Hi Blog. As a tangent for this Sunday, consider this degree of open-mindedness: a major cultural institution being run by a foreigner. It’s a little tough to see this happening in Japan. But one can hope. Those out there who know domestic institutions here being run by NJ, please let us know.
Gotta love the stereotypes also being perpetuated by this article as well. Ah well. It’s a cultural thing, I guess. Arudou Debito in Sapporo
Seeing Japan from US — through Japanese eyes
by Shaun Tandon
NEW YORK, May 4, 2009 (AFP) – As Japanese culture seeps into the American mainstream, a key US institution devoted to Japan has crossed a threshold — its new head is Japanese. And he is out to make sure Japan’s influence gets noticed.
Motoatsu Sakurai, a former executive and ambassador, took over last month as president of the Japan Society — founded in 1907 by members of New York high society intrigued by a nation then completely foreign to most Americans.
He conceded that his appointment presented an intriguing cross-cultural question — while plenty of Japanese and Americans study each other’s country, how does a Japanese lead Americans in their dealings with Japan?
“I don’t think it would be unnatural,” Sakurai said with Japanese understatement when asked whether it made sense for a Japanese to run the Japan Society.
“In many ways, Japanese and Americans see the same things in a different way,” he told AFP.
“I think it is good for the Japan Society — since its inception an American institution — to have an injection of new ideas, especially as the Japanese are one partner in this bilateral relationship.”
At a time when a growing number of Americans are interested in China, Sakurai sees his role as pointing out to the US public the Japanese lurking in their day-to-day lives.
The Japan Society’s latest exhibition, which organizers say has drawn a large turnout, features quintessentially Japanese “manga” cartoons, but also a room of video-game machines from Pac-Man to Nintendo immediately familiar to most Americans under 40.
“Much of the Japanese creativity has been, so to speak, embedded into American society,” Sakurai said. “Japanese things are rampant, but people are not aware that they’re Japanese.”
The Japan Society, a stone’s throw from the United Nations in a sleek building with an indoor waterfall and other Japanese touches, holds a variety of artistic performances and lectures, besides offering language instruction.
“Whenever I’m asked at colleges to give speeches, the majority of students come simply because they like manga,” he said. “I don’t know whether that will connect into a broader interest in Japan, but first at least you have to increase the audience.”
Sakurai, who turns 65 this month, spent more than 40 years in the private sector, rising to be chief executive of Mitsubishi International Corp., before serving as Japan’s consul general in New York.
David Heleniak, vice chairman of Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley and a board member of the Japan Society, said Sakurai was chosen on his merits.
“This was not a political statement saying, ‘Gosh, what an amazing thing, we’re picking a Japanese as the head of the Japan Society,'” Heleniak said. “New York is an international city so nationality doesn’t matter.”
Sakurai will have a tough job on the financial front. Like many non-profits, the Japan Society has watched its endowment dwindle due to the economic crisis. It has cut back one-quarter of staff to about 45 full-time employees now.
About one-third of the staff is Japanese. Sakurai said one of his missions will be to encourage them to speak up more, as Americans by nature are more assertive.
But he doubted he would suddenly shake up the organization.
“I’m Japanese, and as you know the Japanese don’t make very hasty decisions,” he said with a hearty laugh.