Sasakawa USA Blog

This blog features a look at news, events, commentary and media related to Sasakawa USA and the U.S.-Japan relationship.

US-Japan Alliance Digest



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● US-Japan ‘2+2 Meeting’ promotes integrated deterrence and cooperative research

● COVID outbreak at US military bases in Japan causing – friction

● Japan-Australia Reciprocal Access Agreement signed

● Bilateral research on nuclear energy gets a boost

● Construction milestone for DPRI/ Guam Marine Corps base



● US-Japan defense and foreign policy leaders convened their second ‘2+2 Meeting in the Biden era on January 6, finalizing a new 5-year host-nation support deal for US bases in Japan (including ~$1.4bn in facility improvements) and noting progress on new agreements for cooperative defense research, development, production and sustainment. Joint analysis to counter hypersonic technology advances by China and North Korea was referenced, as well as other critical and emerging technology fields. They pledged “to constantly modernize the Alliance and strengthen joint capabilities…in an ever more integrated manner” to deter complex regional threats. Increasing joint/shared use of bases in Japan was also mentioned.

● Since mid-December, several thousand US military personnel on eight bases in Japan tested positive for COVID-19. The outbreak began at Camp Hansen in Okinawa, when the US military was not testing personnel prior to traveling to Japan. In a Jan 5 call with his US counterpart (Blinken), Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi requested US bases impose curfews and other measures to contain the outbreak. Okinawa governor Tamaki, blamed US soldiers for “the alarming rise” of infections in his prefecture, and Hayashi acknowledged this possibility on Jan 13, as cases rise nationally. Kanagawa governor Kuroiwa highlighted problems with the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) in combating COVID. US Forces Japan responded with tighter protection measures including more testing, movement restrictions, and additional mask-wearing requirements.

● Prime Ministers Kishida of Japan and Morrison of Australia met virtually to sign a new Reciprocal Access Agreement that should expand opportunities for joint disaster relief, military exercises, and closer inter-operability overall between the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) and the Australian Defense Forces (ADF). US officials welcomed this closer networking among allies, seven years after their negotiations started.

● Japan will bolster development of next-generation nuclear power technology in cooperation with the United States, industry minister Hagiuda said on Jan 6 during talks with US Energy Secretary Granholm. The Japan Atomic Energy Agency and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will sign a memorandum of understanding with a US firm (TerraPower) to provide technical support for fast reactor development (supported by US government funding), while the Japanese government is investing nearly $8m to upgrade a specialized research facility.

● The US Navy awarded on January 5 a $39m contract for the construction of a Police Station at Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz in Guam (commissioned in 2020). The project is funded by the Japanese government (part of a $3bn program) in support of the Defense Policy Review Initiative (DPRI) agreed to bilaterally in 2006-07.


“US-Japan Alliance Digest” is a bi-weekly summary of bilateral and related developments compiled by Sasakawa USA’s “US-Japan NEXT Alliance Initiative.” To receive “Alliance Digest” via email, contact

Sasakawa USA alumna Bina Venkataraman publishes book, The Optimist’s Telescope

Congratulations to Sasakawa USA Emerging Experts Delegation (SEED) alumna, Bina Venkataraman (Director of Global Policy Initiatives, Broad Institute of MIT & Harvard; Senior Lecturer at MIT in the program on science, technology, & society), on the publication of her new book, The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age.

Venkataraman gave a talk on September 24 at New America in Washington, D.C., as part of the “Future Tense” program to discuss the book. In her remarks, Venkataraman mentioned the example of Fukushima, and how TEPCO’s preparedness model unfortunately didn’t show or encapsulate the risk of disaster. In contrast, Onegawa Station stood resilient in face of natural disasters because it was built on a more realistic risk model. One of its engineers had reflected on history and used his imagination to innovate for future disasters.

Venkataraman presented this example among others as a lesson of the importance of taking history into account when imagining the future. Venkataraman rejects the idea that humans are reckless by nature and argues that we can adopt practices to help us confront the future as individuals and as a society to leave the best world for those who will come after us.

Venkataraman participated in the Sasakawa USA Emerging Experts Program (SEED) trip to Japan in March 2017. That year, Sasakawa USA partnered with the New America Foundation to take eight policy experts on energy and environment for a week-long study trip. Their visit included trips to Tokyo and Fukushima, where the delegates met with a range of Japanese government officials and experts from the Prime Minister’s Office, government ministries, the Diet, corporations, and research institutions.

