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The Japan-America Student Conference (JASC):
Celebrating Seventy Years

Chapter I: 1934 to 1940: The Early Conferences
Chapter II: 1947 to 1954: A Post-War Recovery
Chapter III: 1964 to 1993: The JASC Tradition Revived
Chapter IV: 1994 to 2003: Technology & Innovation
Chapter V: 2003 to present: The Millennium JASC


Chapter I: 1934 to 1941

The Early Conferences The first Japan-America Student Conference (JASC)* was held in Japan in 1934 by Japanese and American university students with great expectations tempered by the deterioration of U.S.-Japan relations in the 1920's and 1930's. The underlying assumptions of the Conference, then and now, are that intense interactive experiences of carefully selected young men and women from the U.S. and Japan would have a growing impact on relations between the two countries as they assumed positions of leadership in their respective nations. The idea of such a Conference, in light of the social, political and militaristic atmosphere of the 1930's in Japan, was revolutionary.

The small group of Japanese university students who envisioned the binational student conference labored against the winds of a gathering storm in U.S.- Japan relations. The Japanese army's occupation of Manchuria in the 1930's angered large sections of the American public which, for many historical reasons, had an unbounded sympathy for China. In Japan, on the other hand, a radical nationalism stimulated by the Japanese military and civilian ideologues was spreading rapidly. Additionally, the Japanese smarted from the non-acceptance of the principle of racial equality (i.e. full acceptance of Japan) in the overall post-World War I settlement by the Western Powers, and from the Japanese Exclusion Act of 1924 that restricted Japanese immigration into the United States.

Many of Tokyo's universities in the 1930's sponsored English Speaking Societies as one of the campus activities. Although their major purpose was to promote knowledge of spoken English, the members were also vitally concerned with international affairs, notably the relationship between their country and the U.S., which some students felt was rapidly heading toward disaster.

On a Spring afternoon in 1933, a small group of concerned Japanese student members of these societies concluded that peace in the Pacific depended on friendly relations between Japan and the U.S. and that this amity was rapidly eroding. Furthermore, they concluded, their government seemed unable or unwilling to do anything about it. After lengthy discussion, they decided that what appeared beyond governmental remedy might possibly be ameliorated by the concern of students.

The Japan Student English Association, a federation of the English Speaking Societies at various universities in Tokyo, was formed to sponsor the proposed Conference of Japanese and American students to be held in Japan in the summer of 1934. The Conference would invite 50 American university students, with a similar number of Japanese students, to a Japan-America Student Conference the following year in Tokyo. The Conference, to be conducted entirely in English, would be a completely free, uninhibited exchange of opinions on the major problems confronting the two countries. They felt that such an exchange would at least produce a foundation of understanding among students of both nations.

*The first seven conferences were originally referred to as the America-Japan Student Conference but for this publication we will refer to it as it has been known since after World War II, the Japan-America Student Conference.

Close association and frank exchanges over the long summer period would cement friendships across boundaries. A student core in each country could then help combat the growing antipathy of the two nations toward one another.

Not widely discussed at the time, but in retrospect a hoped-for result, was that at least a fair percentage of participating delegates from each country would ultimately rise to high positions in their respective societies and governments. From these lofty heights, they could, perhaps, in later years, use their influence to improve U.S.-Japan relations. In fact, these hopes have been realized to a substantial degree over the intervening years. A partial list of notable JASC alumni who have distinguished themselves in the fields of business, academia and government, including a Prime Minister of Japan and U.S. Secretary of State, is included in Appendix VIII and IX.

The Japanese student visionaries were confronted with the reality of organizing the Conference: how to convince their skeptical government to support them and how to raise the necessary funds from the business community. At meetings with government and business leaders they were commended for their goodwill but little else was forthcoming. The prospective organizers wondered: if businessmen thought their idea was so wonderful, why the reluctance to offer financial support? Their conclusion was that businessmen doubted the student group could persuade 50 American students to attend such a Conference in Japan.

