When Ranko Iwamoto, ’60, left Japan, in 1956, she had only $30 in her pocket. She emigrated from her homeland to the United States to study journalism at Whitworth; her mission was to learn about Americans. “I thought the best way to do that was to live among them and get to know their experiences of daily life,” she said. At Whitworth, she encountered an unfamiliar culture in which she had to learn new concepts in English, her second language, and she became fascinated with intercultural communication. “I felt I was destined to come to the United States to facilitate communication [between Japan and the U.S.],” she said.
Iwamoto’s Whitworth memories revolve around the people she met and the defining moments in which she learned most about herself. In her English literature class with Professor Clarence Simpson, she would write down questions and visit his office after class to ask them. “He was always very courteous,” she said. “Dr. Simpson remained a symbol of the democratic character of the United States, and that impressed me most at Whitworth College: the professors are very much a part of us students.”
After graduating cum laude with a degree in journalism, Iwamoto earned a master’s degree in journalism from Boston University. She then spent 14 years with Ruder & Finn, Inc., a major public-relations agency in New York, where she focused on helping to resolve economic, communicative and cultural frictions between the U.S. and Japan. “It was a very challenging environment,” she said. “It became my experiment lab for discovering the challenges of American-Japanese communication.”
Drawing from her experiences and research, Iwamoto published articles to help improve cultural relations between the two countries, explaining cultural contexts from each to help bridge communication gaps. In 1978 she left Ruder & Finn to become editor and publisher of a New York-based quarterly, U.S.-Japan/Japan-U.S. News Views. She also founded Ranko International, a public-relations firm.
In 2006, she published a book, Purity and Power: The Spirit of a Female Samurai (available online), which focuses on her time in post-World War II Japan and in the U.S. Her friend, Professor Emeritus Simpson, provided the book’s introduction, in which he wrote of Iwamoto, “Her life demonstrates that one individual who has a deep desire for the common good and who is willing to work toward it can have a significant impact. Her conviction that greater understanding and the wise use of freedom can improve even extremely difficult situations activates her life.”