Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita’s Legacy in Cultural Exchange: A Reassessment
OGAWA Tadashi  / Professor, Atomi University

May 28, 2019
The period from January 8, 1989, to April 30, 2019, during which Emperor Akihito sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne, is known in Japan as the Heisei era, distinguishing it from the previous emperor’s reign, the Showa era. Lately, numerous attempts are being made in Japan to look back over the 30-plus years of the Heisei era and place it in historical perspective.

I, too, tried taking a wide view of Japan’s cultural exchanges during that period. What emerged in the process was the extensive impact of Noboru Takeshita, the first prime minister of the Heisei era, on the country’s cultural diplomacy in the years to follow.

The Takeshita administration, which oversaw the transition from the Showa era to the Heisei era, lasted from November 1987 to June 1989. In that time, it dealt with difficult negotiations to ease trade friction with the United States and introduced the consumption tax, a feat that previous administrations had attempted with no success. These achievements have led people to strongly associate Takeshita with the economy and domestic affairs. But in fact, he has also left a crucial mark in the areas of culture and foreign affairs.

The most important accomplishment of the Takeshita administration was its decision to raise the policy priority of cultural exchange, a hitherto neglected area, stressing the role of culture in diplomacy.

On assuming office in 1987, Prime Minister Takeshita declared a “Japan that contributes to the world” as the foreign policy stance going forward. In a May 1988 speech in London, he announced the International Cooperation Initiative as a means of realizing that vision; this initiative included “promotion of international cultural exchanges” among its three pillars, the other two being “cooperation for peace” and “expansion of official development assistance.” Cultural exchange was at least as important as political and economic affairs, if not more so, Takeshita said. Upon returning from London, he requested the Advisory Group on International Cultural Exchange, comprising experts in the financial, academic, and cultural fields, to deliberate on how Japan should promote international cultural exchange. It was the first time that an advisory panel to the prime minister was set up on the subject, and cultural exchange thereby joined the ranks of Japan’s key policies.

Following a year of discussions, the advisory group submitted a report to Takeshita in May 1989. By way of defining the objectives of international cultural exchange, the report listed four ideals: international cultural exchange indispensable for national security, contributing to the development of world culture, positively responding to growing overseas interest in Japan, and promoting the internationalization of Japanese society. These concepts would henceforth be repeatedly invoked throughout the Heisei era to explain to taxpayers why public funds needed to be spent on cultural exchange.

The advisory group further noted in its report that the Japan Foundation’s basis of activities was clearly feeble when compared with similar organizations of other major countries and called for functional improvements, such as by raising the budget and increasing staff.

As a result of the above, the Japan Foundation was dramatically reinforced during the Heisei era. From 7.6 billion yen in 1988, the final year of the Showa era, the operating budget rose steeply during the first Heisei years—to 9.4 billion yen in 1989 and 10.9 billion yen the following year—reaching an apex of 20.5 billion yen in 1997. The budget began to slowly decline thereafter, but even in 2017 it was 14.8 billion yen, almost twice as high as Showa-era levels. The staff size also grew from 138 in 1988 to 146 in 1989, 158 in 1990, 237 in 1997, and 260 in 2017.

These quantitative increases have led to qualitative improvements as well. New types of cultural exchange projects took off under the Takeshita administration: intellectual exchanges to address global issues, efforts to introduce contemporary ASEAN cultures to Japanese society, and international collaborations in cinema and theater between Japanese and other Asian artists, to give a few examples. Actors outside the Japan Foundation have diversified, moreover, and exchanges at the private-sector, grass-roots, and regional levels have come to form public opinion across national borders and even to have an impact on government.

While some say that Japan’s international cultural exchange efforts are still insufficient compared to those of other countries, exchanges in the Heisei era were thus far more active than in the Showa era.

The Heisei era was when the utility of culture gained attention, as exemplified by such government policies as the Cool Japan strategy and the initiative to establish Japan as a tourism-oriented country. But it was Prime Minister Takeshita who, while known as a “man of the economy,” blazed that trail with his policy focus on cultural exchange.

Japan entered the Reiwa era on May 1. In the face of the global rise of an “our country first” attitude and anti-foreign sentiment, how can we strengthen dialogue and exchange so as to nurture a spirit of international cooperation? Now is the time for the leaders of each country to take the initiative in drawing up a grand design.

Tadashi Ogawa is Professor at the Department of Humanities in the Faculty of Letters, Atomi University.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

平成の文化交流の基盤を固めた竹下登首相 再評価
小川 忠 / 跡見学園女子大学教授

2019年 5月 28日












一般社団法人 日本英語交流連盟

English Speaking Union of Japan > Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW) > Prime Minister Noboru Takeshita’s Legacy in Cultural Exchange: A Reassessment