The students were determined to prove the feasibility of the idea. They decided to send a goodwill mission to the United States for the express purpose of recruiting 50 American Conference participants. Four students were selected for the delegation: Namiji Itabashi of Meiji University, Haruo Endo of Waseda University, Koi Nakayama of Aoyama Gakuin and Toshio (Edwin) Tabata of Keio Universit y. Namiji Itabashi was to figure prominently in the later history of the JASC enterprise. The pioneering delegation sailed from Yokohama in the spring of 1934, amidst an enthusiastic send-off by members of the English Speaking Societies of Tokyo. As the view of Mt. Fuji receded, however, so did the confidence of the mission's members. The recruitment task began to seem more formidable.

Fears quickly faded at the first stop in the United States: the University of Washington in Seattle. Unveiling their plan before more than one hundred students, the Japanese received a surprisingly enthusiastic response. Two students returned immediately to Japan to begin serious fundraising. Of the remaining two, one visited other universities on the U.S. West Coast. The other, Namiji Itabashi, set off to recruit from universities in the Midwest and on the East Coast. (One of those who introduced Namiji to such campuses as Columbia and Princeton was Tadashi Yamada who became Chairman of the Association of World Trade Centers).

Their success was remarkable. Not only students but also faculty members wanted a piece of the action. Instead of fifty, 99 Americans were to descend on Tokyo, including seventy-nine students, and 20 faculty members and their wives as chaperons/advisers/observers. While the Americans would pay their fare to Japan and back, all of their expenses while in Japan, as well as during their post-Conference travels in Japan and to Korea and Manchuria, would be paid by their Japanese hosts. (Fortunately the Japanese fundraising was also more successful than expected). The first Japan-America Student Conference was soon to be realized.

With 70 Japanese and 79 Americans, the First Japan-America Student Conference convened at Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo on July 14, 1934. Opening ceremonies, attended by Ietatsu Tokugawa, descendant of Tokugawa Shoguns, U.S. Ambassador Joseph Grew and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education, were broadcast nationally on radio.

The student discussions were declared a resounding success. At the end of the Conference discussions, the Japanese Conference founding committee took the Americans on an extended trip through the Osaka-Kyoto area of central Japan, then on to Manchuria, Korea, and back across the Strait of Korea to Shimonoseki, from where the group returned to Tokyo by rail. Conference discussions and travel combined, gave the Americans over a month in the region. The results were electric. For most American delegates, if not all, it was their first physical exposure to Asia; certainly the first opportunity to establish personal friendships with citizens of the "Mysterious East." Surviving members of that First Conference list it as one of the most memorable experiences of their lives, and many state without equivocation that it opened new horizons and altered career directions.

The Americans were so impressed by the Conference experience that, before leaving Tokyo, they unveiled a plan to hold a second Conference session the following year in the U.S. The Second Japan-America Student Conference took place during July/August, 1935 at Reed College in Portland, Oregon. It, too, was an unqualified success. Following the 1934 Japanese example, the American Student Executive Committee treated the Japanese delegates to a tour. U.S. geographic size and American committee fund restrictions limited travel to a chartered bus tour of the Pacific Coast, but the Coast's geographic and scenic variety provided the visitors with an unforgettable experience.

Following the 1935 Reed College meeting, sessions were held annually, alternating between Japan and the U.S., through the Seventh Conference in 1940. During this period the U.S.-held Conferences remained on the West Coast and were hosted by Stanford University in 1937 (4th JASC) and by the University of Southern California in 1939 (6th JASC). The 6th and 7th Conferences were noteworthy for the participation of a lively and popular Japanese delegate from Tokyo University named Kiichi Miyazawa. The future political leader formed his first impression of the United States during his earliest trip abroad as a member of the 6th JASC: "Each American student has his or her own strong opinion and they have heated discussions. They even criticize their own government. I was impressed and concluded that this was an amazing country." More recently, as Japan's Prime Minister, Miyazawa referred to this JASC experience as "one of the formative events of my lifetime."

The 7th Conference was remarkable not only for young Miyazawa's participation (as well as the participation of his future wife, Yoko Ichiji!) but for the fact that it reflected the growing strain in U.S.- Japan relations and the increasingly repressive atmosphere in Japan. For the first time since its inception, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Education attempted to bring the student-run Conference under their sphere of influence by suggesting that they sponsor the Conference. The students soundly rejected these offers, emphasizing that there was no point to the Conference if it were to be controlled by the government. The students continued fundraising in the private sector.

