Sasakawa USA Blog

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

True Stories from Japan: A Japanese Perspective on the DC Experience

Ryosuke Kimura is a Research Intern at Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA. Ryosuke is concurrently a junior at the Faculty of Environment and Information Studies, Keio University, Japan, and is majoring in International Security, with a focus on Turkish security and foreign policy. He is a member of The Japan Internship for the Development of Young Leaders (IDYL) program sponsored by Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan (MOFA) and Cultural Vistas. He has been one of the student volunteers at AFS JAPAN since April 2015.



Every city has excellent characteristics that define it. It is said that Tokyo is famous for its huge intersection in Shibuya and a wide variety of delicious Japanese food such as sushi, ramen, and tempura. From my experience growing up and attending university in Kanagawa, an area about 30km south of Tokyo, I see Tokyo as one of the busiest cities in the world that also attracts foreigners. In my opinion, Tokyo is an indispensable city to Japan that serves as its political and economic center and I think Tokyo sees Washington as the most important city for bilateral relations.

So how might someone like me view Washington, DC before traveling there? Before I traveled to DC, I was thinking, from a Japanese perspective and particularly for international students, that DC is one of the most desirable cities for interning and studying abroad. As I boarded a plane from Tokyo to DC, with my heart beating faster than usual in anticipation, concerns remained in my mind about whether I would be able to find a community there. In Japan, I have formed communities within my classes, seminars, and club activities on campus. Apart from university, I have served as a student volunteer at AFS JAPAN, and had a part-time job teaching English and history to junior high school students. These kinds of communities, in addition to my hometown, have always made my life feel enriched, contributing to the feeling of belonging and a sense of true connection to my peers.

I arrived in the United States for the first time expecting to obtain knowledge of the U.S.-Japan relationship from American perspectives, while also feeling concerned about how I would be viewed as a Japanese student. To make my one-year stay in Washington satisfactory, I read a plethora of books and papers on U.S.-Japan relations and believed that I was ready to expand on that knowledge. In short, the city of Washington, DC has more than lived up to my expectations. Discussion events on politics and economics are always taking place at think tanks and other organizations. Ironically, since security affairs in Northeast Asia have been unstable, there are currently a lot of events featuring the Korean Peninsula, the U.S.-Japan alliance, and the quadrilateral relationship between the United States, Japan, Australia, and India.

My concerns about not being able to find my own community quickly dissipated, thanks to the many opportunities I found from my internship at Sasakawa USA, my time with the International Student House (ISH), and my involvement in the DC Sushi Club which is a small group of Japan-hands who host private policy focused events for its members. I could also talk with many students and experts by volunteering at events around DC like the Sakura Matsuri Street Festival hosted by The Japan-America Society of Washington, DC (JASWDC) and by taking part in discussions and happy hour events across the city hosted by university student groups.

While talking with people in DC, I often feel that they tend to focus on “Who are you?” and “What are you doing?” in a way that the Japanese tend to not. They seem to be more open and curious about personal trends in America than in Japan when it comes to introductions. Due to the characteristics of the city, with university students, professors, and experts from both academia and business gathering from all over the world to this one small place that is also a host of many countries’ embassies, I am able to gain a sense of U.S.-Japan relations and the bilateral relations from a new point of view.

I grasped that Japanese culture has considerably infiltrated Washington, DC, more than I anticipated. Needless to say, I already understood that people from abroad like Japanese culture, particularly Japanese cuisine and anime. However, by participating in several events and visiting this new place, I recognized other aspects of the culture permeating the city. When it comes to events related to Japan, one of the largest was the National Cherry Blossom Festival (NCBF), held from March 17 to April 15, 2018, which was rich with inspiration from Japanese traditional and pop culture. In April, I took a bus to Richmond, Virginia, where I found a beautiful Japanese garden at Maymont, a popular tourist spot. Moreover, I volunteered at the Embassy of Japan on May 5 during the Passport DC event organized by Cultural Tourism DC, which provides people opportunities to enjoy and learn about a variety of cultures by visiting embassies. Experiencing all of this, I have learned that Japanese culture has prevailed in not only Washington, DC, but also its surrounding areas.

