3 Japan’s Cultural Exchange Policy

Japan Matters public lecture in 2012/13

Tuesday 20 November 2012
‘Japan’s Cultural Exchange Policy: What the Japan Foundation does ’
Mr Tsuyoshi Takahashi, Regional Director for Europe and Director-General for the UK, The Japan Foundation
St Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art, Glasgow

The lecture was supported by the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.

Mr Tsuyoshi Takahashi joined the Japanese Ministry of Finance in 1975. His overseas postings include Second Secretary and subsequently First Secretary of the Japanese Delegation Office to OECD in Paris, Director of the Budget, Personnel and Management Department of Asia Development Bank in Manila, and Executive Director of the Inter-American Development Office in Washington D.C. He joined the Japan Foundation as Special Assistant to the President in 2008, and in September 2011 he took up the current post.

The summary of Mr Takahashi’s talk:

The Japan Foundation is Japan’s leading organisation of experts for international cultural exchange.  It was established in 1972 as an organisation affiliated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and I notice two factors behind its establishment: a sudden visit of Henry Kissinger, then National Security Adviser to Richard Nixon, then the President of the United Sates, to China in July 1971 (Japan was informed of this only half an hour previously); and the sudden ending of the post-war dollar-gold standard in August 1971, or the so-called Nixon Shock.  These unexpected US initiatives led Japanese politicians to re-think its position in the world.

In particular, Takeo Fukuda, then the Foreign Minister, who later became the Prime Minister, thought that Japan would need an organisation for international cultural exchange, especially personnel exchange at grassroots level.  In those days, Japan was called an ‘economic animal’ paying too much attention to business, and was not known in the rest of the world as a country with rich cultures.

It is called Foundation because the government endowed a fund to it, with a view to providing it with a secure income stream in the form of the fund’s investment returns, which would allow the organisation to make and deliver medium term or long term goals for international cultural exchanges, and because the organisation was allowed to work with the private sector.  However, the Foundation’s main source of income has still been Japanese tax payers’ money (76% in 2011).  Nevertheless, these arrangements have allowed the Foundation to keep the government at arm’s length.  This is crucial for Japan’s international cultural exchange organisation.  For example, foreign journalists may not accept an invitation from the government of Japan, but they may accept the Japan Foundation’s invitation.

In 2003 the Japan Foundation became an Independent Administrative Institution, and the Article 3 of the Independent Administrative Institution Japan Foundation Law (2003) states that the Foundation is expected to contribute to:
• a better international environment, and
• the maintenance and development of harmonious foreign relationships with Japan

It is interesting note that the notion of an international environment is much broader than a bi-lateral one, although ‘harmonious foreign relationships with Japan’ may refer to bi-lateral relationships.

These purposes are expected to be achieved through the following measures:
• deepening other nation’s understanding of Japan,
• promoting better mutual understanding among nations, and
• encouraging friendship and goodwill among the peoples of the world

Mutual understanding would imply two-way cultural exchange activities, but under the recent administrative review under the government activities to introduce foreign arts and cultures to Japan were axed.

As for friendship and goodwill among the peoples of the world, these would imply among peoples other than those in Japan, and, in fact, with Japanese catalysts, there are on-going projects towards peace-building among peoples in the world.  An international joint theatre production directed by Yukio Ninagawa, a Japanese theatre director, is an example. The production will be performed in three languages, Japanese, Hebrew and Arabic, with a cast comprising actors from three cultures.

Currently, the Japan Foundation is engaged in three main activities: Japanese Language Education Overseas; Arts & Culture; and Japanese Studies & Intellectual Exchange. Arts & Culture accounts for 42% of the budget for Europe.  Compared with its counterparts such as the British Council and the Goethe Institute, the Japan Foundation is rather small in terms of budget (in 100 million yen): Japan Foundation, 156; Goethe Institute, 333; and British Council, 972, and staff number: Japan Foundation, 384; Goethe Institute, 2,803; British Council, 5,197.  The staff number of the Foundation has remained the same and the budget has decreased for the past decade.

Following the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011, the Japan Foundation organised the participation of the Deer Dance from Tohoku (East Japan) in the Thames Festival this year.  The participants told afterwards that performing in the Tames Festival gave them confidence in the importance of preserving their dance and hence the hope for the future.  Such an empowering aspect of international cultural exchange may not have been well envisaged when the Foundation was established 40 years ago.