U.S.-Japan Educational, Cultural Programs Strengthen Alliance

By Lauren Monsen
USINFO Staff Writer

Washington - For decades, U.S.-Japanese friendship has been nurtured carefully by a series of educational and cultural exchanges aimed at developing the leadership skills of young professionals from both countries.

President Bush and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe underscored that point in a joint press availability April 27 that cited bilateral cultural exchanges as an area of “concrete cooperation” between the United States and Japan.  Japanese officials also spoke of revitalizing the U.S.-Japan Conference on Cultural and Educational Interchange (CULCON), a binational advisory panel that promotes exchanges designed to strengthen Japan-U.S. relations.

“We agreed to step up cooperation in security, economic and cultural exchanges,” Abe said during the press availability after the two leaders met at the U.S. presidential retreat at Camp David, Maryland.

U.S. policymakers also cite the success of several exchange programs for Japanese and U.S. participants.  Thomas A. Farrell, the U.S. State Department’s deputy assistant secretary for academic programs in the Bureau of Academic and Cultural Affairs, told USINFO that the Fulbright scholarship program, in particular, “is a bellwether for the overall U.S.-Japan educational exchange relationship.”

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by Senator J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program aims to increase understanding between the peoples of the United States and other countries.  Its Japanese alumni include several members of the Diet, Japan’s legislature.

The Fulbright program offers grants to students, teachers and scholars in the United States and more than 150 other countries to study, teach and conduct research abroad. Japanese “Fulbrighters,” for example, have the opportunity to observe U.S. political, economic and cultural institutions and exchange ideas with their peers in the United States. The program “opened the doors to more opportunities and broadened my horizons,” Japanese economist Mitsuaki Sato wrote on the Fulbright program's Web site.

Fulbright scholarships are instrumental in fostering the talents of promising young professionals in Japan, the United States and elsewhere, Farrell said.  “For more than 50 years, the program has assisted in the development of leaders in both countries who have contributed to their own societies and the [U.S.-Japan] relationship through their energy and pursuit of excellence,” he said.  "The diplomatic service, the policy sector, the academic and scientific research realm, the business world, and nongovernmental organizations have benefited immensely through Fulbright.

“In the 21st century, Fulbright needs to help us meet our bilateral priorities,” Farrell said.  “For instance, I think Fulbright in Japan can play an important role in helping American students in the U.S. learn more about Japanese language and culture, in the same way that Fulbright in Turkey, India, China, Russia, Germany and Brazil is assisting Americans [in developing] greater skills in other important world languages and cultures.”

There are other programs that promote U.S.-Japan ties as well. The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs administers the International Visitor Leadership (IVL) program, which brings participants from around the world to the United States to meet with their professional counterparts and experience the country firsthand. The visitors - current or potential leaders in government, politics, the media, education and other fields - are selected by U.S. officials overseas.  Many IVL alumni can be found in the Japanese parliament, according to the State Department.

The Mansfield Fellowship Program - named for former U.S. Senator Mike Mansfield of Montana, who served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan from 1977-1988 - enables U.S. government employees to develop an in-depth understanding of Japan and establish relationships with their counterparts in Japan’s government, business, professional and academic circles.  Each year, up to 10 two-year fellowships are awarded to qualified U.S. government officials.  Mansfield fellows spend a year working in Japanese government offices, preceded by a year of full-time rigorous language and area studies training.  After their tour in Japan, participants are required to serve at least two additional years in the U.S. government, where they generally work on Japan-related projects.

Farrell said the Bush-Abe discussions might encourage some fresh, innovative approaches in bilateral exchange programs.

“I hope that the renewed emphasis on educational and cultural relations between our two nations … will invigorate the U.S.-Japan Fulbright program,” he said.  “The Fulbright program is constantly looking to develop dynamic projects that engage and attract future leaders in the work of mutual understanding; what better place to develop pilot projects in media, technology, the sciences, and many other fields of innovation than within the U.S.-Japan educational exchange framework?”

A transcript of the April 27 joint press availability is available on the White House Web site.

More information on CULCON, the Fulbright Program,  the IVL program, and the Mansfield Fellowship Program can be found on their respective Web sites.