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Commentary — Reimagining Japan Society New York: A beacon of hope at the epicenter of the pandemic

  • May 8, 2020
  • , The Japan Times
  • English Press



NEW YORK – New York is a beacon of hope for the free world. We are the beating heart, not just of the United States, but of the world and the global financial markets. The current moment defines our generation and the future world to come.


As Japan comes back from its Golden Week and Children’s Day, and here in America we’ve just celebrated Giving Tuesday as we joined with countless nonprofits across the world to promote the work we do, we are challenged to ask ourselves what we can do for today and future generations. At the Japan Society we can stay true to our mission of bringing the U.S. and Japan closer together — which we have been doing since 1907 — along with reimagining what that future will look like.


I sincerely believe that the U.S.-Japan relationship is going to come through this pandemic even stronger than before, and will be further defined by it. Just as 9/11 forever changed the way we travel, the way we think about security, making clear the trade-offs between privacy and security, the pandemic has already altered the way we think about our own health. We are interconnected to everyone else in a way that we have never been forced to consider before.


Because the Japan Society is located in New York, at the U.S. epicenter of the pandemic, we must be a beacon of hope as we serve our devastated community. People are going to look to New York just like they did after 9/11 to lead the way in terms of resiliency.

What better place than Japan to look for resiliency, with the postponement of the Olympics, where the flames are kept alive at the epicenter of 3/11? With such a strong economic component to this crisis, when you have the largest and third-largest economies in the world coming together — the U.S. and Japan — that is a powerful opportunity for hope and inspiration.


As fellow liberal democracies, our societies must emerge from this stronger in a way that many authoritarians cannot and will not accomplish. When the immediate public health crisis passes, the truth will emerge, showing how Japan was there for us despite their hesitance to promote their efforts publicly. The onus is on us to show why we need freedom, liberty and privacy in the face of public health crises, security threats or war.


Today we declare that we are here for New York, we are here for our community, we want to inspire hope in the same way that during 3/11 we sought to comfort and show our friendship to our Japanese friends.


Unlike 3/11, when we established one of the largest and most reputable relief funds for Japan after it was singularly devastated by the triple disasters of earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor fallout, we are all in this pandemic together. We know that we are not the only place to direct the donations that are desperately needed at all levels for public health, restaurant and everyday front-line heroes.


But for us, the mission of the Japan Society will always remain the same, to bring the U.S. and Japan closer together. We would like to remind you of the resiliency of this relationship, that we have been through these terrible moments before, although never in this way with public health.


While our landmark building remains closed to the public and staff, we have been busier and more determined than ever to meet the enormous challenges ahead. We are reimagining our programming to reach a far wider audience, innovating even as we build on our time-honored legacy and tradition.


In addition to our Annual Dinner Reimagined on June 18, which we are boldly moving online, we are excited about our new virtual reality as we reimagine our website, membership and even the largest Japanese-language film festival outside of Tokyo, “Japan Cuts,” while our Language Center, the largest in North America, continues to teach students Japanese at all levels, online. As we take these necessary leaps of faith, we hope we can inspire others to see the light at the end of this long tunnel, as ultimately we are all in this together.


In the past, good actions spoke for themselves. In today’s world of disinformation, the Japan Society is a creditable organization that has withstood the test of time. Our programs and resources — for the time being located primarily in the digital realm — represent the best of their kind.


I am optimistic about what the U.S.-Japan relationship has to give to this world, not just in the present crisis, but that we will continue to benefit from this relationship in new ways that we cannot even conceive of today.


The Olympics will be held in Japan in 2021, and when the world comes together to celebrate next year it is going to be a party unlike any that we have ever seen before. We are ready and we hope you will join us as we celebrate the spirit of New York that is stronger together with Japan.


Joshua W. Walker is president and CEO of the Japan Society

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