Kosaku Narioka is a curious fellow. And his intellectual curiosity drives him farther than most.
It led him from his home in Japan across the Pacific to the United States, where he landed in an English as a Second Language program in Atlanta, Ga. It prompted him to pursue journalism studies at a community college in the Houston area before pursuing a four-year degree in the subject in the University Honors program at Texas State. And it prodded him to travel to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories before returning to the university to complete his thesis.
And just what was it that piqued such driving curiosity?
“Female suicide bombers in the early 2000s,” he explains. “I was not able to understand their actions. Committing suicide is already something extraordinary, but becoming like a human bomb to kill other civilians was not something that I suppose a reasonable person could comprehend instantly.”
Personal Reflection Becomes an International Journey
Narioka’s fascination with the motivation of the bombers and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict caused him to reflect upon his own culture and its examples of honorable suicide. Because he is Japanese, “some people may assume, well, you had the kamikaze pilots and hara kiri and so forth,” he says.
But he explains that in his educational experience, he and his peers were taught to question and debate the possible motivations of the kamikaze (also known as tokko) pilots. “In Japanese education, post WWII, we were cultivated to think about the situations behind the tokko pilots: Did they have a choice or were they completing orders? What were the people in leadership thinking? Did they honestly think this mission would work out in the end?”
He believes that because of his “Japanese way of thinking, I probably looked at issues of suicide bombings a little further than the way American people do.”
His desire to further analyze the suicide bombings and Israeli-Palestinian conflict led him to study the English language and embark on a degree in journalism. He finished ESL coursework in Atlanta and enrolled in San Jacinto College in the Houston area.
“I didn’t have any background in English writing or publishing,” he says, and thought a community college would be a good place to start.
A Penchant for Research Yields Fruit
While studying at San Jacinto, Narioka researched accredited journalism schools in Texas. He also researched honors programs, because he knew he wanted the kind of intellectual discussion and camaraderie such programs foster.
And he chose Texas State in part because of what he discovered online about the University Honors program.
“I have a particular interest in the Middle East and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Narioka explains, and when he researched Texas State’s honors program, he found a thesis on the topic written by a previous student, Nicholas Elliot, posted online. Narioka read the thesis and found ideas that some consider quite controversial.
He was intrigued.
“I didn’t agree with everything he wrote, but I was able to foresee that Texas State was a place where the academic freedom is secured and people could, based on good research, write what they wanted to express,” says Narioka.
That type of academic freedom, “is very rare,” according to the budding scholar, and it sealed his decision to attend Texas State and become a University Honors student.
He applied and accepted. He later received a University Honors scholarship. The scholarship allowed him to take advantage of a Texas law that permits international students to pay in-state tuition, making his education at Texas State not only the academically wise choice, but also the financially responsible one.
Narioka decided to embark on a thesis regarding the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. He wanted to focus on the failed Oslo peace process, the causes and possible solutions. He knew he wanted to travel to Israel and to interview both Israelis and Palestinians, but he needed a thesis advisor to help him along the way.
Enter Dr. Richard Warms, professor of anthropology. Dr. Warms was the same professor who had advised Nicholas Elliot’s thesis — the thesis on the Middle East that Narioka had read a year or so earlier.
“I’m always interested in interesting students and interesting problems,” explains Warms, “and the idea of having a Japanese student who was particularly interested in the Middle East, who had been there before and who had a rudimentary knowledge of Arabic and was prepared to go there again was very appealing to me.
“It was a great opportunity for me to guide him and get some fresh perspectives myself,” says Warms.
And he was highly impressed with Narioka’s work. “Kosaku was really able to go there, land on his feet, make contacts and conduct interviews with a broad range of people, both Israelis and Palestinians,” says Warms.
The professor believes that the Israelis and Palestinians responded to Narioka in part because he was Japanese.
“He was coming from the United States,” explains Warms, “but he was not representing an American point of view, and as a result, he really was able to get better interviews.
“Kosaku did an extraordinary job.”
The Next Adventure
Narioka lets his insatiable curiosity, combined with persistence, preparation and passion for research, lead him to the next adventure.
“I work very hard until the last day, look around and then move,” says the recent graduate. “I don’t make plans.”
After completing his degree in journalism, his thesis and internships with the The Texas Tribune and Austin Business Journal, Narioka has indeed worked hard, laying the groundwork for his next adventure. That work has given him the opportunity to write in Tokyo for the Wall Street Journal’s new blog called Japan Real Time.
And who knows where that path will lead?
Kosaku Narioka file
He said it: “Professors in the honors program pretty much have an open door policy. Dr. Richard Warms and Charles Kaufmann (journalism instructor) always welcomed me and if I had any news good or bad, I could just come to talk to them. Professors here were always supporting me, encouraging me, and beside me.”
Another reason Narioka chose to study in Texas: “I had been in Atlanta during the winter, and it was cold! I didn’t want to go anywhere north. I had to go somewhere south for the heat.”
Interesting fact: Nicholas Elliot, author of the thesis that inspired Narioka to attend Texas State, continued his studies, attending graduate school at the University of Chicago.