150 Fifty Years of Japan-U.S. Relations

Having made numerous research visits to Mizusawa m Northeastern Japan over several decades, 1 am most grateful to those many people in the past 150 years who have created the friendly relationship Japan and the United States enjoy today. Because of them, it is possible for me to go back and forth freely between the United States and Japan for study and work

Mizusawa itself provides excellent examples of people who have contributed to the development of close relations between Japan and the United States. Even before the arrival of Admiral Perry, Takano Choei, born in Mizusawa in 1804 and trained in medicine and science in Nagasaki with the distinguished scholar von Seibold, worked tirelessly to open Japan to free scholarly and scientific exchange with the West. That effort by Takano ultimately cost him his life.

Four years after the 1853 arrival of Admiral Perry, Goto Shimpei was born in Mizusawa into a family related to Takano Choei. In a Japan already opened by predecessors such as Takano Coei and Admiral Perry, Goto Shimpei was able to go to Germany for advanced medical training. He used his experiences in Germany to establish the Boy Scouts of Japan, become governor of Tokyo, contribute significantly to the reconstruction following the 1923 Kanto earthquake, and serve as head of the very efficient national railway system,

Saito Makoto, born one year after his boyfood friend Goto Shimpei, likewise pursued international study by going abroad to America in 1884. Like his Mizusawa predecessors, Saito as prime minister and later as a cabinet member worked to create a friendlier world, using his American experiences as a base.

The tradition of international exchange initiated by these three great men continues as students and others cross the Pacific Ocean in both directions. The important JET program exposes the students of Japan to Americans and their culture while at the same time enabling Americans to experience for themselves life and work in Japan. From this intimate involvement in local communities such as Mizusawa, the young participants return to the United States as cultural ambassadors. Hopefully, they and their students will be stimulated to follow in the footsteps of Takano Choei, Goto Shimpei, Saito Makoto and Admiral Perry who encouraged cultural exchanges and created the close relationship the two countries now enjoy, for which 1 am personally grateful.


These are my immediate desires, hopes, and wishes for the future between our countries: more and closer interaction, consistent cultural exchange, Japanese artists throughout the USA and Americans traveling around the Japanese countryside. Japan has provided me with endearing friendships, critical aesthetic insights, compelling human storytelling, and amazing sensitivities to design, shape, color, and texture. The richness of tradition and the innovations of new ideas in Japan informs American culture to challenge itself, which is a gift. The next 150 years I hope will be an abundance of cultural partnerships that will embrace our differences and enhance our similarities.


When Commodore Perry and his crew first went ashore in Japan, they must have been astounded. All the people were black-haired and black-eyed, the women wore long silken kimono, the samurai walked around with swords tucked into their belts, Mt. Fuji was coyly hiding behind slowly-moving white clouds, and seemed to be standing all alone, with the foothills barely visible. How exotic it must have seemed!

When the Japanese first visited the U.S., how amazed they must have been. The people had blond, red and brown hair, some of the hair was curly, some of the eyes were blue. The country was vast. There seemed no end to the miles and miles of land with long rivers and high mountains.
It was the Japanese who learned more about the U.S. than the Americans did about Japan. The Japanese were overwhelmed by Western culture, dress and mores, and soon began to import Western music, literature, fashion and art. It was not until after World War II that Americans started to learn about Japan, Buddhism, woodblock printing, Japanese architecture and flower arrangement. Americans were fascinated with the aesthetics of this faraway country.

Now, there is little difference between Tokyo and New York City. The dynamism of these two cities is almost equal, and so are the clothing, transportation, and restaurants. There are so many similarities, and fewer and fewer differences.

In the next l50 years, I see the two countries learning more and more from each other. Japan , having suffered a bad defeat and having reconstructed itself to become a highly succesful and economically powerful state, can teach the U.S. about peace, being one of the few major countries in the world whose citizens have not killed or been killed by citizens of other countries in wars during a period of almost 60 years. What an achievement! The U.S. can teach Japan about freedom and democratic process. Thus, an exchange will make it possible to influence other countries to do the same, finally leading up to a world which will be safe from terrorism, greed, fundamentalism, and war.

