日本語   JCIE Japanese Language Site



Issue 5
October 1, 2002

The Growth of International Exchange in Early Postwar Japan

by Toshihiro Menju, Chief Program Officer

The field of grassroots-level international exchange and cooperation in Japan has been becoming increasingly diverse over the years. In addition to the traditional types of cultural exchange with countries abroad, exchange activities with foreign nationals living in Japan are on the rise, as are events designed to improve Japanese citizens' understanding of foreign cultures. There are also many types of programs that involve international exchange and cooperation in some form but are not necessarily advertised as such. As international exchange and cooperation expand and become more widespread, it is becoming increasingly difficult to define the boundaries of this field.

These diverse activities have their origin in the exchanges that emerged in Japan immediately after the end of World War II. The following examples offer a glance at the initial stages of development in international exchange in early postwar Japan.

August 15, 1945: This day of defeat in the war marked the beginning of a dramatic transformation in the international mindset of the Japanese people. It was soon after this date that General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers (SCAP) and leader of the U.S. occupation of Japan, arrived at Atsugi Base. Japan was placed under the authority of the occupation forces until 1952, when Japan's independence was restored through the signing of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The goals of the occupation forces were to democratize Japan's political system and also to disseminate American culture to the Japanese populace.

Toward the latter end, the Civil Information and Education Section (CIE) of the SCAP General Headquarters first established CIE libraries in 24 locations throughout Japan. These libraries housed 210,000 books that were made available to the general public in open stacks, which was unusual for that time. The postwar Japanese populace enthusiastically visited these libraries in an effort to absorb American culture. Visitors to the libraries in 1950 apparently numbered 2.4 million. (After the San Francisco Peace Treaty restored Japan's independence, the CIE libraries were re-named American Culture Centers.)

The occupation forces also used movies as a tool for infusing American culture into Japan. They distributed approximately 1,300 movie projectors to local governments throughout the country, which were then obligated to screen American movies at least 20 times per month. As a result, images of American society and life reached the general public in every corner of the country. In effect, American culture permeated postwar Japan.

In addition, occupation forces were stationed in every prefecture in Japan, and a foreign affairs division was specifically set up in each prefectural office as an internal unit to handle relations with these forces. (These divisions were the precursors of today's international exchange divisions. Hyogo Prefecture's international exchange division actually retained the name of "foreign affairs division" until the early 1980s.) For example, Shimane Prefecture's records show that 1000 occupation army personnel were stationed there on November 6, 1945 and a friendly baseball game between these army personnel and Izumi City was held on November 23.

A distinct sense of war weariness and a strong anti-war sentiment could be felt in postwar Japan, and an overwhelming desire for peace pervaded all ranks of society. One of the outgrowths of these sentiments was a citizen movement to establish United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) associations. The creation of UNESCO was prompted by the urging of European intellectuals in the wake of the Second World War. The organization was launched in 1946 under the guiding principle "that a peace based exclusively upon the political and economic arrangements of governments would not be a peace which could secure the unanimous, lasting and sincere support of the peoples of the world, and that the peace must therefore be founded, if it is not to fail, upon the intellectual and moral solidarity of mankind."

The efforts of UNESCO to achieve a peace based on international solidarity made an impression on citizens even in Occupied Japan. The world's first non-governmental UNESCO association was established in Sendai in 1947, which was followed by a proliferation of these local associations nationwide (the number had increased to 120 by 1972). The Japanese government did not join UNESCO until 1951, so the fact that ordinary citizens began establishing these UNESCO associations in communities around Japan several years before is certainly noteworthy. (It is possible to say that the "global citizen" activities that are taking place widely throughout Japan have their root in this period of the UNESCO movement.)

However, in the latter half of the 1950s, the Japanese peace movement began to separate into different factions as the Cold War intensified. Essentially, the peace movement activities, which included international exchange, were forced into the categories of either "pro-American" or "anti-American," and as a result, certain activities, such as the anti-nuclear movement, came to be viewed as ideological or "left-wing" in nature. During a boom in pro-reform local governments in the late 1960s, reformist governors and mayors in Japan began actively conducting peace movement activities in the form of international exchanges with the Soviet Union and China on a level separate from official state-level diplomacy. In the late 1970s, these efforts contributed to Kanagawa Prefecture Governor Nagasu's establishment of the policy of minsai gaiko (diplomacy conducted autonomously by a local governing body).

As for postwar international exchange among students, the Japan-America Student Conference (JASC), which existed before the war, was re-launched immediately following the war, in 1947. Even though the program was only available to a limited set of participants, this was a notable and considerably fast development in light of the fact that opportunities for international exchange were virtually nonexistent for the general public during that time. In fact, Japanese citizens were not allowed to freely travel abroad until 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. Until then, only certain people were permitted to travel overseas.

At the local-government level, however, various types of overseas site visits were being conducted even before this period. In Chiba Prefecture, the Young Leaders Goodwill Mission program was launched in 1953, which is considered to be Japan's first overseas study tour at the prefectural level. Then, in 1959, the Prime Minister's Office initiated the Japanese Youth Goodwill Mission Program, and 100 youths participated in this overseas program in its inaugural year.

In 1950, the citizen organization called MRA (established in Switzerland by an American named Frank Buchman and now known as Initiatives of Change) invited 60 Japanese citizens from cities including Nagasaki, Hiroshima, and Kobe to the United States and Europe in order to broker a reconciliation between Japan and the rest of the world. This experience, which was the first overseas trip for these regional leaders, undoubtedly was a very influential factor in the development of subsequent relationships between regional communities in Japan and their counterparts around the world. Japan's first sister-city exchange took place between Nagasaki City and St. Paul in the United States in 1955, which was followed by a flood of bids by cities throughout Japan to establish sister-city relationships, mainly with cities in the United States.

The first homestay in Japan took place in Kanazawa, also in 1955. This homestay was organized by an international exchange group in the United States called Experiment in International Living, which was established in 1930 to spread international understanding with the goal of promoting world peace. On this occasion, the organization sent U.S. citizens to Japan for the first time to take part in a homestay in Kanazawa over a period of two weeks. Since the word "homestay" was not yet known in Japan, the program was described in Japanese as katei taizai, which translates into "homestay." As the idea of having U.S. citizens stay in a local Japanese home was so unfamiliar at that time, the program apparently created quite a stir.

The Experiment in International Living's homestay program was later conducted in Nagano as well, and as sister-city exchanges became increasingly popular during the 1960s, homestays began to emerge on a nationwide level as an important pillar of international exchange.

These examples provide a general idea of how international exchange developed in postwar Japan through the 1950s, but it should be noted that, at present, there is little material specifically dealing with the postwar history of international exchange in Japan. The information provided above was pieced together from relevant sections of various collected materials, including English-language sources. The dearth of historical analyses of postwar international exchange points to the clear need for further research on this subject.


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