I believe country-to-country ties are composed of three aspects: interaction between people; cultural exchange; and cooperation in areas such as politics, economy, and security. Relationships between countries cannot easily collapse if these three elements are robust. While security and economic cooperation among countries might be affected by their surroundings and fluctuate regularly, the foundation of the alliance based on personal and cultural exchanges must remain unshaken.

For the United States and Japan, investing in the young generation is a very effective way of solidifying the relationship. Under the leadership of the Prime Minister of Japan and the President of the United States, bilateral relations will be further straightened, with a firm base provided by people-to-people interactions and cultural exchanges.

Fifth Annual Security Forum focused on ties between U.S. and Japan in time of many Northeast Asia security challenges

Sasakawa USA’s Fifth Annual Security Forum focused on ties between the United States and Japan in a time of many security challenges in Northeast Asia and globally. The day-long conference, held May 2, 2018 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, DC, attracted nearly 300 attendees from the private sector, NGOs, academia, the media, and more. “The U.S.-Japan Alliance: Deepening Ties while Confronting New Challenges” featured seven panel discussions on topics ranging from Japan’s increasing security engagement to U.S.-Japan cooperation in mitigating the North Korean cyber threat. With over 25 expert panelists, this year’s Forum was one of the most successful so far.

Sasakawa USA CEO Ambassador James Zumwalt, gave the opening remarks, introducing the morning’s keynote address by Ambassador Shinsuke Sugiyama, the Ambassador of Japan to the United States. “The U.S.-Japan relationship has never been better,” reflected Ambassador Sugiyama, before describing the close relationship between President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, witnessed at the most recent Mar-a-Lago summit. The Ambassador also discussed U.S.-Japan alignment on policy towards North Korea; alliance capabilities and defense planning; the role of U.S. forces in Japan; Japan’s adherence to a free and open Indo-Pacific strategy; and trade relations between the United States and Japan.

During the morning, panels focused on developments in North Korea and Sasakawa USA’s “Tabletop Exercise: Pacific Trident.” In the first panel, moderated by Katrina Manson of the Financial Times, panelists Dr. Sue Mi Terry, Wataru Sawamura, and Dr. Kongdan ‘Katy’ Oh discussed differing definitions of denuclearization; Japanese perceptions of the Kim-Moon summit; and South Korea’s “Moonshine” policy in response to the North.

The following panel, moderated by Ambassador David Shear, Admiral Dennis Blair, LTG (ret.) In-bum Chun, and Tsuneo Watanabe described takeaways from the tabletop exercise on North Korean provocations, noting the importance of U.S. commitment to the Asia-Pacific region and cooperation among the United States, Japan, and South Korea; Japan’s ability to play more active role in the scenario due to the updated defense guideline for U.S.-Japan alliance adopted in 2015; and the importance of sharing information between the three countries.

Following lunch, panel topics included a discussion of Japan’s regional and global security engagement and defense strategy; defense-industrial cooperation in the United States and Japan; and U.S.-Japan collaboration in cybersecurity. Among the highlights of the afternoon’s discussion were updates and analysis on Japan’s increasing security engagement in Asia and beyond, and the status and debates on nuclear non-proliferation given Japan’s increasingly complex security environment.

In the “Defense Industrial Cooperation” panel, special guest Robert Work described the current threats in the Asia-Pacific theater and China’s evolving perception of warfare and suggested that Japan needs to be prepared for systems-warfare and information threats. This panel also included Hideaki Watanabe, former Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency Commissioner for Japan’s Ministry of Defense, who described Japan’s defense industry and its development of advanced technologies for use in a variety of sectors. He suggested a joint Japan-U.S. defense-industrial forum once a year that would result in a joint proposal on what the two governments can do to improve cooperation.

In “The United States’ National Defense Strategy and Japan’s Defense Strategy,” John Mitre of the Department of Defense discussed the U.S. National Defense Strategy (NDS), which in its most recent edition identified a specific problem—the United States’ eroding military advantage over China and Russia. Mitre explained that the NDS’ solution is to develop “a more lethal and resilient joint force combined with a robust constellation of allies” to provide the U.S. with a favorable balance of power. Panelists Hideshi Tokuchi and Sugio Takahashi discussed how integral the Japan-U.S. alliance is to Japan’s own defense strategy, and the need for Japan and the United States to determine, among other things, what kind of competition they want with China; what kind of regional command structure would be best in the face of threats from North Korea; and what kind of capability development is necessary for Japan’s defense.

