Japanese individuals, not government officials, need to facilitate “intellectual exchanges” with people overseas to keep up with globalization, experts said in Tokyo on Sunday.

They were speaking at a symposium commemorating the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Fulbright exchange program between Japan and the United States.

The 50th Anniversary Symposium was organized by the Japan-United States Educational Commission (JUSEC), the GARIOA/Fulbright Alumni Association, and the Japan-United States Educational Exchange Promotion Foundation (also known as the Fulbright Foundation).

Promotion of the grassroots exchanges should complement Japan’s diplomatic relations with its Asian neighbors in the long run, said Carol Gluck, a professor at Columbia University. She cited the unification of Europe as a precedent.

Tadashi Yamamoto, director of the nonprofit Japan Center for International Education, specifically urged the government to set up a politically independent foundation to bolster exchanges of intellectuals in Asia. He said such exchanges are sluggish compared with those taking place in Europe and across the Atlantic.

For Japan to benefit from such international exchanges, however, it must first overhaul its uniform education system to nurture creativity and originality, said Yukio Okamoto, president of Okamoto Associates Inc., and a former diplomat.

Under the theme “The Future of Japan’s International Intellectual Exchanges,” the symposium was moderated by Kenichiro Hirano, a Waseda University professor.

The three other panelists were former South Korean Ambassador Gong Ro Myung, president of University of East Asia Masakazu Yamasaki, and Takenori Inoki, a professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies.

The Fulbright Program was created in 1946 by the U.S. Congress to promote mutual understanding between the U.S. and other countries. The late Sen. J.W. Fulbright initiated the program.

In 1952, Japan participated in the program, which now boasts more than 150 participating countries. Backed by both governments and the Japanese Fulbright Alumni Association, which set up the Fulbright Foundation, JUSEC currently funds scholarships for about 60 Americans and 70 Japanese for participation in the program.

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