Mrs. Gordon is the author of "l945 nen no Kurisumasu", and its English version "The Only Woman in the Room--A Memoir".


Relations Between Japan and the United States: Looking to the Future

It is an honor to be given this opportunity to share a few thoughts on the future of relations between our two countries. I was asked to look 150 years into the future, an assignment that has been both fun and challenging! When we look at the period from 1863 when Commodore Matthew Perry came to Japan, to the present, could anyone have possibly predicated either the extraordinary technological advances or the excruciating turbulence of those years? I dare say, it is highly unlikely. Undoubtedly, the future also holds many secrets and things unimaginable to us as we move into the early years of the 21st Century.

Since my professional career has largely been in the field of international education, let me confine my musings to communication. What form will our communication take 50, 100, 150 years from now? Instantaneously exchanging visual, voice and print images are already a reality. As we move toward the 22nd Century, access will become more and more universal, and technology more refined so that the exchange of all images will be commonplace and ubiquitous.

The IT revolution is already affecting educational exchange between the United States and Japan. All of us can access multiple levels of information instantaneously about our two cultures without leaving our homes. From my home in Tokyo, I can watch Hideo Matsui play Major League Baseball live, listen to radio stations in New York (via the Internet), download visual images from the Metropolitan Museum of Art and see cattle being rounded up in Texas. In the coming years, one can conceive of doing these same things, but with advance virtual reality technology bringing three-dimensional images to my living room. Won't it be fun to see "live" Kabuki and sumo, any time, right in front of you?

One of the intriguing questions about the world 150 years from now is, what language will we be using? Will the Japanese and English languages still be around as we know them today? Or, will they metamorphose into something unrecognizable? It is entirely possible that translation technology will become so sophisticated that whether we can speak another language will be moot; we will be able to understand any of several hundred languages via a translation/processing chip implanted in our head someplace.

So as the transmission of information becomes faster and faster, and easy access becomes more universal, will people to people exchanges between our two countries become less important? I predict that they will not, or at least should not. In the year 2153, living in one another's cultures will still have great value. Such experiences will continue to inform our sense of appreciation and respect for ways of thinking and behaving that are different from our own. The Fulbright Program and other exchange programs will continue to play an important role in building our leadership infrastructure.

Somehow, I think that, regardless of the many changes that will inevitably come, we will still have to work hard at mutual understanding. We will still need to spend time with one another, learning and being challenged by the differences in our respective ways of viewing the world. At the same time, it seems highly likely that we will have more and more in common. Who knows, maybe the importance of the Japan-U.S. relationship will take on an "other-world" dimension, literally, as we encounter and learn to deal with intelligence from another universe, a "Perry" from another world!


The 150th anniversary of the beginning of the relationship between the United States and Japan is an occasion truly worth celebrating. The relationship has played a key role in the United States and Japan achieving the lofty heights they hold as world leaders and is not limited to economic endeavors. The close to one million people of Japanese descent living in the United States have had a lasting impact on American culture in areas such as architecture, technological innovation, business management and entertainment. New York City, where I work and live, probably exhibits the impact of this cultural diversity more than any other place and the city is better because of it.

As the President of the Twin Towers Fund, the charity begun by former Mayor Giuliani to help the families of the rescue workers killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack, I have experienced the depth of the friendship between the Japanese and American people. Within days of that attack, Japan's Consul General delivered five million dollars to the Twin Towers Fund and another five million dollars to the Red Cross. In addition, Japanese citizens, corporations and organizations continued providing extremely generous support for the American families and institutions devastated by the attack.

I believe that it was the mutual devotion of our two nations to the principles of democracy, personal freedom, peace and a free economy that fueled the Japanese outpouring of support for America. Indeed, it was hatred of these very principles that inspired the attack.

In the decades to come, our nations and our people must continue to cherish our shared ideals while celebrating our diversity. By respecting each other's personal and national individuality while enhancing our economic and cultural interaction, our people shall become even better friends and allies. Together, our countries can, and will lead the world to peace and prosperity.


