President’s Letter (Fall 2023)
Fall 2023日本語はこちら (Japanese)
Dear Friends and Supporters,
Fall in New York City is a great season—and it’s also a particularly busy time for global diplomacy. The 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly has just come and gone, and, unfortunately thanks to the state of the world, including the war in Ukraine and continued divisions on the Security Council, there weren’t many agreements reached but in the hallways and across the city there were conversations that I think are going to be impactful for the future. When you look at the road to UNGA, the signs are there. First, there was the G7 in Japan, followed by the Camp David Accords between the U.S., Japan, and South Korea then the G20 in India for the first time. Japan and the Indo-Pacific have never been more central with the U.S., the sole Security Council member that sent its head of state to address the assembly while Russia, China, Britain, and even France chose to stay at home.
At Japan House, right across the street from the UN, within the security bubble of high-level UNGA week, we actually played quite an active role not just in facilitating our NYPD and security friends during the numerous protests held but also in substantive convening. Now this is my fourth UN rodeo since becoming President of Japan Society, and in each of these four times, I’d hoped that Japan Society could more faithfully contribute to Japan’s presence, as it feels like a whole year’s worth of work happens in a week. That’s certainly true for 2023! In just one week of UNGA, we hosted not only the prime minister of Japan and four other heads of state, but also Bill Gates, Keizo Takemi, Japan’s new Health Minister along with his G7 counterparts, plus Yoko Kamikawa, Japan’s new Foreign Minister, who was appointed only five days before her visit, symbolizing just how vital Japan Society’s mission is to global diplomacy from here in New York to Tokyo and beyond! One thing to note is that while Prime Minister Kishida energetically represented Japan with many awards and a lot of exposure, including his well-received English speeches at the Economic Club of New York and the “Global Citizen Award” by the Atlantic Council, Japan still did not receive the attention it deserves. I hope Japan Society contributed somewhat to raise awareness vis à vis the Americans and New Yorkers who, in my admittedly biased opinion, have historically underappreciated Japan.
At a moment when we are celebrating our 52nd year in the building, it feels like everything has finally come together. We’re still trying to unpack all the different meetings and topics of discussion. We hosted so many different programs and gatherings, from the G7 Global Health event to discussions on climate with Pacific Island nations, the economy with the EXIM Bank Chair on the U.S. side and the Bank of Japan Vice Governor on the Japanese side, to Peace Symposium New York 2023, co-presented with Japan Institute, the global cultural initiative of Portland Japanese Garden. Watching Prime Minister Kishida unveil his new cabinet and economic agenda was particularly impactful, and a reminder that all politics are local. As foreign policy continues to motivate and drive global diplomacy, it’s going to be global politics that we turn to in the U.S. as we look toward the 2024 presidential election, and in Japan, an LDP presidential election in September 2024 plus whatever comes before then.
Perhaps appropriately a week before UNGA I was at the White House for the Japan Art Association’s 34th Praemium Imperiale Ceremony, chaired by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and David Rockefeller, Jr., who are both New York-based leaders I’m proud to call mentors. Congratulations to the five exceptional artists who received this prestigious global arts prize, including New York’s own Wynton Marsalis and this year’s Grant for Young Artists recipients, Harlem School of the Arts and Rural Studio, who performed Take the A Train! It was a powerful reminder that even in the White House, New York is always a state of mind and a place to be!
Watching the disconnect during UNGA high-level week with speeches delivered for audiences at home and the general complaints from New Yorkers about gridlock and talking shops, it’s a powerful reminder of the need to connect not just on a global level but on a human one as well. We had this play out with the resounding success of our 16th annual JAPAN CUTS: Festival of New Japanese Film. Building on this success, please join us for a special fall season of collaborative programming exploring the pioneering Japanese spirit of the global avant-garde—from the exhibition Out of Bounds: Japanese Women Artists in Fluxus to the performing arts series John Cage’s Japan, augmented by a screening of Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Pitfall (1962) plus additional related events. I’m excited that the fall season allows us to bring all of this together.
The Rockefeller legacy
Along with most of the Society’s staff, I recently spent a day on a leadership retreat graciously hosted by Justin Rockefeller at Fieldwood Farms in the Hudson Valley, the private quarters of the Rockefeller family and the country home of John D. Rockefeller 3rd, from which we all returned refreshed and revitalized, and ready to jump start the new season. The beauty and serenity of the estate—and it was a particularly gorgeous day—brought home the legacy of the Rockefeller family and their myriad interconnections with Japan Society and the United Nations, for without John D. Rockefeller 3rd the Society would not exist in its current form or make its home in Japan House.
I’ll be in Japan for two weeks this October, after a personal visit to my heartland of Hokkaido with my family in August, and look forward to seeing many of you there during the much nicer fall season of Tokyo or in New York.
All the best,
Joshua W. Walker, Ph.D.
President and CEO, Japan Society