— Juliane Doscher, Executive Assistant & Alumni Program Coordinator, Sasakawa USA

Ensuring Unity and Inclusivity for Foreign Workers in Japan: A Student’s Perspective

Ayano Nakamura is a first-year student at Bates College in Maine. She is a Japanese citizen who completed an internship at Sasakawa USA during the summer of 2019.

Ayano Nakamura

One of the challenges that Japan faces today is to ensure inclusivity and a sense of unity in Japanese society as the number of foreigners increases.

In my sophomore year of high school, I went on a yearlong exchange program in Houston, where I saw the 2016 presidential election. As I observed the reactions of my classmates, teachers, and commentators on television to the results of the election, I was shocked to see a huge divide within the United States.

Two years later, I accompanied my father when he was transferred to Washington, D.C. The country still appeared to be completely divided—a Gallup poll conducted in January-March 2019, for example, showed that 89% of all Republicans thought that President Trump was doing a good job while only 5% of the Democrats thought the same.

One of the major issues that demonstrate this big divide is immigration. When I first learned of the controversy over President Trump’s declaration to build a wall between the borders of the United States and Mexico, I did not think this issue applied to Japan. However, I recalled the so-called “Brexit”, i.e. Britain’s decision to leave the European Union in June 2016, partly resulted from conflicting views within Britain about the country’s immigration policies. As I searched for Japan’s immigration statistics, I found out that the foreign population in Japan is quite large and growing rapidly. There are already approximately 2,667,199 foreign residents in Japan. Although the number of foreign residents is 2.09% of the entire Japanese population, the social impact of increasing foreign residents in regions with a huge concentration of foreigners cannot be underestimated in a very homogenous country like Japan. Although this statistic is not comparable to the number of foreign residents in the United States, the increasing number of foreign residents could create a serious division between Japanese who are open to accepting foreigners and Japanese who are not.

Last year, the Japanese government decided to expand the number of foreign workers up to 345,000 workers in the coming five years. As Japan’s population continues to decline at a rapid pace, this policy is essential to maintain the country’s prosperity, but it is important to ensure that foreign workers can smoothly adjust and assimilate into Japanese society.

I believe the key to ensuring smooth integration is to secure good education for the children of those foreign workers and give them a promise of a better future. Without access to good education, foreign workers and their families will likely fall into more economic hardships and have difficulty succeeding, which will make their integration into Japanese society even more difficult.

According to the Japanese Ministry of Education, there is currently an estimated number of 44,000 foreign students in Japan who are in need of Japanese language education. High school enrollment rate for the foreign students is about 60%. The other 30% are enrolled in an online/part-time commuting school. The dropout rate for the foreign students is about seven times more than the national average. I believe that bringing both the high school enrollment rate up and dropout rate down to the national average can ease the discrepancy between the foreign and Japanese students. If high school graduation rates increase, that would open many doors for those foreign students.

To increase high school graduation rates, Japan should consider accepting all foreign students into Japanese public elementary and middle schools, even though the Japanese constitution does not consider foreign students as necessary recipients of compulsory education. If asking school to accept all foreign students is too much of a burden, then one idea is to purposefully establish a school in each district that has abundant resources and capacity to accept foreign students. Ota City in Gunma Prefecture is an example of a district that has pursued this path.

There are also currently only 12 prefectures that have at least one public high school offering  a special entrance exam to accept foreign students. I believe all prefectures should have such high schools. Moreover, for foreign students who may not be able to enter Japanese public high schools, Japan might consider establishing a high school similar to community colleges in the United States so that all foreign students can enroll without taking an exam, and then if they work hard enough, can transfer into a public high school.

Finally, both Japanese middle schools and high schools should implement a “mandatory volunteer credit” that students must earn as a graduation requirement so that they can tutor the foreign students in Japanese language. This not only gives Japanese students work experience, but also bring together the Japanese and the foreign students.

The division/conflict of opinions in the nation could become a burden for growth of the country.  Japan needs to make sure that the foreign workers feel safe working in Japan and accepted by their communities.

Japan has accepted different cultures, techniques, and habits from other countries in Asia and Europe to reflect and integrate into our own culture. Given Japan’s ability to accept different cultures, I believe that Japan can successfully integrate foreign workers into Japanese society without jeopardizing unity by taking necessary measures. Success in doing so will help Japan in the long run.


Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum focused on new security challenges for the U.S.-Japan alliance

(Joy Asico/Asico Photo)

The Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum focused on challenges facing the alliance in the Indo-Pacific region and how the United States and Japan can work together to meet these challenges. The day-long conference, held April 24, 2019 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, D.C., attracted attendees from the U.S. government, news media, think tanks, academia, foreign embassies, and business.

