Japan Society: A Pivotal Moment

Japan Society Annual Dinner 2023

by Joshua W. Walker, Ph.D.

Japan Society’s Annual Dinner, which took place on June 14, 2023, is a singular event where all our friends, partners, supporters, community leaders, and international figures convene under one roof. It’s a powerful and awe-inspiring night for U.S. Japan as it reminds us that Japan Society’s relevance is as great today as it was upon its founding in 1907—and that has never been more necessary, because Japan Society is now at a pivotal moment.

One hundred and sixteen years after our founding, our rich legacy and history still compel us toward a mission of sharing the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship as a beacon of hope for cultural, business, and societal exchange in an increasingly challenging world. Yet the landscape in which we find ourselves has fundamentally changed—in a way that our business, membership, and operating models have not.

Meeting the challenge

It is at this pivotal moment in our organization’s history that we prepare for its second rebirth or renaissance. In a world of digital hyper-connectivity that ironically faces the existential threats of political isolation, social disruption, and environmental and epidemiological catastrophe, Japan Society is called to play a key role in building human connections between cultures and people. Our mission of (re)introducing the abundance of Japanese culture and the vitality of the U.S.-Japan relationship to the world has never been more critical.

This is a time for Japan Society not only to showcase Japan’s cultural soft power, but also to take on a thought-leadership role that celebrates multi-lateralism and multi-culturalism in an increasingly polarized and politicized world. The landscape today is filled with venerable institutions. But no single institution brings all of the pieces together with the same clarity and focus on the mission of U.S.-Japan quite like Japan Society. This clarity of focus and quality of purpose rather than our illustrious history and size must drive us to the future.

We strive to transform Japan House into THE place to be for exchange and dialogue around the U.S.-Japan relationship. We must also reach out beyond our physical headquarters to assume a leading role in shaping the conversation on topics that matter in Japan’s relationship with the world. We need to move beyond a narrow focus on U.S.-Japan bilateral issues to address the truly global challenges that our two societies face together.

Making and renewing connections

It is crucial for Japan Society to create and strengthen kizuna – bonds of deep togetherness that goes beyond transaction to tranformation – between American and Japanese people, cultures and societies for the future and for the next generation. There is a powerful global network of Japan Society ambassadors out there who need to be connected and activated in service of our mission of enhancing U.S.-Japan relations.

We’ve started with the appointment of a Senior Advisor in Japan and the formation of an Alumni Club in Tokyo. In New York, creating more regularized major forums such as our Global Risk Forum will provide an annualized platform for leaders to have top-notch dialogue on global current events and partake in high-impact networking. We must look to the future by activating and catalyzing the next generation in both the U.S. and Japan.

Our Japan Society School Partnerships program (JSSPs) is just finishing up its pilot year, bringing after-school programs and community outreach to four partner schools from underserved communities—two high schools and two elementary schools—and fostering the next generation of NYC Japanophiles. In addition, the Society’s outstanding Junior Fellows Leadership Program, on hiatus during the pandemic, will reactivate in-person student exchanges in 2024 for high schoolers in the U.S. and Japan as well as reconnecting with more than 10 years of past Fellows, now alumni.

I’m thrilled to announce that for the first time in three years, JAPAN CUTS, the largest festival of Japanese film in North America, will return fully in-person, for its 16th edition at Japan Society from July 26 through August 6! We’re presenting over 30 extraordinary films this year, along with parties, Q&As, and special guests from Japan. The NYC film community loves this festival and can’t wait for it to come back—and the Japanese entertainment world feels the same way!

Investing in the future

As the world reopens after a pandemic that has fundamentally altered life for so many, an inflection point for Japan Society has emerged. Never before has the U.S.-Japan relationship been so geopolitically pivotal and the values and interests of our two countries so closely aligned. It is central to our mission to invest in the abundance of U.S.-Japan relations to win the hearts and minds of the next generation of friends and leaders in all areas—and on both sides of the Pacific. In this time of transformation there is a role for civil society, for business, for leaders beyond political leaders, and for the interconnection of our societies through arts and culture. Please join us.

Joshua W. Walker, Ph.D., is President and CEO of Japan Society and has held positions of leadership at Eurasia Group, the USA Pavilion of the 2017 World Expo, the APCO Institute and APCO Worldwide. He has served in the State Department and the Defense Department; co-founded the Yale Journal of International Affairs; and attended the University of Richmond, Yale, and Princeton Universities.