Waking Up and Lifting Off into the Future

By Joshua W. Walker, Ph.D., President and CEO, Japan Society

New York is waking up and rumors of its untimely demise have been greatly exaggerated. The city’s characteristic energy and hustle are back in full effect this summer and, taking our cue, Japan Society is resuming in-person events at near pre-pandemic capacity, starting with JAPAN CUTS, the 15th annual edition of our widely praised festival of contemporary Japanese cinema, running August 20 through September 2. Please join us for two weeks of online and in-person screenings of the best new films from Japan never before seen in NYC—along with some really great air conditioning! We’ve scheduled things a bit later this year so as not to overlap with the iconic 2020 Tokyo Summer Games.

The heart of our mission at Japan Society is connecting American and Japanese people, cultures, and societies. During the pandemic pause we worked harder than ever, taking our vibrant community online and building new bridges and audiences from here to Tokyo, Latin America, and beyond. We’ll be continuing to build out our robust digital initiatives and outreach along with a long-awaited return to in-person events and performances—plus a new fall exhibition, Improvisation in Wood, featuring works by Tadashi Kawamata and Shiko Munakata.

Re-envisioning the U.S.-Japan bridge

Our recent Annual Dinner reinforces and reaffirms Japan Society’s role in continually re-envisioning the U.S.-Japan bridge. We must never lose sight of the role that a community plays in enhancing and improving the world. As Prime Minister Suga noted in his special message to our guests, “New York is known for being the center of business but also the stage for UN diplomacy, as well as arts and culture. And in this city, Japan-U.S. cooperation and Japan’s presence have been expanding broadly…I am grateful for Japan Society’s contributions.”

But Japan Society’s work requires forward momentum and a willingness to embrace change. As our Dinner honoree, private equity pioneer Henry Kravis, Co-Chairman and Co-CEO of KKR, noted, “If you don’t like change, you’re going to like obsolescence a lot less. You have to keep innovating, you have to keep moving.” The Dinner also featured a conversation between former JAXA astronaut Naoko Yamazaki and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy that marked the 60th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s landmark Moonshot speech. As Ambassador Kennedy noted, “Sixty years ago, my father, President John F. Kennedy, challenged Americans to look to the moon. He saw space as the next frontier for freedom, peace, and knowledge… It was a time not unlike our own, when the issues were immense, the challenges exciting, and the competition between global superpowers intense.” Within a decade, two men had landed on the moon and returned safely to earth, inspiring generations of young people to look to the stars and dream of what they could do. The substance of President Kennedy’s speech—and the Moonshot itself—are, for me, key points of illumination on the map of the Society’s future.

A new landmark era

In September, we’ll be celebrating the 50th anniversary of the opening of our own Japan House—it was in September 1971 that Japan Society launched its now landmarked headquarters building and embraced an ambitious program of expansion and outreach, bringing the U.S.-Japan alliance to New York in new and unprecedented ways.

This year, 2021, is another kind of landmark. It’s the beginning of a new era for Japan Society—our own Moonshot—as we take the Society’s mission to a global level and beyond. As Yamazaki-san has said, “Human beings are made of almost exactly the same things as stars—oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen. Since the stars we see in the night sky are made of the same things we are, we humans are siblings of these stars and a part of space.” We’re all in this together, and with your help, we’ll take a trip to the far side of the moon and bring Japan Society into the 21st century together.

Joshua Walker (@drjwalk) is president and CEO of Japan Society. Follow Japan Society on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

The views expressed in this article are the writer’s own.