Sasakawa USA Non-Resident Fellow for Cybersecurity Bud Roth moderated the final panel of the day on cybersecurity and U.S.-Japan cooperation in dealing with cyber threats from China and North Korea. Megan Stifel, Richard Ledgett, Maj. Michael Klipstein, and Dr. James A. Lewis described the importance of a whole-of-government response to cyber threats and crimes, North Korea’s cyber activities, and U.S.-Japan cooperation in mitigating cyber threats.

The Forum concluded with comments from Admiral Dennis Blair, Chairman of Sasakawa USA, on China’s gunboat diplomacy; continued provocations from North Korea; U.S. government responses to these challenges in the region; and the need for Japan and the United States to develop coordinated responses to these evolving threats.

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


Photography by Bryan Ham.

Japan Today article examines debate over Japan’s defense strategy

Brittney Washington, Program Assistant for Sasakawa USA, and Kangkyu “David” Lee, former Program Assistant for Sasakawa USA, have published an article in Japan Today about Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to constitutionally redefine Japan’s national defense strategy. Published on April 30, “Abe’s push to change Japan’s defense strategy” considers the current debate over the topic as “a clash between Japan’s decades-long identity as a pacifist nation and Abe’s current dream to make Japan a normal, democratic power with a strong military.”

Washington and Lee see that “security challenges like North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs” and “China’s growing military capabilities” have manifested as “top concerns for the Japanese government and public,” though Japan’s constitution has precluded the use of “military aggression and the use of force to settle international disputes.” In 2014, PM Abe led a successful campaign to reinterpret the relevant article in the constitution allowing Japan to “exercise collective self-defense in limited circumstances,” though his recent pursuit of revising the constitution to expand Japan’s collective self-defense abilities has run against public sentiment.

Read “Abe’s push to change Japan’s defense strategy” in Japan Today.

Chairman’s Message: The Mar-a-Lago U.S.-Japan Summit 

WEST PALM BEACH, FL – APRIL 18: U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe shake hands at a news conference at Mar-a-Lago resort on April 18, 2018 in West Palm Beach, Florida. The two leaders were meeting for a multi-day working meeting. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

I recommend a careful reading of the formal communique of the summit meeting, rather than press reporting, or even the transcript of the joint press conference of the two leaders.  Communiques for summit meetings are drafted with care in consultations between the staffs of both delegations and approved by the heads of state. They represent the considered results of the meetings, drawing on the overall relationship between the countries and the issues they face together. The communique from Mar-a-Lago shows clearly that the U.S. and Japan are united on the big security issues that both countries face.

Note the contrast between the media, the press conference and the communique on the overall results of the summit. Roll Call’s summary analysis was headlined, “For Trump, Wins and Losses During the Abe Summit.” The New York Times stated: “the Japanese public is wondering whether their leader . . . might return to Japan with the diplomatic equivalent of an “All I Got Was This Lousy T-shirt.”  The President, for his part, began his statement to the press by praising Barbara Bush, the troops that made the strikes on Syria, his warm welcome in Japan last year, and his own North Korea policies. In fairness, the President did go on to say, “Our discussions today reaffirmed the close cooperation between the United States and Japan on the issue of North Korea and our common defense.”

The communique begins with a strong and comprehensive statement: “On April 17-18 at Mar-a-Lago, President Donald J. Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held their third meeting and affirmed their strong determination to strengthen our shared resolve on North Korea, and increase the capability of the U.S.-Japan Alliance to confront all emerging threats to peace, stability, and an international order based on the rule of law.”

What about North Korean denuclearization?  Several newspaper articles reported the fears of some in Japan that the United States would make concessions to North Korea in return for empty gestures; that it would strike a deal with North Korea to eliminate ICBMs that threatened the US, leaving untouched the shorter-range missiles that threaten Japan. The President in his press conference mentioned his commitment to denuclearization several times, but said nothing about ballistic missile programs.

In contrast, the communique’s second paragraph confirmed both leaders’ commitment to a “permanent and verifiable denuclearization of North Korea, and reaffirmed that “North Korea needs to abandon all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs.”

