Foundation ~ the Pacific War
Since the time of the World War I, there had been a tense atmosphere between the two nations such as concession in the Chinese continent and an anti-Japan movement within the US. Even under such circumstances there was a drive to launch a private-based Japan-US interexchange organization among the Japanese who had studied in the US during the Meiji era, some intellectuals strongly seeking amicable relations between the two nations and also the pro-Japanese Americans stationed in Tokyo.
Thus, in April 1917, AJS was born pledging friendly interexchange and fosterage of mutual understanding between Japanese and American people. The first president of the Society was Kentaro Kaneko, a Harvard University graduate and one of the members involved in drafting the Constitution of the Empire of Japan; Roland Morris, US Ambassador to Japan at the time, nominated as honorary president; Iyesato Tokugawa, Eiichi Shibusawa, Korekiyo Takahashi, Jyokichi Takamine were honorary vice presidents; Inazo Nitobe, Takuma Dan, Junnosuke Inoue were on the list of the Executive Committee. They were leaders from political and business establishments as well as from the academic community of that era.
Since then until Japan plunged into the Pacific War, inheriting our founders’ testamentary intentions of fostering Japan-US friendship, AJS expanded its activities such as promoting lectures by prominent figures from America visiting Japan, publishing AJS Bulletin in English, carrying on brisk activities of interexchange in sports, culture and education.
For example, welcome luncheons for a new US ambassadors to Japan were invariably organized by AJS. Right after the Great Kanto Earthquake, even being disaster-stricken, AJS acted as a contact body for receiving quite a few amount of donation from US under “Help Japan” project and exerted to receive aid supplies, dispatched doctors and nurses. Also when Charles Lindberg who became a world hero via nonstop flight across the Atlantic Ocean visited Japan, AJS looked after him while staying in Japan.
Path for Recovery from the War
During wartime, the Society’s activities had to be suspended by the authority. However, AJS’s office reopened only one year after the war ended although Japan was still under the occupation forces. For several decades until Japan had achieved its economic recovery from the turbulent period after the war, there had been only a few organizations in Japan besides AJS that could embrace prominent figures and distinguished guests to deliver speeches conducted in English. Thus, the lectures at AJS functions often became the first occasion to announce American policies toward Japan. The speech at AJS’s luncheon meeting by Vice President Nixon requesting Japanese rearmament drew a great attention.
Also, in the field of educational and cultural interexchange activities inherited since pre-war period by the Society, AJS played many important roles.
“Shoufu-So”, designed after a Japanese traditional architecture style called Shoinzukuri was constructed in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art, New York upon strong request by Rockefeller III who deeply admired Japanese culture. Shofu-So greatly inspired American people at that time. The project was realized through AJS’s fund-raising effort addressed to the political and business circles.
Towards a New Era
When Japan completed post-war recovery and became an economically stable leader, Japan and Japanese people were asked to implement the proactive international contribution and interexchange activities. Many other organizations were launched within Japan pursuing private exchanges similar to AJS. Thus, AJS’s significance of existence that had been playing a major role in Japan-US interexchange through pre and post war periods, had to be altered and AJS is requested to seek new objectives. Local America-Japan Societies who had been individually acting locally were reorganized as the National Association of America-Japan Society (NAAJS) whose headquarters is stationed at AJS. Various programs were implemented interacting with those local America-Japan Societies. Also, AJS has expanded the link with local Japan Societies within USA through the National Association of Japan-America Societies (NAJAS) in US.
AJS has been making efforts for increasing young, female and American members that had been rather minor groups in the Society. Also, AJS has been promoting various activities not only for its own but for interactive functions cooperating with other entities.
AJS adopted a new corporate articles as a general incorporated association as of May 1st, 2012 and will commemorate its centennial anniversary on April 13th next year. At this beginning of the next 100 years, AJS established “Centennial Fund”. The purpose of this Fund is to continue the Society’s high intellectual activities through various educational, cultural and human interexchange wishing to forge closer ties of young people of the two nations who should bear the responsibilities towards the next generation.
At the same time the Society will pursue world peace and prosperity based on the mission and vision that have been inherited since its foundation and will foster the mutual understanding and friendship/goodwill between the two nations while respecting each other’s history/culture identity.