With an overall theme of “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: New Security Challenges,” the forum featured opening remarks by Shinsuke J. Sugiyama, Japan’s Ambassador to the United States, a keynote address by General Ryoichi Oriki, former Chairman of the Japanese Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a conversation between Admiral Dennis Blair (ret.), Chairman of Sasakawa USA, and Dr. Yoichi Funabashi, Chairman of the Asia Pacific Initiative. The event also featured five panel discussions on topics ranging from the United States’ and Japan’s Indo-Pacific strategies, to Japan’s changing security strategy, and the role of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in a changing society. With a diverse group of 20 expert panelists, and many audience questions, this year’s forum generated an active discussion on timely topics in the alliance.

Ambassador James Zumwalt (ret.), CEO of Sasakawa USA, opened the forum by introducing Ambassador Sugiyama. The Ambassador spoke about the strategic alignment of Japanese and American thinking about the Indo-Pacific region as reflected in the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee joint statement from Friday, April 19. He also stated that Japan must do more to defend itself in close cooperation with its ally, the United States.

After a video greeting from William Hagerty, U.S. Ambassador to Japan, Admiral Blair introduced the conference keynote speaker General Oriki. He discussed how the U.S.-Japan Security alliance was adapting to the changing security environment in East Asia by deepening cooperation. In response to the rise in Chinese military pressure, Japan has begun to reinforce the Self-Defense Forces capabilities on Okinawa. General Oriki reiterated Ambassador Sugiyama’s point that Japan would take the lead for its own defense, but would fulfill this mission in close cooperation with the United States.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

The two morning panels focused on Indo-Pacific regional developments. Dr. Michael Green, Senior Vice President for Asia and Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), moderated the first panel discussion, “The Indo-Pacific Strategy: Is it More than Countering China?” Dr. Evan Feigenbaum, Vice President for Studies at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Masanori Nishi, former Japanese Vice Minister of Defense; and Yuki Tatsumi, Director of the Japan Program at the Stimson Center, offered their views on changes to the Indo-Pacific region. While China was not the only factor, its rise presented challenges for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Panelists discussed if the United States and Japan were “winning the influence game.” Beyond serving as a security provider, countries in the region were looking for American leadership to promote economic prosperity. Chinese behavior has left the door open for continued U.S. engagement, but nations in the region are concerned about the diminishing presence of the United States. In contrast to the United States, Japan has stepped up its regional outreach and countries in ASEAN and South Asia have warmly welcomed Japan’s engagement, including its capacity-building measures. Panelists agreed that Japan and the United States should continue to reach out to other like-minded countries such as Australia and India to promote their shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific region. The panel also shared their views on the role of the Korean Peninsula and South Korea’s role in the region.

The second morning panel, moderated by Matthew Goodman, Senior Vice President and Senior Advisor for Asian Economics at CSIS, discussed the competition for economic influence in the Indo-Pacific Region. Panelists included Ambassador David Shear (ret.); Dr. Mireya Solis, Philip Knight Chair in Japan Studies at the Brookings Institution; Tsuneo Watanabe, Sasakawa Peace Foundation Fellow; and Tobias Harris, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Economy, Trade and Business. They spoke about the rapidly shifting economic landscape in the Indo-Pacific Region. While Japan has stepped up its game by rescuing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) after the U.S. withdrawal, the United States lacks a credible and nimble economic strategy in the region. The United States and Japan can best advance their interests by coordinating their economic statecraft. Both countries, panelists said, are interested in promoting global rules on issues like disciplines on government subsidies, forced technology transfers, favorable treatment of state-owned enterprises, and rules on the digital economy. Doing so would require the United States and Japan to resolve their bilateral trade issues first.

The panel also discussed the extent of influence China is gaining in the region through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the role of the United States and Japan in China’s BRI. One speaker pointed out that U.S. and Japanese financing for infrastructure would give recipient countries more bargaining power as they negotiated financing deals with China.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

Admiral Blair and Dr. Funabashi then engaged in a conversation about the security environment in Asia. Despite the recent improvements in Japan-China relations, Dr. Funabashi thought it would be difficult to resolve territorial disputes in the East China Sea. The two experts agreed that, while Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has pursued an energetic outreach program with Japan’s Asian neighbors, Japan-ROK relations are strained to an extent decidedly different from previous difficulties. The two thought leaders also discussed the impact of domestic politics on the U.S.-Japan alliance, including the future of U.S. leadership in the liberal world order and the need to mitigate the political impact of job losses resulting from globalization.

