The Harvard Club of Japan Ben Makihara Memorial Lecture Series
-----------------------------The Ben Makihara Memorial Lecture Series is an annual lecture held by the Harvard Club of Japan to honor the legacy of Mr. Minoru “Ben” Makihara.
Ben Makihara pioneered and served as a leader of ties between Japan and Harvard against a backdrop of Japan’s rise as an economic power after WWII and the transformation of the US-Japan relationship from one of bitter enemies to a close friendship and alliance.
A hard-working student with a talent for English, Minoru’s success during his high school years in Tokyo in winning the MacArthur English speech contest were among the factors that fueled his dream to study in the United States, and boosted his confidence to aim for what he called “the top level”: Harvard University. He consulted with Kenneth Viall, a Harvard-educated priest at the Episcopal Church in Tokyo, which had been allotted by the US Occupation authorities some land on the Iwasaki estate, where Makihara lived with his mother. Viall was at first concerned that the distance between Harvard and Minoru in geography and culture would be too great to bridge. But taken with the student’s determination and passion, Viall helped arrange for Minoru to get a full scholarship for a year at St Paul’s prep school in New Hampshire as a launching point to apply to Harvard.
At St. Paul’s Minoru acquired the skills and visibility he needed to get into Harvard, as well as the nickname Ben. He also made such an impression on St. Paul’s that a program was formalized to encourage top Japanese students to apply there.
At Harvard, Ben chose to major in Government. His undergraduate thesis, “Social Values in Capitalist Development: A Case Study of Japan”, explored Japan’s growth after the Meiji Restoration. After his graduation magna cum laude in 1954, Ben stayed abroad one more year on a Sheldon Fellowship before returning to Japan.
Ben joined Mitsubishi in 1956 and subsequently served as General Manager of the Washington Office of Mitsubishi International Corporation, U.S.A. (1971), President of Mitsubishi International Corporation (1987), and President and CEO of Mitsubishi Corporation (1992). In 1998 he was named Chairman, a position he held for six years.
In 1993 Ben Makihara  joined the Committee on University Resources (COUR), a lifetime membership organization of major donors to Harvard. He was Chair of the Harvard Japan Campaign, helping raise significant funds for the Asian Center at 1730 Cambridge Street, and a plaque there acknowledges Ben’s efforts. In 1999 Ben joined the Asia Center Advisory Committee and served until 2018.
Ben also served for many years on the Visiting Committee of the East Asian Studies Department, and as an Advisor on the Advisory Committee to the HBS Global Research Center. Partly through Ben’s efforts, a center in Japan was subsequently founded and remains active today. An active contributor to the activities of the Harvard Club of Japan, Ben mostly worked behind-the-scenes, though at various times he served as a Governor or in an official advisory capacity to the club.
Minoru Ben Makihara received the Harvard Medal in 2004, his 50th reunion year.
Among the many noteworthy activities contributing to the US-Japan relationship outside of his Harvard roles are his service as US-Japan Business Council Chair from 1997-2002 and Chair of the US Japan Conference on Cultural and Education Exchange (CULCON) from 2008-2014.
As a formative presence in The Harvard Club of Japan community for many decades, Ben’s character and efforts helped directly shape the arc of the relationship between the United States and Japan, and between Japan and Harvard.

The Ben Makihara Memorial Lecture commemorates this extraordinary service, which sets an example for us all.