Mayumi Smith, director of Nippon Business Institute at EvCC since 1990, walks in the lovely Nishiyama Japanese Garden outside the institute this week, just a day away from retirement. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Mayumi Smith, director of Nippon Business Institute at EvCC since 1990, walks in the lovely Nishiyama Japanese Garden outside the institute this week, just a day away from retirement. (Dan Bates / The Herald)

Her ‘dream job’ building bridges with Japan comes to an end

In a tranquil place she worked to create, Mayumi Smith gazed at the Nishiyama Japanese Garden. It’s part of the Nippon Business Institute Japanese Cultural and Resource Center at Everett Community College.

Showing visitors the center’s tea room Wednesday, Smith spoke of the meaning of a traditional Japanese tea ceremony. “The essence is that this moment will never come back again,” she said.

“Tomorrow is my last day,” said Smith, whose maiden name Nishiyama now graces the garden. Taking in the lovely maples and mosses, she said, “I will not sit here anymore.”

Smith, 70, is retiring as longtime director of the Nippon Business Institute, which was founded in 1987. She started at EvCC 34 years ago, in 1983, as a part-time Japanese language instructor. A full-time EvCC faculty member since 1988, Smith became director of the institute in 1990.

Along with its tea room and garden, the center has classrooms, a Japanese-English computer lab, a library, demonstration kitchen and meeting space.

“This has been my dream job,” she said. “The mission is to create a bridge between countries and people.”

She grew up in Hiroshima, Japan, where her mother still lives. Early in life, she learned about the atomic bombs dropped in August 1945, before the end of World War II. As a university student in Hiroshima, she interviewed people affected by nuclear war. “Those sad stories became the base of my passion to do something promoting peace,” Smith said.

Since 1986, Smith has had a hand in exchange programs bringing more than 1,000 people here from Japan. She started a study-abroad program to bring American students to her homeland, and helped in sending Snohomish County business, government and educational leaders to Japan.

Thursday was designated “Mayumi Nishiyama Smith Day” in a City of Everett proclamation signed by Mayor Ray Stephanson.

“Mayumi has continuously encouraged cross-cultural engagement through study abroad and travel programs; assisted the City of Everett with our Sister City program with Iwakuni, Japan; nurtured relationships with Japanese companies operating within Everett; created and maintained positive interactions with EvCC’s sister college, Aichi Toho University, and the Port of Ishinomaki,” the proclamation said.

City spokeswoman Meghan Pembroke said Everett and Iwakuni have had a sister-city relationship since 1962.

The proclamation recognized Smith and her husband, Everett’s Richard Smith, as supporters of the United Way Tocqueville Society, the YMCA, Housing Hope and the Community Foundation of Snohomish County. Richard Smith and his family were deeply involved in raising money to create the institute and garden, which were completed in three phases.

Support dates back to 1970, with initial money provided by the Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition. And early on, Mayumi Smith worked with the Consulate General of Japan in Seattle to secure a $150,000 donation.

“She probably did more to build relationships with Japan and the United States than anyone in the county,” said John Olson, EvCC’s vice president for college advancement and executive director of the EvCC Foundation. “She has done wonderful work to bridge the two countries and increase understanding,” he said. “She’s done it all with graciousness and exceptional competence.”

Smith’s introduction to Everett came in 1975, when she and her brother visited as part of a YMCA tour. “My brother stayed with the Smith family,” she said. Everett’s Bob and Mary Smith, her future in-laws, invited her for dinner.

“That brought us together,” Smith said. She and her husband have two children and six grandchildren.

It was Betty Morrow, for years an EvCC faculty member involved in adult literacy, who hired Smith to teach Japanese. Bob Drewel, who later served three terms as Snohomish County executive, was EvCC president in 1987 when the institute was started. A certificate program included Japanese language, history, culture, business protocols and more.

“Mayumi is one of those citizen ambassadors we depend on so much,” Drewel said Thursday. He said Smith’s cultural exchange work “goes a long way in building relationships between the two countries.”

With Smith’s help, Drewel has taken part in Japanese tea ceremonies. He learned how the formalities foster relationships. “She would tell participants how important this is, time spent together,” Drewel said. “Everybody knows each other better than if they had dropped in and had a beer.”

Smith will serve on an advisory committee for the institute, and help with the transition as a new director is chosen. She’ll stay in Everett, but isn’t done helping people explore Japan.

She has been a cultural attache working with Bob and Margaret Bavasi, former owners of the Everett AquaSox baseball club, in a JapanBall venture that leads tours to baseball parks in Japan.

“Baseball fans come from all over — Australia, England, California,” Smith said. “I’m going on Sunday.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460;

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