I would like to offer my greetings as the newly appointed Director General of the Japan Foundation New York.
Having spent a year and a half in Washington DC as a visiting fellow of Johns Hopkins University SAIS, I moved to New York earlier this month and began taking charge of operating the programs of the Japan Foundation and Center for Global Partnership (CGP).
This is my second New York assignment following my tenure as Director of CGP during the second half of the 1990s. Recalling those fond memories from my previous NY experiences, I find that a Japanese word comes into my mind. The word is “en” or “enishi.” In Japanese society, the word “en” holds a great deal of meaning. The same Chinese character can also be read as “heri” or “fuchi,” meaning the edge of something. Having its original usage in Buddhist philosophy, however, the word “en” carries the primary meaning of something that is destined to be, a connectivity that is born to fate. One of the connotations of the word may be similar to something like the English phrase “a match made in Heaven.”
While I am not certain if my linkage with NY this time reflects some metaphysical, or even mystical power of connectivity like the one we see in “a match made in Heaven,” I am certain and have realized that the secret to international exchange is to develop and cherish close bonds, or “en,” with people throughout the world. I believe that an initial connectivity generated by close bonds among people is a lead off to deeper mutual understanding among larger groups beyond national borders. Relations between countries are constructed from political, economic, cultural and other various factors, but in order to deepen those ties, the foundation of that relationship must be built upon mutual understanding. I feel strongly that an understanding of each country’s cultures and sentiments of the people is essential if nations are to enjoy healthy, constructive ties at any level.
And it is in this context that the activities of the Japan Foundation plays a role. Seeking to leave positive impacts and footsteps in the field of cultural exchange through various programs, the institution has contributed to achieving a far deeper level of mutual understanding and cultivating a sense of unity among people, particularly those between Japan and the United States. The history of the activities of the Japan Foundation in the United States dates back to the early 1970s and we have been continuously engaged with energetic, diverse aspects of the bilateral cultural exchange since then.
With this historical backdrop, we see today that the US-Japan cultural exchanges surrounding us remain vibrant. In addition to ever-increasing interests into "cool Japan" and other cultural phenomenon, the recent rise in interest from Americans, particularly those from policy circles, into Japanese efforts of recovery from natural disaster is quite conspicuous. The new economic initiative taken by the current administration and BOJ has also attracted a keen focus from many researchers engaged in the US-Japan intellectual exchange.
Taking the rich history and the most up-to-date trends in bilateral cultural exchange into consideration, I would like to start working with our friends and partners together so that new opportunities for another “en” will open up for the betterment of and for a solidified US-Japan relationship.