Asako’s story – the incredible history I almost overlooked for four years at FSU

Asako Mazawa, a senior history major in FSU's class of '98, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1997.

Asako Mazawa, a senior history major in FSU’s class of ’98, was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1997.

A few weeks back, word started trickling in that a memorial housing the ashes of a deceased student was in the way of the upcoming expansion of an academic building – a multimillion dollar project years in the making, and already embroiled in controversy over the resulting loss of dozens of on-campus trees. The plans had already been made, bright orange lines spray-painted along the grass and front-loaders, presumably, ordered to start digging after graduation, when we started getting tips.

School officials, we were hearing , somehow didn’t realize until much too late that a garden in the center of the campus – one fitted with a plaque, a small statue, some plants and a tall cherry tree – had buried in it a tiny metal urn, placed there in 1999 by the father of Asako Mazawa, a Japanese international student killed in a motorcycle accident two years earlier.

Asako's memorial is right in the heart of campus - I passed by it just about every day of my college career.

Asako’s memorial is right in the heart of campus – I passed by it just about every day of my college career.

After a few faculty members pointed out that the garden was more than just a memorial – one that could be dug up and replanted somewhere else, administrators started scrambling to make right. They called the Mazawa family in Japan through a Boston-based consulate, admitted their oversight, and sought the help of our on-campus chaplain to arrange for a proper removal and a future re-dedication ceremony.

I had panicked at first, worrying about the consequences might be, and, as always, began to imagine what our headlines might read when we ran with the story. In the end, though, we came to a realization: overlooking the significance of the memorial was a mistake, yes, but it could have been much worse.

By Friday’s paper, we no longer had an awful controversy on our hands. What we did have was an incredible story. I’d walked by that memorial almost every day of my college career, but had never really stopped to think about what, or who, it was for. Until now.

Asako's book, written by her father Y

Asako’s book, written by her father Yoichi

I spent the last week or so scouring the Internet and the FSU archives, learning everything I could about Asako – beginning with her journey to the U.S. and ending with the far-reaching impact of  her controversial decision to become an organ donor. Asako, I learned, shattered a long-held taboo in Japanese culture surrounding organ donation, helping to save or improve the lives of six people who benefited from her donated heart, kidney, lungs and corneas. At her memorial dedication ceremony, those recipients made an appearance to pay their respects and to thank her family, who had flown in for the occasion, for Asako’s generosity. The story of her life, written by her father Yoichi in a book bearing her name, has been reprinted in Japan in English language textbooks.  In 2000, her father founded the Japan Donor Family Club in her honor, and since 2002, Japan has recognized Bridge of Life day, dedicated to promoting and supporting organ donation in that country.

In short, for years, I had been completely unaware of the legacy of a remarkable student, and, just as school administrators had done, I had almost allowed the significance of the memorial in our midst to slip by. I’m glad I was able to spread the word about Asako in the last issue of The Gatepost – in what would be my very last GP article. And I’ll let this whole experience be a reminder that some of the most incredible stories, on a college campus or elsewhere, are right there in front of us, just waiting to be told.

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About spencerbuell

Editor-in-Chief, The Gatepost student newspaper at Framingham State University.
This entry was posted in Behind the Scenes and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Asako’s story – the incredible history I almost overlooked for four years at FSU

  1. GP says:

    Reblogged this on The Law of News.

  2. Dori Kelly says:

    Hi Spenser, Asako was a student of mine when she was studying here. We also became good friends when she decided to pursue her studies at FSC. Her parents used to make a yearly pilgrimage to this area until they got much older to do so. Mr. Mazawa is now deceased, and I can tell you first hand how hard he worked for the Japan Organ Donation program. Thank you for the story. Dori Kelly ( my name on Facebook if you have any questions )

    • Dori,

      I’m the current Editor-In-Chief at Framingham State University’s The Gatepost. It’s imperative that I speak to you regarding Asako. Framingham State have yet to bury Asako’s ashes. They will be doing so at an event this November. Any information about Asako that you could provide me with would be greatly appreciated.

      I tried looking you up on Facebook but I’m not sure which Dori Kelly you are.

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