(Forbes Japan: January 2015 – p. 21)
By Glen Fukushima, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress
A reception was held on Nov. 15, 2014, to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Japan-America Student Conference (JASC), the oldest bilateral exchange program led by students from both countries. The reception was attended by Princess Takamado, senior government officials of the two countries, and numerous alumni in honor of the history and legacy of this outstanding organization. The JASC was founded in 1934 by students aspiring for understanding and friendship between Japan and the U.S. who were concerned by the deteriorating relations between the two governments. Unfortunately, war was declared between the two countries seven years later and they entered into hostilities.
The JASC has produced many outstanding alumni. From the American side, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger participated in the JASC in 1951, when he was a student at Harvard University. On the Japanese side, former Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa participated in 1939 and 1940 when he was a student at the Tokyo Imperial University [now the University of Tokyo].
At the welcome reception for President George H. W. Bush in Tokyo on Jan. 8, 1992, Prime Minister Miyazawa said he brought home two things from the JASC held at the University of Southern California in 1939. First was an appreciation of American democracy. Miyazawa was strongly impressed by the atmosphere of freedom and openness in which the American students candidly criticized their government’s Asian policy. Second was his wife, who was sitting beside him at the reception. He met her, a student at Tsuda College, on the ship on the way to Los Angeles. They married after he graduated from the University of Tokyo and joined the Ministry of Finance. There were so many couples who married after meeting at the JASC that it was once called the “Japan-America Marriage Conference.”
I followed in Mr. Miyazawa’s footsteps. I met a woman at the JASC held at Stanford University in 1970 when I was a student there. I met her again at the JASC in Tokyo in 1971, and we married in the fall 1972. Our participation in the JASC had had a major impact on our lives.
Subsequently, I studied Japan-U.S. relations at the graduate school of Harvard University and joined the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative in 1985. I had been able to get a taste of Japan-U.S. negotiations 15 years before that at the JASC; made lasting friends there; and became part of an extensive alumni network. Mr. Toru Hashimoto, president of the Development Bank of Japan, former president of Fuji Bank, and president of the Alumni Association, is also a respected JASC senpai [“mentor”].
The nurturing of leaders who combine idealism, realism, and a global mindset and who are able to work with diverse individuals and groups to achieve results is indispensable for Japan to make contributions to the world. University students are given the opportunity to develop their skills and abilities through a quality experience over the four-week JASC program. They discuss and debate timely, important topics. Participants are able to work closely with students from diverse backgrounds and achieve mutual understanding. Furthermore, the students themselves operate the program, so they bear responsibility for its success or failure.
In recognition of the important role the JASC has played over the years, President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe praised the JASC as an “indispensable” bilateral exchange program in their joint statement issued after the Japan-U.S. summit on April 25, 2014.
The year 2015 will mark the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Many events will be held to commemorate this memorable year. What is important is not to discuss what did and did not happen before 1945. The important thing is to talk about the constructive role Japan has played in the international community over the past 70 years and what role it will play in the future. Whether Japan can continue to play a global role in the future depends on the aspirations and capabilities of the next generation of leaders. For this reason, the present leaders need to support the JASC and other global leadership training programs to
nurture young people to be future leaders.