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A Missionary for 'Civilian Diplomacy'

Part 3 of 5

From the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (unofficial translation)
By: Tsuyoshi Sunohara
Published: May 16, 2007


Nihon Keizai Shimbun 06/07As Japan started down the path toward becoming an economic power, there was a newfound interest in Japan among officials of the American government and Congress. Reflecting that interest, Mr. Yamamoto received a new proposal. The American Assembly, which had been established at Columbia University, came to him saying, "We would like to create a conference to consider US-Japan relations."

The American Assembly was held every year at Arden House, which had been the private residence of the railroad magnate [E. H.] Harriman. The meetings were known as an opportunity for leading Americans from every sector to gather for thorough discussions on selected themes. The meeting for which US-Japan relations were chosen as the theme was held in late October 1965.

Not long after, I received word from the main contact person, Columbia University Professor Herbert Passin, proposing that we hold a follow-up Japanese-American Assembly with the Ford Foundation providing major support. This would later be called the Shimoda Conferences.

The Shimoda Conference series was a pioneering effort at creating a place for US-Japan private sector exchange, but it went through many twists and turns before it got off the ground.

Donald Rumsfeld with Yamamoto
Donald Rumsfeld at the
Shimoda Conference with
Yamamoto
(2nd from right).

As soon as I got the initial feeler from the United States, I immediately went to discuss the matter with Tokusaburo Kosaka. At first, the US side asked the International House of Japan for their help, but the Americans were insisting that a joint statement should be published as part of the conference, while the Japanese side said they did not want to release any statement. Since the two sides could not reach an agreement, we tried to find a compromise solution. Finally they agreed to a plan that I managed to come up with, which said that a summary of the discussions would be produced but not a statement. Finally, in September 1967, the memorable First Shimoda Conference was held.

The fact that the meeting was held in Shimoda was totally by chance. Professor Herbert Passin and I were driving around the Izu Peninsula together, searching for a good place to hold the conference. When Passin saw the hotel in Shimoda, he said "That looks like a good place," and that is how it came to be. The main reason for the choice was that the atmosphere was similar to that of Arden House.

At the same time, the fact that the topography of the place made it easy to guard was also a deciding factor. Symbolic of the high level of interest in Japan among Americans at the time, the participants included many American political leaders and rising young stars, including Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield (later the US ambassador to Japan) and Representative Donald Rumsfeld, who was then a member of the House of Representatives (later the secretary of defense).

There was a high level of interest on the Japanese side as well, and I remember that Mansfield's keynote speech was headline news on the front pages of the major Japanese newspapers.

From Japan as well, there were many participants gathered who represented the conservative establishment. As expected, groups of demonstrators thronged the meeting site. Although they were calling me names over the loudspeaker—"Yamamoto, you running dog of the American imperialists!"—I was asked by the police authorities to meet with representatives of the demonstrators. I went together with one of the Japanese participants, Yasuhiro Nakasone, and received their written protest.

With the Shimoda Conferences on track, they went on to make an invaluable contribution to the development of individuals in both Japan and the United States who would later support the US-Japan relationship.

The report on the first conference was pulled together by Professor Passin and Kinhide Mushakoji, a scholar of international politics; it was published in a book called Prospects for US-Japan Relations. The second conference was held in 1969, and there was a surprising request from Passin. For the role of rapporteur at the meeting, he recommended a young and energetic Japan scholar who was just starting to distinguish himself at the time, Gerald Curtis.

Curtis was then just 29 years old, and he was trying to become an assistant professor at Columbia University. Although I was a bit skeptical when I first heard the suggestion, Curtis did a fabulous job at summarizing the discussions, working together with Fuji Kamiya to produce a book titled, US-Japan Relations after Okinawa. As you know, Curtis later went on to become America's leading authority on the study of Japanese politics.

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