In the afternoon, Dr. Sayuri Romei, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Security and Foreign Affairs, moderated a panel called “Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG): Pacing the Threat?” Panelists included Dr. Eric Heginbotham, Principal Research Scientist at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Dr. Kathleen Hicks, Senior Vice President at CSIS; Lieutenant General Koichi Isobe, Resident Fellow at Harvard Asia Center and retired Japan Ground Self-Defense Force; and Nina Wagner, Defense Department Chief of Staff for the Assistant Secretary for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities. The speakers discussed the NDPG’s highlights and alignment with the United States’ National Defense Strategy, key priorities for implementation, and aspects open to question. Japan’s NDPG focused on high-end threats, defense of outer islands, and resilience.

Panelists also lauded the guidelines’ focus on improved cost-competitiveness and air and maritime capabilities. The guidelines also stress a seamless response and a whole-of-government approach including in the new domains of space and cyberspace. The Department of Defense panelist welcomed the NPDG, which she said positions Japan to be a regional leader and strong partner of the United States. Speakers also called for U.S.-Japan joint operational planning and discussed the need to accelerate progress toward “jointness.”

Copies of The New National Defense Program Guidelines: Aligning U.S. and Japanese Defense Strategies for the Third Post-Cold War Era, a new Sasakawa USA book on Japan’s NDPG and the implications for the alliance is available here.

(Joy Asico /Asico Photo)

In “Japanese Society and Security: The Role of the Self-Defense Forces,” James Schoff, Senior Fellow in the Asia Program at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  moderated a discussion among Professor Takako Hikotani, Columbia University; Lieutenant General Masayuki Hironaka, retired Japan Air Self-Defense Force; and Professor Andrew Oros, Washington College. This panel focused on social issues relating to the JSDF and the Japanese public perceptions toward the JSDF. One issue discussed was Japan’s declining population and its impact on the SDF’s recruitment efforts. One speaker underscored the need for Japanese public discourse on the role and raison d’être of the SDF. The panel introduced polling data indicating growing acceptance of the JSDF among the Japanese public and its missions of defense of Japan and disaster response. The panel also discussed the changing civil-military relations in Japan from “containment” to “engagement,” emphasizing that civilian control over the military is firmly embedded in the SDF.

Ambassador Zumwalt chaired the final panel with David Helvey, Defense Department Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, and Keiichi Ichikawa, Minister for Political Affairs for the Embassy of Japan in the United States, where they discussed the recent U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee meeting among the Japanese and U.S. Foreign and Defense Ministers.

The two government speakers commented that these ministerial discussions represented a strong alignment of the two countries’ perceptions about regional security threats. They agreed on the imperative to work closely with like-minded partners in the region, to expand alliance efforts to new domains such as space and cyberspace, and to sustain efforts to realign U.S. forces in Japan, particularly on Okinawa.

The forum concluded with comments from Admiral Blair. He reviewed key conclusions from the conference, noting General Oriki’s comment that Japan was determined to defend itself, while working closely with its U.S. ally. Blair also noted a strong convergence of views on the security situation in the region saying that this alignment reflected strong alliance coordination and communication. He praised both allies for increasing their military budgets, but said more was needed. Although the U.S.-Japan Security Alliance is moving forward, Blair stated that it needed to advance even faster in response to a deteriorating security environment. He recommended that the United States and Japan consider a combined operational command structure to strengthen deterrence.

For more information on the event, including video coverage of each panel and bios of each speaker, read “Sixth Annual Sasakawa USA Security Forum.”


Photography by Joy Asico /Asico Photo.


U.S.-Japan Town Hall: Trends in People-to-People Ties and Educational Initiatives

Photo by Joy Champaloux

On January 29, 2019, Sasakawa USA and the U.S. Japan Exchange & Teaching Programme Alumni Association (USJETAA) co-hosted an inaugural hybrid U.S.-Japan town hall, with in-person and virtual attendees. This event, U.S.-Japan Town Hall: Trends in People-to-People Exchanges and Educational Initiatives was held at Florida International University (FIU) in Washington D.C.  Dr. Sheila Smith, Senior Fellow for Japan Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, and James “Jim” Gannon, Executive Director of the Japan Center for International Exchange, discussed trends in people-to-people exchange between the United States in Japan. They also introduced recent educational initiatives and programs cultivating the next generation of leaders in U.S.-Japan relations.