 Anniversaries of the 1854 founding of U.S.- Japan relations often occur during periods of great change in Asia. The 40th anniversary, in 1894, saw Japan replace China as the leading Asian power. By the 50th anniversary, in 1904, Tokyo was an acknowledged member of the "Great Powers," challenging Russia's regional supremacy. In 1954, the 100th anniversary, Japan was newly sovereign after seven years of U.S. Occupation, and faced the task of rebuilding its economy and international relationships.

This anniversary, the 150th, is no different. Japan today is grappling with a decade-long economic slump and the reshaping of its political system. Equally important are the challenges posed by North Korea's nuclear weapons claims, the growth of Chinese economic and military power, the war on terrorism, and the maturing of Japan's post-Cold War connection to the United States.
And yet, despite all these uncertainties, the U.S.- Japan relationship continues to play a key role in global security and economics, and contacts between the two nations maintain their vibrancy, despite lingering cultural and economic tensions.

One secret to the durability of the U.S.-Japan relationship, perhaps, comes from the fact that both nations began their "international modernization" at the same time, and in part due to their relations. By the time of Commodore Perry's first arrival in 1853, the U.S. had spread across the American continent and was reaching across the Pacific to find new markets for its goods, new sources of raw materials, and new bases for its rapidly growing whaling fleet. Trading relations with China had commenced six decades previously, in the mid-1780s, and Americans were slowly becoming conscious of the key role the Pacific would play in the life of the country.

Japan, similarly, was awakening to new international realities. The Tokugawa shogunate, which had ruled since 1600, strictly controlled Japan's international contacts, desiring to prevent the spread of Christianity inside the country, halt the drain of precious metals beyond its shores, and maintain its status-system of samurai, farmers, artisans, and merchants. Therefore, the arrival of Commodore Perry was seen as "opening" up Japan, despite that fact that the Western powers, from Russia to Britain, had steadily been approaching the country for decades.

Equally important, the opening of relations between Japan and America provided each nation with radically new visions of society and culture. Americans valued Japanese cultural products, while Japanese marveled at American economic power. From 1854 on, then, the two nations were tied together by bonds more enduring than mere trade agreements.

Perry's arrival, of course, spelled the beginning of the end for the Tokugawa shogunate. Internal weakness and external pressure led to the rise of a new government centered on the young Emperor Meiji. The following years saw steadily more radical reforms, which concentrated political power in Japan, eradicated status rankings, and modernized the country's economic, political and educational systems. The U.S., along with European countries, served as a model for Japan throughout the 1870s and 1880s, particularly in the area of agriculture. Yet, unlike the European treaty powers, the U.S. seemed constantly more sympathetic to Tokyo's desires to revise the "unequal treaties" first signed with U.S. envoy Townsend Harris back in 1858. This stance undoubtedly helped cement the generally friendly feelings Japanese had towards Americans.
As the 19th century wound to a close, both the U.S. and Japan emerged as East Asian imperial powers. This next phase in their dual international modernization set the stage for future conflict between the two, as their almost simultaneous imperial paths clashed over visions of a new order in East Asia.

Meiji leaders were constantly concerned that either China or Russia would gain a preponderant influence in Korea, and thus become a major threat to Japanese security. The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95 not only made Japan the reigning Asian power, but also gave Tokyo control over Taiwan (Formosa), although the Triple Intervention of Russia, France and Germany forced it to renounce strategic gains in northern China. Three years later, the U.S. defeated Spain in a global war that gave America control over the Philippines, Guam and Hawaii, thereby becoming a Pacific power. For the first time, Japan and the U.S. viewed each other as potential adversaries in the western Pacific. U.S. fears were only exacerbated in 1904-05 when Japan defeated Tsarist Russia and became a full-fledged member of the Great Powers.

