The United States-Japan Foundation is committed to promoting stronger ties between Americans and Japanese by supporting projects that foster mutual knowledge and education, deepen understanding, create effective channels of communication, and address common concerns in an increasingly interdependent world.
Mission & Vision
The United States-Japan Foundation, incorporated under United States law in 1980, was founded with a grant of $44.8 million from the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation (now known as the Nippon Foundation).
Mr. Ryoichi Sasakawa (1899-1995), Chairman of the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation, had the foresight to understand the great importance of the relationship between the United States and Japan to the two countries themselves and to the rest of the world. He thus established the Foundation to improve understanding between their two countries.
The United States-Japan Foundation is the only private independent American grant making foundation dedicated to the mutual interests of the American and Japanese people. Their US and Japan offices operate under the direction of a bi-national board of accomplished Japanese and American leaders.
Like so many other good ideas, the concept of a private foundation that would help Americans and Japanese to understand each other better grew out of a conversation among friends.
In this case, the friends were Robin Chandler Duke, her husband, the late Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, and the late Japanese entrepreneur, Ryoichi Sasakawa. Robin and “Angie” Duke, a prominent New York couple, had met Ryoichi Sasakawa in the late 1970s through their common interest in supporting United Nations programs in the developing world.
Ryoichi Sasakawa (1899-1995), son of a poor sake brewer, was a Japanese industrialist who had established the Japan Shipbuilding Industry Foundation with a fortune derived largely from powerboat racing. In the 1970s he donated more than $25 million to United Nations activities, most notably to the World Health Organization, UNICEF, UNESCO, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, and the UN Fund for Population Activities. He had also given generously to the City of New York (250 cherry trees for Central Park) and $6 million to American universities including Morehouse and Duke. He had worked closely with Robin Duke, supporting her work on population issues. By 1980, the Dukes and Sasakawa had established close ties of friendship.
Angie Duke had been interested in Japan and its culture since 1937 when, as a student, he first visited that country. Serving as Chief of Protocol under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he accompanied Prime Minister Eisaku Sato during his visit to the United States. In 1976, as Commissioner of Civic Affairs and Public Events for New York City, he was in charge of arrangements for the visit of Emperor Hirohito to the city.
The great-grandson of Washington Duke, for whom Duke University is named, Angie Duke was a diplomat with a distinguished career when he first met Ryoichi Sasakawa. He had served as US Ambassador to El Salvador, Denmark, Spain and Morocco. He had also served as president of the International Rescue Committee from 1954-60, later becoming its Honorary Chairman.
Robin Duke had become passionately interested in world population problems, and was a member of the Population Crisis Committee, then headed by General William Draper. This Committee believed that development programs in the poorer countries could not succeed unless attention was paid to curbing their burgeoning population growth. Draper had traveled to Japan in the 1970’s seeking Japanese support for this effort and had been introduced to Ryoichi Sasakawa, then in his 70’s. It was William Draper who introduced Robin Duke to Ryoichi Sasakawa.
One day in 1980, Robin Duke and Sasakawa had a conversation about the growing tensions in US-Japan relations, stemming from the rising imbalance in trade between the two countries. Sasakawa felt that Americans did not understand the Japanese, and wondered if a foundation dedicated to improving understanding could help resolve these frictions. Duke reacted enthusiastically, and urged her husband to take the lead in setting up such a foundation. Sasakawa immediately pledged Yen10 billion (about $44.8 million at then current exchange rates) to endow the Foundation. Japan’s Ministry of Transportation approved the grant.
By November 1980, the United States-Japan Foundation was incorporated in New York as a non-profit organization, and early in 1981 it was recognized as a 501-C-3 charitable foundation. Its purposes were “exclusively educational, charitable, literary and scientific” and “to promote understanding of each other’s society, culture, educational system, economy, government and international relations….and to promote cooperation between the citizens of the two nations…”
Angie and Robin Duke gathered a group of eminent American leaders to advise the Foundation. The group included former Secretary of State Henry A. Kissinger; Jack Howard of Scripps Howard Publications; former Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman; Robert S. Sarnoff, former Chairman of RCA; Terry Sanford, former Governor of North Carolina; Dr. John C. Sawhill, former Deputy Energy Secretary; Rabbi Arthur Schneier, President of the Appeal of Conscience Foundation; Henry Walter Jr., Chairman of International Flavors and Fragrances Inc.; Robert U. Brown, Publisher of Editor and Publisher; Anthony Drexel Duke, Executive Chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy; William Mellon Eaton, attorney; William Pickens III, President of Bill Pickens Associates; and Jerome Holland, former Ambassador to Sweden. Important Japanese advisors at this time, in addition to Sasakawa, included Seiji Kaya, former President of Tokyo University; Kazuo Iwata, Chairman of the Toshiba Group; Nobuhiko Ushiba, a former Ambassador to the United States, and Akio Matsumura, a UN advisor on planned parenthood.
Key decisions were made in these early days: the Foundation would be based in New York, and would have an American chairman and president, and a bi-national board of distinguished Japanese and Americans. The Board would be nonpartisan and would not compete with or duplicate the work of organizations in this field. Its Japanese name would be the Beinichi Zaidan (placing the US first in Japanese) rather than the more usual Nichibei Zaidan. At its outset, the Foundation would make grants to others but not operate programs itself.
