Asia Program

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Pacific Creolization: Searching for Emerging Shared Values in the Japan-U.S. Borderlands

December 04, 2002 // 2:00pm4:00pm

Pacific Creolization:
Searching for Emerging Shared Values
In the Japan-U.S. Borderlands
December 4, 2002

Summary of a meeting with Julie Higashi, Ritsumeikan University; Takeshi Matsuda, Osaka University; Chieko Kitagawa Otsuru, Kansai University; David Willis, Soai University; Yutaka Sasaki, Soai University (chair)


The influence of American culture on Japan has been overwhelming from the post-war occupation to the present day. Now, with the rapid pace of globalization, cultural interchange is taking place more widely and deeply than ever before. In discussing such interchange, the panelists used the term "Creolization" to distinguish the process from "Americanization." As explained by the seminar chair, Yutaka Sasaki of Soai University, Creolization is the creation of something new¾new shared cultural forms, new possibilities for contact.

Takeshi Matsuda, former Wilson Center fellow and professor of American history at Osaka University, kicked off by describing how John Foster Dulles and John D. Rockefeller promoted the cultural transformation of occupied Japan. Though Rockefeller emphasized the importance of a "two-way street" in cultural interchange, he was mainly interested in countering communist influence and keeping xenophobia in check, Matsuda explained.

While the Japanese readily accepted democracy, they did not absorb every part of Western culture, as pointed out by Julie Higashi, professor of international education at Ritsumeikan University. For example, U.S. occupation authorities openly supported missionary activities and generally considered Christianity and democracy to be inexorably linked, but in the end less than one percent of the Japanese adopted the "new" religion.

Chieko Kitagawa Otsuru, professor of international politics at Kansai University, addressed the rise of Japanese civil society. Otsuru emphasized that while the growth of civil society in Japan is sometimes seen as Westernization or Americanization, it is important to remember that the phenomenon is worldwide. In fact, Japan and the United States are both moving in the same direction, as non-governmental networks increase in line with globalization and technological innovation.

David Blake Willis, professor of cultural studies at Soai University, turned the discussion to what he termed Pacific Creole individuals¾Japanese Americans, American Japanese and other ethnic mixes. According to Willis, the influence of these Creoles is especially significant in those areas where new ideas, concepts and images are created. They have become bridge-builders and mediators, contributing disproportionately to business, art and diplomacy. A society prospers by nurturing and accepting them.

The acceptance of hybrid identity is not always comfortable and can at times be painful. But, the panel asserted, Creoles will find themselves increasingly powerful and competitive in the 21st Century. In a world where "clashes of civilizations" seem increasingly dangerous, it is heartening to contemplate examples of mutual interpenetration of values taking place in the "borderlands" between America and Asia.

Drafted by Amy McCreedy, Asia Program Associate, 202/691-4013
Robert M. Hathaway, Asia Program Director

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