Despite President Theodore Roosevelt's favoritism toward Japan, American military leaders and sectors of the public began to fear the "yellow peril" of Japanese power. Anti-Japanese sentiment in the U.S. grew rapidly in the first quarter-century of the 1900s. In California, Japanese, who were not eligible to become citizens, were legally prevented from holding land. Acceding to pressure, Tokyo accepted a gentlemen's agreement to limit Japanese emigration to the U.S. in order to forestall future anti-Japanese legislation. Nonetheless, the U.S. Congress in 1924 passed an exclusion act that froze Japanese immigration. Combined with the 1922 Washington Conference agreement to limit Japanese naval forces to a level below that of the Western powers, the immigration act fanned the flames of growing anti-Americanism in Japan, strengthening its conviction to act in its own best interests in East Asia.

These well-known events, however, are but part of the story, for in the same decades, numerous bilateral friendship societies and cultural exchange organizations blossomed. The American Friends' Association was founded in 1898 by Kaneko Kentaro, and was followed a year later by the American Asiatic Association of Japan. In the first decade of the 20th century, Japan Societies were formed in Boston, San Francisco and New York. Japanese participation in the 1893 Chicago and 1904 St. Louis World's Fairs gave tens of thousands of ordinary Americans the chance to see Japanese handicrafts, architecture and lifestyle, while popular magazines and guide books reached a wider American audience. By 1917, Kaneko had formed the America-Japan Society of Tokyo, the industrialist Shibusawa Eiichi had organized the Japanese-American Relations Committee, and Japan-America Societies had spread throughout the U.S.

These seeds of international understanding, however, failed to stop the coming politico-military clash. Japan's interests in Manchuria were solidified by the takeover of that region by the Kwantung Army in 1931. By 1937, full-scale fighting spread between Japanese and Nationalist Chinese forces. America's interests in China and Asia were threatened, and the irreconcilable nature of Japanese and American claims led to war in 1941.

The four-year carnage that followed led observers to fear decades of U.S.-Japan antipathy. Yet, from the beginning of the Occupation in September 1945, relations were surprisingly peaceful. The initial Occupation reforms under Supreme Commander Douglas MacArthur were as far-reaching as anything attempted by the Meiji leaders - land holdings were redistributed, women given the vote, a Constitution written, and school curricula revamped. This was a crash course in American culture and society, as well as a second period of domestic modernization.

The overriding goal for American and Japanese leaders alike was stability. The shattered Japanese economy had to be rebuilt, and exports to America were encouraged. The threat of worker uprisings led MacArthur to curb the Communist Party, and many prewar bureaucrats were allowed to participate in government. The tie between the two countries was strengthened by the Communist victory in China in 1949 and the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950.

Tokyo and Washington became global Cold War allies, with Japan serving as the linchpin of U.S. strategy in East Asia, and Washington, through the Security Treaty, pledging to defend Japan. Economically, Japan became a key supplier to the U.S. military in both Korea and Vietnam, and soon entered the U.S. domestic market, where Sony and Toyota became household names.

Yet the ties went deeper than mere politics and economics. Cultural contact revived after the Pacific War. Both the America-Japan Society and the Japan Society of New York restarted activities in 1952. Thousands of Japanese students attended U.S. universities under the GARIOA and Fulbright Programs, while U.S. students soon availed themselves of the same opportunities. Japanese studies programs flourished in U.S. universities, while American movies and music played widely in Japan, helping to shape postwar youth culture. Overshadowing all was the phenomenal growth of the Japanese economy.

The political alliance held firm throughout the Cold War, but economic tensions erupted in the 1980s, as U.S. businessmen demanded greater access to Japanese markets. Trade liberalization became the key roadblock to better relations, often leading to ugly stereotypes on both sides. By the 1990s, however, the Japanese economy dramatically slowed, and the dot-com boom in America took off, thus easing trade disputes. The recent threat of terrorism and a nuclear-armed North Korea has only underscored the importance of alliance, but a growing lack of interest in the other on both sides is troubling to many observers.

Nonetheless, after 150 years, the U.S.-Japan relationship remains unique. The two nations' modern history has been tightly intertwined, and the fascination in each with the culture and history of the other remains high. Thousands of students on both sides study each other's language, and both governments remain committed to stability and the strengthening of liberal political and economic systems in Asia. In the next 150 years, we must build on the legacy of the past to strengthen our relations and increase our bilateral understanding.