COMMENTARY: Japan-America Societies offer opportunity to connect (or re-connect) with Japan

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COMMENTARY: Japan-America Societies offer opportunity to connect (or re-connect) with Japan

by: Robert D. Eldridge, Ph.D., III MEF/MCIPAC Consolidated Public Affairs Office | .
U.S. Marine Corps | .
published: May 31, 2014

CAMP FOSTER, OKINAWA, Japan -- I am often asked by military personnel and their families serving in Japan, or by those who have served in Japan and are now residing back in the United States, about ways to get involved with organizations related to U.S.-Japan relations. Fortunately such organizations exist in abundance, the most well-known being the numerous local Japan-America societies in the United States, and its counterpart, the America-Japan societies, in Japan.

The two societies have a long history, beginning more than 100 years ago. The Japan Society of Northern California, which is included in the umbrella of National Association of Japan-America Societies, was established in 1905, and that of New York in 1907. The same year the Japan-America Society of Oregon came into being in 1907, and this was followed by the Japan-America Society of Southern California in 1909. Over the years, several dozen Japan-America Societies or Japan Societies have been established and today there are approximately 35 in various cities and states across the United States, which make it convenient to join or otherwise attend activities. (The full list is at: http://www.us-japan.org/resources/ussocieties.html.) The NAJAS is currently headed by a former businessman with strong connections to Japan, Peter Kelley, who served as Executive Director of the Harvard-Yenching Institute prior to assuming the presidency in 2009.

In Japan, the first America-Japan Society was created in Japan nearly one hundred years ago in 1917, and similarly, over the years, more than two dozen societies were established from Hokkaido in the northernmost part of Japan to Kyushu in western Japan. Although curiously no such society currently exists yet in Okinawa, it is possible to join any one of the others. (A full list in English can be found at: http://www.us-japan.org/resources/jpsocieties.html.) The current president of the national association in Japan is retired Japanese Ambassador to the United States, the Honorable Fujisaki Ichiro, whose interview appeared in a national English language daily in Japan shortly after he assumed the presidency in July 2013 (http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2013/07/31/national/new-america-japan-society-chief-looks-to-expand/#.U39zQPmSydw).

The societies in both countries are very busy promoting bilateral relations. They encourage the exchange of ideas between Japan and the United States by sponsoring a number of cultural, educational, business, and public affairs events every month, with the ultimate goal to encourage mutual understanding. The societies are comprised of people of all walks of life—current and former government, military, business, education, academic, and a variety of others—who desire to bring the peoples of Japan and the United States closer together. They sponsor scholarships and provided enormous help in the wake of the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, much like they did following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923, which killed 140,000 people. Participating in these events, many of which are co-hosted with leading organizations in the area, or in becoming a member allows the member or his/her guest to interact with an always interesting mix of people who share that common goal.

The role of the societies was recently recognized by U.S. President Barak Obama and Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo during their recent summit meeting in Japan. In the eleven-paragraph annex to the Joint Statement (The United States and Japan: Shaping the Future of the Asia-Pacific and Beyond) entitled “Leaders Statement on U.S.-Japan Bilateral Exchanges,” the two leaders reaffirmed the importance of “people-to-people exchange…[as] an irreplaceable investment in the future of the Alliance,” and described the societies as one of several key organizations that are an important complement to government programs “linking the people of our two countries.” The Annex went on to say that “Broad people-to-people exchange between Japan and the United States has been a key pillar of our Alliance since its inception. Close ties and shared values between the people of the United States and the people of Japan form the foundation of global partnership between our nations.” (See http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2014/04/25/us-japan-joint-statement-united-states-and-japan-shaping-future-asia-pac).

As we approach PCS (permanent change of station) season, for those of you who are leaving Japan, joining these societies in or near your next duty station will be a very good chance to reconnect with Japan, and for those who are new to Japan or have been here a while, the America-Japan societies in your area will provide the opportunity to get connected.

Eldridge is the Deputy Assistant Chief of Staff, G-7 (Government and External Affairs), Marine Corps Installations Pacific, and a former tenured associate professor of U.S.-Japan relations at Osaka University. As a 24-year resident of Japan, he has been a member of the America-Japan Society of Osaka and the Japan-America Society of Honolulu, and a frequent guest speaker at a variety of society events in Japan and the United States. He can be reached at Robert.d.eldridge@usmc.mil.