The Japan Forum

Starting Our Thirty-First Year

Chairperson, Board of Trustees

Noma Yoshinobu

The basic rule I follow when I try to decide whether to embark on something new is: does it excite me and raise my expectations. Of course, I weigh the risks, but sometimes I decide to do it despite the risks. That’s what I did nearly 10 years ago when we started in digital publishing. At the time, we had no idea what the future of digital publishing would be, but in order to get the rules in place, we needed to start early. And today, the market for ebooks is steadily growing, as you are aware.

A brain scientist once described how he put clone mice in a maze, with a piece of chocolate as bait at the exit. He found that the number of times it took them to learn the shortest route to the exit differed from one to another. Then, when he blocked off one of the routes, he found that the mouse that had taken the greatest number of runs to locate the exit discovered the new shortest route before the others. In other words, many failures led to the next success.


Watanabe Koji

When I became president of the Japan Forum in 1999, after a long career as a diplomat in the foreign service, I decided to make my byword “go back to the beginning.” I realized that in the work of grass-roots exchange I needed to start with an open mind and a beginner’s receptiveness. And I am proud of the innovative programs that are possible in private-sector exchange.

On the occasion of the celebration of our first thirty years, we launched two new programs to unfold over the next 10 years. One is the Multilingual, Cross-cultural Exchange Program. Thirty high school students in Japan, 16 of whom have cultural roots in other countries and 14 of whom are keenly interested in diverse other cultures and languages, joined together for exchange, collaborative projects, and co-residence over four days. High school students have flexible and curious minds, so interchange among them, in which they can learn to appreciate each other’s different backgrounds and languages, is very important.

The second new program is called “Challenge and Explore Yourself.” It offers an opportunity for high school students to join with their peers and with adults in creative or performing arts activities in venues outside of school. In 2017, we invited a stage costume designer as adviser, and the students created costumes — using five white T shirts for each costume — to wear in a world expressed in poetry. Through such activities we tried to help the students discover their potential.

I plan to keep in mind my “beginner’s spirit” as we pursue these and other programs. I thank you for your continuing support and goodwill.