Close association and frank exchanges over the long summer period would cement friendships across boundaries. A student core in each country could then help combat the growing antipathy of the two nations toward one another.

The student discussions took place in small groups called "roundtables", each devoted to a particular subject such as religion, politics, economics, international trade and education. Table discussions during this Conference focused on the imminence of a large-scale world war, leaving discussions of the more discrete subjects of religion, art and culture to a more peaceful era. Freedom of expression during table discussions was hindered by police presence, causing somewhat tense deliberations as American delegates openly opposed Japan's use of force in China and Japanese delegates tried to justify military actions in Manchuria.

At the conclusion of the 7th Conference in the summer of 1940, the American and Japanese Executive Committees (AEC and JEC) were duly elected to organize the 8th meeting in 1941 which was destined not to be. Diplomatic negotiations between Japan and the United States came to a dead end and made it impossible for Japanese students to get visas to the U.S. Relations had so deteriorated that the Conference had to be cancelled. So ended the first phase of this remarkable endeavor.

Seven features characterized the Pre-War JASCs:

1. All of the Conferences were conceived, organized, funded, and carried out completely by student efforts. There was no senior sponsoring organization, governmental or private, in either the U.S. or Japan.

2. Each Pre-War Conference consisted of 2 parts: First, an intensive internal seminar period covering problems of special concern to both countries. Lasting approximately one week, the seminar groups consisted of both American and Japanese delegates divided into groups of approximately equal size. At the end of this carefully structured seminar period, formal discussion ceased. Second, the host country Student Executive Committee conducted the visiting delegation on a tour of scenic locales in order to: acquaint them by personal observation with cultural patterns, regional differences, and local customs; guide them through representative manufacturing establishments; show off nationally famous products, and especially, to sustain them at dinners, luncheons, or receptions sponsored by business/manufacturing organizations, civic associations, or occasionally, government entities.

3. The travel segment of the Conference experience was viewed by both the American and Japanese delegates as equal in importance to the academic discussion segment. Far from being considered a frivolous waste of time, the travel was believed necessary if the visitors were to get a true feel for and understanding of the country and its people. More importantly, the shared enjoyment of Japanese and Americans traveling together cemented cross-national friendships, which were looked upon as a major purpose of the Conference program.

4. Trans-Pacific air travel was in its infancy. The visiting delegation crossed the ocean by ship, a thirteen or fourteen day voyage, depending on whether Seattle or San Francisco was the Stateside port. The two week ocean crossing knitted the delegation closely together in a manner that is not possible today, when it is done always by air.

5. Although Japanese business and governmental establishments may have initially doubted its feasibility, once the Conference became reality, both were quick to capitalize on its potential. The arrival of an American student delegation in Japan in those days received the sort of press coverage reserved today for Summit Conferences. Public attention to the Conferences which took place in the United States was much less extensive. The Japanese press saw fit to stress student presence as evidence that the American people did not look upon Japan with the same disapproval exhibited by the U.S. government. It also seems certain that the visits, particularly to Manchuria at a time when military operations were at a critical point, could not have taken place had the Japanese government not seen it as a public relations plus. Manchuria at this time was the puppet state of Manchukuo, and a major reason for its inclusion in the travel segment of the Conferences was to show off the remarkable city Japan had made out of Chang Chun (then called Hsinking) and the "enormous blessings" Japan was bringing to the previously poverty-stricken peoples of Manchuria.

6. Despite the strict ideological control and surveillance that took place in Japan in the 1930's, the American and Japanese students conducted truly frank, uninhibited discussions during the long social evenings together outside the structured table discussions.

7. It should be noted that, from the outset, the Conference was exceptional in overcoming gender, ethnicity and university affiliation biases in existence during this period. Both the Japanese and American delegations represented women in equal numbers to male participants. In fact, for some female Japanese delegates, the Conference was the first opportunity to discuss such issues as politics, economics and science with members of the opposite sex, even of their own nationality.

Chapter II: 1947 to 1954