A Critical Alliance

Following Prime Minister Kishida’s official state visit to President Biden in Washington, D.C. in April, it is clear that the strategic U.S.-Japan alliance is at the forefront of global politics. In this critical time, our two countries need each other more than ever before. To me, what truly stands out in the Joint Leaders Statement blueprinting U.S.-Japan relations for the future is the “Fortifying People-to-People Ties” section, where Japan Society is called out along with the 38 other Japan-America Societies for the important role of civil society in strengthening our alliance: “People-to-people exchanges are the most effective way to develop the future stewards of the U.S.-Japan relationship.” Those are the grassroots, people-to-people connections—the kizuna—that is integral to Japan Society’s work. And Japan Society is front and center with our mission of connecting Japanese arts, culture, business, and society with audiences in New York and from this global stage around the world. 

The 2024 Annual Dinner
On June 13, 2024, Japan Society is hosting our Annual Dinner, our largest yearly fundraiser  that provides essential unrestricted income for the Society. Of the 70 “deliverables” that came out of Prime Minister Kishida’s official state visit, the discussions on semiconductors and chips have been some of the most important. We are showcasing two of the most important U.S.-Japan players in that space, in a Fireside Chat with Arvind Krishna, Chairman and CEO, IBM and Atsuyoshi Koike, President & CEO, Rapidus Corporation, moderated by Japan Society Chair Merit E. Janow, Dean Emerita, School of International & Public Affairs, Columbia University and Chair, MasterCard.

While the majority of our guests are corporate members, this night we are celebrating the history and legacy of Japanese culture with our Japan Society Awardee. Japan Society Award recipient Alexandra Munroe, Senior Curator at Large, Global Arts, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, has long been an integral part of Japan Society’s history. From 1982-1988 she was Editor and Assistant to Rand Castile, who founded Japan Society Gallery, rejoining the Society herself as Director of Japan Society Gallery in 1998. Major exhibitions during her tenure (1998-2005) include YES YOKO ONO (2000) and Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture (2005), co-organized with Takashi Murakami. Continuing her legacy at Japan Society, Dr. Munroe was instrumental in facilitating the search process for our new Senior Gallery Director, Dr. Michele Bambling, ensuring the excellence of Japan Society Gallery for years to come. 

The value of the Annual Dinner is—obviously—to raise money but there is a lot more to it. In some ways, the Annual Dinner is like a state visit. There are major cultural moments in New York, whether it’s Japan Day—started by our former President Motoatsu Sakurai when he was Ambassador and Consul General of Japan in New York—or whether it’s Japan Society Day, as Mayor Adams proclaimed on June 21, 2022, the date of the 2022 Annual Dinner as well as the Summer Solstice! The Annual Dinner is an occasion to celebrate and acknowledge U.S.-Japan above and beyond a show of support for Japan Society—it’s part of something much larger, something that is still growing, along with Japan’s popularity in New York. And Japan has never been hotter!

Markers and milestones
As we all know, the U.S. and Japan are currently experiencing political turmoil. But both of our countries—and U.S.-Japan—have an extremely positive future, especially in business, culture, and grassroots connections. This May, we’ve had the privilege to host Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Governor Kuroda, Keizai Doyukai Chief Niinami, and Vice Minister Shiozaki in New York along with meetings in Tokyo with the Foreign Ministry, Ministry of Economics Trade and Industry, and Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Prime Minister along with continual meetings with our ambassadors—bringing Japan Society new opportunities to collaborate with our respective governments. As an NGO based in New York with a global mission that connects us directly to Japan, Japan Society can and will speak out for U.S.-Japan.

In the next three years there are three significant milestones that commemorate the relationship between Japan and the U.S: 2025 is the 80th Commemoration of the end of World War II (1945); 2026 is the 250th Anniversary of the U.S. Declaration of Independence (1776); and 2027 brings the 120th Anniversary of the founding of Japan Society (1907). By fostering a deeper bond between our two countries through a series of events that coincide with these milestones and connect them, we can provide guidance to meet the challenges of the present world.

Building bridges for the next generation
Prime Minister Kishida in his joint address to the U.S. Congress said, “I want you to know how seriously Japan takes its role as the United States’ closet ally. Together we carry a large responsibility. I believe that we are essential to peace, vital to freedom, and fundamental to prosperity.” Today, Japan Society’s mission is more important than ever—but it is also underappreciated and increasingly difficult to sustain. The era of John D. Rockefeller 3rd, who brought Japan Society back to life in 1952 after the end of the American Occupation of Japan, has ended—replaced by a very commercially driven, Japan-centric pop culture world with which we have not yet fully connected. We want to respect the traditions from which we come, but we also want to be a bridge to the next generation. This is indeed a critical time for our critical alliance. With your support, we can work together to secure the future of U.S.-Japan. 

Joshua Walker, Ph.D. (@drjwalk) is President and CEO of Japan Society. Follow @japansociety. The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.

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