New America-Japan Society chief looks to expand

by Sayuri Daimon

Staff Writer

It has a well-recognized name and more than a century of history. Many prominent figures from Japan and the United States have been involved in its efforts to nurture friendly ties between the two nations.

But Ichiro Fujisaki, newly appointed president of the America-Japan Society Inc., feels that attracting people from diverse fields as well as younger people and Americans who live in Japan to its programs is a must for the group to keep growing.

The America-Japan Society was established in 1917 as one of the first organizations to develop a friendly relationship between the two nations during World War I, when bilateral ties were tense because of issues with China.

Its past presidents include former Prime Ministers Shigeru Yoshida, Nobusuke Kishi, Takeo Fukuda, while people like Eiichi Shibusawa, the industrialist known as the “father of Japanese capitalism,” and Inazo Nitobe, the well-known educator and author of the book “Bushido: The Soul of Japan,” have provided active support.

“Because of our history and people involved, some may think our organization is something that is too serious and hard to join. I want to change this perception and create a community of Japanese and Americans where people can make friends,” Fujisaki said in a recent interview with The Japan Times.

Fujisaki, who was Japan’s ambassador to the U. S. until last November, took the helm of the organization July 5.

The group’s first president was Kentaro Kaneko, the first Japanese graduate of Harvard University and one of the authors of the Meiji Constitution. After the Great Kanto Earthquake struck Tokyo in 1923, the group worked as a liaison to receive rescue supplies and donations from the U.S.

In the postwar era, it has served as a community for people involved in Japan-U.S. relations. A list of past speakers to its events include Gen. Douglas MacArthur, then-U.S. Vice President Richard M. Nixon and U.S. Ambassador Edwin O. Reischauer.

“But we are not the only organization that boasts close ties with the U.S. anymore,” Fujisaki said. “Over the past years, many groups, such as those of lawyers and businesspeople, have been created. But what is different about our group is that anyone can be a member regardless of their affiliations.”

In addition to holding monthly meetings with prominent speakers and social gatherings for its members, the group provides assistance for when the winners of an annual speech contest in the U.S. get their free trip to Japan.

It also offers a fellowship for people engaged in the U.S. studies at Japanese graduate schools.

Fujisaki stresses the need to have more young people and Americans involved in the organization’s activities.

“When we hold a luncheon meeting, we can even have tables for students who want to attend the meetings for a much cheaper price. We can also have more casual gatherings, such as brown bag lunches and open houses in our office where members can stop by to have drinks and chats,” said Fujisaki, who also teaches at Sophia University in Tokyo.

He said the Japan-U.S. relationship has long been the main pillar of Japanese diplomacy and will continue to be so.

“Japan benefits a lot from having a good relationship with the U.S.,” he said, adding that relations with China would be even more difficult if Tokyo didn’t have a good relationship with Washington.

He welcomed the decision to nominate Caroline Kennedy as the next U.S. ambassador to Japan.

“Everyone in the U.S. knows her and she will help bring a lot of attention to Japan,” he said.

Fujisaki said Japan has worked hard to become an “equal partner” of the U.S.

Until 1990, the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee, more commonly known as the two-plus-two meeting between the defense and foreign affairs chiefs of the two nations, did not involve the ministerial-level officials from the U.S., he said.

The meeting used to be between Japan’s foreign minister and Defense Agency chief, and the U.S. ambassador to Japan and the commander of U.S. Forces, Japan, he said.

“When Japan negotiated the Japan-U.S. security treaty, it was with Ambassador (Douglas) MacArthur (II), not with Washington. Think about how far we have come to become an equal partner of the U.S.,” he said.