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the Japan Foundation Asia Center carries out
cultural exchange programs to build up heart-to-heart
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Online Seminar Series "Asia Center TERAKOYA" #5 & #6――The Significance of Looking Back on Asia's 30-Year Journey in These Times

Report / Asia Hundreds

ASIA HUNDREDS is a series of interviews and conference presentations by professionals with whom the Japan Foundation Asia Center works through its many cultural projects.
By sharing the words of key figures in the arts and cultures in both English and Japanese and archiving the "present" moments of Asia, we hope to further generate cultural exchange within and among the regions.

The Starting Point of the Project

The two sessions of the online seminar series "Asia Center TERAKOYA" – the 5th session "Intellectual Exchange in Asia: The 30 Years of History since the End of the Cold War, and the Future" and the 6th session "Democracy at a Crossroads: Choices for the New Era of Questions Posed by the Coronavirus Crisis" were a two-part project planned for a single purpose.
The purpose was to take the fruits of the human network built by the Asia Leadership Fellows Program (ALFP), which was co-organized by the Japan Foundation and the International House of Japan (I-House) from 1996 to 2018 and share them with a wider audience in Japan and abroad. Since I myself was involved in the launch of ALFP during the time I was a staff member of the Japan Foundation, this time I had the privilege of participating in the planning of this TERAOKYA series.
The starting point of the project was this understanding: "The world we live in is now facing an enormous challenge, and how we should promote cultural exchanges to deepen mutual understanding across borders is also being questioned on a fundamental level." We felt the need to think about how we can overcome the crisis with experts from around Asia. This is how the two discussions came to fruition.

Looking Back on 30 Years in Asia since the End of the Cold War

Crises bring major changes to history. To understand the age we live in and look toward the future, we need to look back on the past. Therefore, in the 5th session entitled "Intellectual Exchange in Asia," we asked the speakers to review Asia's 30-year journey following the end of the Cold War. From the Japanese perspective, this period coincides with the Heisei era.
Participating in the discussion were TAKENAKA Chiharu (Rikkyo University), TONE Hideo (the Toyota Foundation), FUJITANI Takeshi (the Asahi Shimbun), and Lam Peng Er (East Asian Institute, National University of Singapore).
Prof. Takenaka, who was an advisor to ALFP and has been involved in exchanges with Asian nations as a scholar, described the enormous changes in Asia in simple terms, saying that the region moved "from poverty and authoritarianism to prosperity and freedom." In the story of Asia's development are the opposing forces of light (economic development, democratization, the growth of the middle class, the rise of civil society) and shadow (xenophobia, religious extremism, people left behind by development, environmental destruction and the frequent occurrence of disasters). In times of light and shadow cast by economic development and democratization, Asia's regional interdependence has deepened, and Japan has strengthened its bonds with other nations in the region, Prof. Takenaka said enthusiastically.

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A photo of Prof. Takenaka

The Toyota Foundation has contributed greatly to the promotion of mutual understanding in Asia. The foundation offers grants based on policies that reflect the changes in Asia, Mr. Tone explained. In the 1970s, the foundation started a program called "Know Our Neighbors," which was based on the recognition that "Asia doesn't know about Asia." It was a translation-publication program of literature in humanity and social science aimed at building a foundation for mutual communication among the countries in the region. Based on the mutual understanding, their grant program today aims to heighten it into "a partnership that leads to the transformation of society" in which Asian nations can learn from each other and tackle the common issues they face. The essence of the partnership has evolved to become more specific and realistic in nature.

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A photo of Mr. Tone

As a journalist, Mr. Fujitani has covered news from around Asia, listening to the voices of a diverse range of people from the elite to the general public. He pointed out that Japan still has a sense of superiority over the rest of Asia and said that this is a problem that we must overcome. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and the poor has narrowed considerably in the past 30 years, and education and health services have improved greatly, but Asia is facing new issues. One of the issues is the aging society. Mr. Fujitani introduced a pioneering project in which Yugawara-machi of Kanagawa prefecture in Japan and a municipality in Thailand are collaborating to create a model for senior care.

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A photo of Mr. Fujitani

International politics scholar Dr. Lam Peng Er used the clever analogy of "a cup half full or half empty" to explain the progress of regional community building in Asia after the end of the Cold War. One can take an optimistic view and say the cup is already half full or take a pessimistic view and say it is still half empty. Dr. Lam takes the optimistic view. When he said the current COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity for citizens of various countries to come together, he had in mind the experience of the Asian financial crisis in 19971998, when Japan, China, South Korea and ASEAN nations united to overcome the crisis, clearing the way for the multilateralism that followed. At the same time, the cup is still half empty because a relationship of trust is lacking in Northeast Asia and there is no regional institution like ASEAN, Dr. Lam explained.

A photo of Dr. Lam Peng Er