On March 27, 1981, Angie Duke held a press conference in the Rainbow Room at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, New York to announce the establishment of the United States-Japan Foundation, a non-profit private grant making body to further bilateral understanding. “I hope the birth of this Foundation at a time of relative tension will serve as a reminder that the world’s two greatest industrial democracies have more in common than in conflict with each other,” Duke said. He became the first Chairman of the new Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
The Board’s first task was to find a President who had a solid understanding of the relationship. Their admirable choice was Richard W. Petree, 56, a career foreign service officer who was fluent in Japanese and had served for 11 years in consular and diplomatic posts in Japan. In 1981 he was a member of the US delegation to the United Nations with the rank of Ambassador. Petree came on board in June 1981 and began the delicate task of transforming the lofty principles of the Foundation into concrete grants. There were differences of opinion among Board members over who needed the most education about the other: Americans or Japanese? Petree’s answer was that both sides needed to know more about the other, and established a pattern of giving that has prevailed up to this day: grants are made on both sides to educators who can best introduce their students to the history and culture and language of the other nation. A Tokyo office was created to promote grant making in Japan.
But at what educational level? Petree and the Board determined that the greatest impact could be made at the precollege level, when students are at their most impressionable, open-minded, and best equipped to learn foreign languages. It was also a level that other foundations had largely ignored. Thus the Foundation set another pattern that still exists today: education grants go to primary and secondary schools and teachers, and to universities only for training precollege teachers.
A second focus would be on what Petree would call “core groups.” These would consist of knowledgeable citizens in both Japan and America who could bring their special talents to bear on critical policy matters such as security, energy, and the environment by meeting over a number of times and exchanging views in small, informal study groups. It was a way to deepen understanding and avoid the bureaucratic rigidities of formal diplomacy. These kinds of activities continue to be supported by the Foundation in its US-Japan Policy Studies portfolio.
A third focus would be exchanges of people in a variety of fields, including journalists, scholars, business leaders, teachers, and others. The idea was to create opportunities for opinion-makers in both nations to become familiar through direct collaboration with their counterparts in the other nation. This focus continues today in the Foundation’s United States-Japan Leadership Program, and in their support of a broad array of grant projects that bring leaders from the US and Japan together.
Angier Biddle Duke stepped down as Board Chairman in 1986, and was succeeded by William D. Eberle, a business leader who had been President Reagan’s Special Trade Representative. Petree retired in 1988 and was succeeded by Stephen W. Bosworth, another career foreign service officer who had served with distinction as US Ambassador to the Philippines (he later became US Ambassador to the Republic of Korea). Bosworth built upon existing programs and added new dimensions to areas of common concern, promoting joint studies of Korea, China and Southeast Asia.
Chairman Eberle retired in 1994, and was succeeded by Dr. Thomas A. Bartlett, who had most recently been Chancellor of the State University of New York (SUNY), and was familiar with the Foundation earlier as Chancellor of the University of Alabama System. When Bosworth was named head of the Korean Peninsula Economic Development Organization (KEDO) in 1996, his successor as president was Julia Chang Bloch, who had been President Reagan’s Ambassador to Nepal.
Under its new leadership, the Foundation worked to raise its profile and to create a stronger identity for its mission in the minds of its various constituencies. As part of this outreach effort, it formalized a new portfolio of grants under the title of Communications / Public Opinion. At Bloch’s initiative, the Foundation also continued to strengthen its grant making capabilities in junior and senior high schools in both nations, encouraging activities that drew upon the network of teachers who had earlier participated in the Foundation’s programs.
Dr. George R. Packard, who had been Dean and Professor of East Asian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) succeeded Bloch in 1998. A Japan specialist, he has continued to build on the work of his predecessors and has added, for the first time, an operating program, the United States-Japan Leadership Program. Under Packard’s leadership, education grants increased and policy studies came under closer scrutiny. The Foundation emphasized that policy study groups should produce original research and sound policy recommendations that could commend themselves to policy-makers and to a larger public audience.
Following Dr. Bartlett at Chair of the Board was Mr. Thomas S. Johnson, who had been Chairman and CEO of GreenPoint Financial Corp. and GreenPoint Bank from 1993 until he retired in 2004. Beginning in 2013, Mr. James W. Lintott, Chairman of Sterling Foundation Management, LLC, and a Scott M. Johnson Fellow of the United States-Japan Leadership Program, became Chair of the Foundation’s Board of Trustees.
Today, the conversation between friends over 30 years ago, and the dream of Ryoichi Sasakawa, have flowered into a highly professional organization with a widely recognized mission. The Board of Trustees, consisting of both Japanese and Americans meets twice a year, once in Asia and once in the United States, to set basic policy. Board deliberations are unusually frank and cordial for a bi-national organization of this sort. A staff of six full-time employees in New York, and three in Tokyo carries out the Board’s policy decisions.
The challenge today is to remain as flexible and creative as the Foundation was at its launching. New issues arise between their two countries. New generations move into leadership positions, with new misunderstandings. New grant making opportunities will arise and they intend to respond to them. But Angie Duke’s words remain true: “the world’s two greatest industrial democracies have more in common than in conflict with each other.”