Then there were the differences on trade. The New York Times wrote, “Trump, Abe Fail to Agree on US Tariff Exemptions.” The Associate Press headlined its summary of the talks “Trade Issues Expose the Limits of Trump-Abe ‘bromance.’” The President talked about trade in the press conference. In response to a question, he said “Right now we have a deficit [with Japan] that’s a minimum of $69 billion a year. Japan sends us millions and millions of cars, and we tax them virtually not at all. And we don’t send so much product because we have trade barriers and lots of other things. So these are the things that the Prime Minister and I are going to be discussing over the next short period of time.” This was right after the Prime Minister had said in his response, “So on the U.S. side, that they are interested in a bilateral deal, we are aware of that. But at any rate, our country’s position is that TPP is the best for both of the countries. And based on that position, we shall be dealing with the talks.”

The communique was more balanced. It noted President Trump’s concern about the bilateral trade deficit, and announced further “consultations for free, fair, and reciprocal trade and investment” under the US-Japan Economic Dialogue. The communique emphasized both countries’ commitment to an open international trading system, committing “to coordinate enforcement activities against unfair trade practices by third countries.”

Finally, consider the treatment of China. Virtually the only media reporting on Chinese issues emphasized President Trump’s effusive praise of Party Secretary Xi during the press conference. The Financial Times was typical.

Largely unreported in the media, and the press conference, the communique addressed in detail the many issues on which Japan and the United States are cooperating to oppose China:  unfair trade practices, sub-standard infrastructure projects, militarization of the South China Sea, the application of Article V of the U.S.-Japan Treaty to the Senkakus, and increased military cooperation. These issues, in fact, take up about 40 percent of the communique, roughly five times the space devoted to trade issues.

Newspaper reporters over report controversy and under report solid consistent policy. When leaders stand up in front of a microphone, they know they are speaking to many audiences, at home and abroad, and they attempt to satisfy as many of them as possible. In contrast, communiques represent the considered positions of countries. The statement from the latest U.S.-Japan summit this week gives a clear picture of the policies of two of the three most powerful countries in the world working out the issues between them and united on the challenges that both face.


Tobias Harris comments on PM Abe’s political situation in Japan Times, New York Times

Tobias Harris, Sasakawa USA Fellow for Economy, Trade, and Business, was quoted in the Japan Times and the New York Times on the topic of recent scandals surrounding Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. He was also interviewed for the Bloomberg Daybreak Asia podcast. Abe’s administration is currently facing backlash over government cover-ups of documents relating to a public land deal with education organization Moritomo Gakuen, and alleged favoritism in a deal to establish veterinarian school Kake Gakuen in a special economic zone in Japan.

In the Japan Times article “Questions arise over Trump-Abe ties at critical juncture for Japanese prime minister” published on April 15, Abe’s good rapport with President Trump is called into question. Abe will seek diplomatic gains during his Florida summit with Trump on April 17-18 while facing a precarious political situation at home. Harris comments, “While the trip will help push some of the scandals out of the headlines for a few days, I think on the whole that the summit won’t do much to help Abe domestically.”

The April 16 New York Times article “As Scandal-Tarred Abe Meets Trump, ‘the Situation Is Getting Dangerous’” highlights Japan’s domestic political situation amidst new revelations of a government cover-up of documents relating to Moritomo Gakuen. Harris notes that “there’s still nothing to say that Abe ordered the cover-up,” but he points out that the public will not passively accept the government’s involvement in “falsifying” and “making up documents.” He warns that Abe “is running out of time, and there doesn’t really seem to be a way out” from his predicament.

Harris also provided commentary about Abe’s political situation on an April 17 Bloomberg Daybreak Asia podcast titled “Trade a Big Issue For Trump-Abe Meeting.” He points out that the resurfacing of the Kake Gakuen scandal has left Abe politically “not in good shape right now.” Harris also notes that despite the sharp decline in Abe’s approval ratings and the difficulties in making political headway during the summit with President Trump, he thinks that the Japanese public appreciates how Abe has handled working with Trump, considering Trump’s campaign rhetoric against Japan’s trade policies with the US.

Read “Questions arise over Trump-Abe ties at critical juncture for Japanese prime minister” in the Japan Times and “As Scandal-Tarred Abe Meets Trump, ‘the Situation Is Getting Dangerous’” in the New York Times. Listen to “Trade a Big Issue For Trump-Abe Meeting” on Bloomberg Daybreak Asia.