Bonner Fellers who was serving with MacArthur’s Occupation Force after the war.

In 1953 Yuri, her husband, and daughter Yoshiko returned to America so Yoshiko could attend Earlham College. Yuri and her husband planned to live in Richmond and travel around the U.S. speaking to groups about the importance of U.S.- Japan relations. Unfortunately, Yuri’s life-long friend, Michi Kawai was diagnosed with cancer that year, and the entire family returned home to care for their friend. Although she hoped to return to Richmond, Yuri passed away in June 1954 about a year after the passing of Michi Kawai.

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Earlham College, an independent, residential college, aspires to provide the highest-quality undergraduate education in the liberal arts, including the sciences, shaped by the distinctive perspectives of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers).

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