The Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan recently made a formal commendation of BYU Professor of Asian and Near Eastern Languages Van Gessel for his 35-year career in studying and teaching the literature and culture of Japan.
Gessel began his career as a missionary. He spent two years in Japan, where he struggled to learn about its customs, culture, values and beliefs.
“My misunderstandings began in 1970, the first time I went to Japan, as a 19-year-old missionary for the [Latter-day Saints] Church,” Gessel said. “During the two years there, I struggled to learn the Japanese language and the Japanese people kindly struggled to understand what I was trying to say in their language.”
With this commendation, Gessel becomes one of just a few non-Japanese citizens to gain a commendation from Japan’s foreign minister. It emphasizes the professor’s efforts to establish bridges between the cultures and nations discussed in the College of Humanities.
“In his career, Dr. Gessel has made outstanding contributions to mutual understanding and goodwill between Japan and other nations,” Consul-General Makoto Ito said. “He is an accomplished and respected authority on Japanese literature and culture, and especially noted for his translation and research on Mr. Shusaku Endo’s work, which has led to enhanced cultural exchanges between Japan and the United States.”
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