Philanthropy and Reconciliation: Rebuilding Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations

Philanthropy & Reconciliation: Rebuilding Postwar U.S.-Japan Relations is a collection of essays about the role that philanthropic organizations played in mending relationships between the United States and Japan before, during, and after World War II. While there is a great deal of material available on the United States government's reconstruction of Japan, there is little information available on the role played by other sectors. The authors of these essays shed light on how the private sector and philanthropic organizations helped rebuild the academic and intellectual infrastructure of Japan, encouraged cultural exchange between the nations, and made a commitment to educating both Americans and Japanese in a way that helped shape the modern economic and diplomatic relationship the two countries enjoy today.

Philanthropy & Reconciliation is edited by Tadashi Yamamoto, the president and founder of the Japan Center for International Exchange; Akira Iriye, professor of American History at Harvard University; and Makoto Iokibe, professor of Law at Kobe University, and specialist in U.S-Japan relations. The essay writers were all educated at American and Japanese universities, so the book heavily emphasizes exchanges between Japanese and American academics. The book methodically charts U.S.-Japanese relations from the Meiji era (September 1868 to July 1912) all the way to the Japanese recession of the 1990s, but it mostly focuses on the thirty years surrounding World War II.

The book focuses particularly on how the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the CIA-funded Asia Foundation acted on their commitments to forge successful philanthropic relationships with Japan. The Asia Foundation's work was of particular interest. It was founded initially to help stop the spread of communism in Asia. Despite being a funnel for CIA funding, the foundation provided a great amount of support to the radical left in Japan, often supporting groups that would have, in the 1950s, ruined other foundations by association. While some argue that the Asia Foundation's support of leftist causes was a way for the CIA to maintain tabs on radicals in Japan, others would maintain that the foundation was dedicated to teaching liberalism and democracy by example, and this included funding causes that they disagreed with, such as socialist and communist groups. The Ford Foundation invested millions of dollars to establish Japanese studies programs at American universities, in order to hasten the peace process between Japan and the United States. The Rockefeller Foundation began its work with Japan before the war, funding medical education programs throughout the country and sponsoring several fellowships for Japanese scholars to study abroad.

The intended audience for this book is someone familiar with philanthropic organizations and curious about shared American and Japanese history. The authors assume a certain level of understanding of Japanese history and the effect that various Japanese governments had on U.S.-Japanese relations. However, even those unfamiliar with the subject can learn a great deal of information from Philanthropy & Reconciliation. While the authors write in an extremely academic manner, it is still accessible. Each essay is clearly focused, well organized and concise. For readers curious as to how America and Japan became so close so quickly after a military conflict, this book is superb, because it addresses issues most people wouldn't think to examine.

Of particular interest is the essay entitled "Japanese Philanthropy: Its Origins and Impact on U.S.-Japan Relations." This essay, by Hideko Katsumata, managing director and executive secretary of the Japan Center for International Exchange, highlights the differences in cultural mindsets between America and Japan, particularly in how the American entrepreneurial mindset is inextricably interlinked with the American philanthropic mindset. As American and Japanese businesspeople interacted, the Japanese studied American business practices and adapted them for their own use; they also adopted American ideas of philanthropy. Prior to the Meiji-era industrialization of Japan, philanthropic organizations existed in limited geographical context. Wealthy merchants would endow local public works with single gifts. Once industrialization started leading to the amassing of huge fortunes by individuals, the successful businessmen (many of whom had been educated in the West) started creating endowed foundations dedicated to a more national public good. This philosophical shift, and its relationship to the economic shift in the country, is fascinating to read about and brilliantly explored.

When compared with other works on American and Japanese relations and history, Philanthropy & Reconciliation provides a unique look at the crucial role that foundations played in securing the amicable relationship between the two countries. It is particularly interesting in that it explores the role that private business has in cultivating diplomatic relations, presents a historic change in American foreign policy, and explains how foundations acted to curb the spread of Communism in Japan after World War II. The authors take pains to be objective about the mercurial relations between the two countries and, in the end, provide an enlightening read.

Acacia Graddy-Gamel
Editorial Associate, Foundation Directory
Foundation Center
New York, New York