In Washington, D.C. more than 30 participants from the JET alumni, Sasakawa USA, and FIU in D.C. communities attended in-person. An additional 20 JET alumni and FIU students participated from New York, California, Arizona, and Florida, via live-stream. The JET Alumni Association of New York also held a watch party in downtown Manhattan for their members. View the recording of the event here.

Bahia Simons-Lane, Executive Director of USJETAA; Eric Feldman, Associate Director of the Student Success and Academic Programs at FIU in Washington D.C. and Joy Champaloux, Program Officer at Sasakawa USA, provided welcome remarks.  Champaloux emphasized the importance of engaging the 30,000 American Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme alumni on key issues within U.S.-Japan relations, a goal which aligns with Sasakawa USA’s mission of strengthening U.S.-Japan relations through educations, programs, and research.

Photo by Joy Champaloux

To give context for the upcoming discussion, Gannon laid out the ten types of people-to-people exchange between societies: diplomatic, commercial and business, professional, legislative, intellectual, student, grassroots, cultural and art, tourism, and family ties. He explained that these exchanges “form a web” tying two countries together and facilitating cooperation and goodwill. These “web relations” also act as a shock absorber, enabling countries to recover and bounce back from momentary dips in relations.

Gannon delved into the history of people-to-people exchanges within U.S.-Japan relations, citing four waves of exchanges beginning with the arrival of western missionaries in Japan. The second wave came from the shared wartime and Occupation experience in the early and mid-20th century, followed by American interest in Japanese culture and Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and 70s. The fourth wave continues today, spearheaded by the JET Programme and other cultural exchange programs.

Although the impact of people-to-people exchange can be hard to gauge, Gannon referred to a 1993 Gallup poll that found only 43% of Americans had favorable feelings toward Japan, reflecting the trade disputes that strained the relationship during that time. However, human connections and exchange have given a resilience to the U.S.-Japanese relationship, as seen when the 2018 Gallup poll noted the number of Americans who felt friendly towards Japan had doubled to 87%.

Lastly, Gannon raised the significance of the large amount of American donations and aid towards Japan after the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The 3/11 disaster ranks as the fifth most generous disaster giving in U.S. history, following only after the domestic disasters Hurricane Katrina and the 9/11 attacks, and relief for developing countries like the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and the 2010 Haiti earthquake. He believes that the outpouring of aid can largely be attributed to these people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the United States.

Photo by Joy Champaloux

Dr. Smith turned the discussion to three initiatives within the Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON), a bi-national advisory panel to both U.S. and Japan governments that serves to strengthen cultural and educational ties between the two countries: TeamUp, a bi-national initiative aimed to increase student mobility, exchange, and learning; Nichibei Connect,  a “one-stop shop” resource database for the next generation of U.S.-Japan leaders to search career trajectories and educational opportunities; and Apolitical, or “Rural Resilience,” which encourages bilateral exchange concerning emerging areas of collaboration including energy, space, cybersecurity, etc.

Dr. Smith concluded that the Japan-United States Friendship Commission (JUSFC), United States-Japan Bridging Foundation, and CULCON all advance people-to-people exchange and uphold the educational and cultural foundations of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The panelists also referred to their shared mentor, Tadashi Yamamoto, the founder of the Japan Center for International Exchange. Gannon stated that Yamamoto was a “missionary in the sense of people-to-people exchange.” Yamamoto encouraged exchange that was substantive, regular, and independent from government and corporate influence.

During the Q&A, panelists answered questions from JET alumni, FIU students, and the U.S.-Japan community attending in person and those tuning in virtually from across the country.

An FIU student asked the panelists what methods are used to preserve the history and authenticity of traditional Japanese cities. Dr. Smith replied that cities are simultaneously attempting to build upon the history and culture of the area and rebrand themselves to become more accessible to younger generations and foreign tourists. For example, Japanese tourism has promoted authentic Zen Buddhism and health consciousness that has become popular in western society.

Another audience question from a JET Programme alumna referenced the moments in U.S.-Japanese history that brought the countries together, including the rise of China. He asked what the incentive would be to keep the relationship moving forward in the next 30 years or so. Gannon postulated that the relationship would continue to thrive on the human connections that have been built and the need to cooperate on common global problems, including ageing populations and new technologies. Dr. Smith also argued that the relationship between the two countries may be tested on how to manage China and declining economic interdependence, but the relationship would not dissolve.

Sasakawa USA is proud to partner with USJETAA to support the continued cultivation of U.S.-Japan relations and engage the alumni of the JET Programme and those with the same enthusiasm for Japan. Thanks also to Florida International University (FIU) for their support in hosting at their D.C. location.

— Written by Meg Bittle, Sasakawa USA Education Intern