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Remembering Tadashi Yamamoto

by Evan A. Feigenbaum
April 17, 2012

The Jefferson Memorial is framed by blooming cherry trees, originally a gift from Japan in 1912, along the Tidal Basin in Washington on April 12, 2010. (Yuri Gripas/Courtesy Reuters)


I heard this morning the news that Tadashi Yamamoto passed away in Tokyo on Sunday. There will be a flood of tributes from the many people who knew him better than I did, but I wanted to add my modest voice to these many remembrances.

I first met Tadashi Yamamoto in the 1990s through a U.S.-Japan-China trilateral project that he put together at the Japan Center for International Exchange. I had studied Japanese in Tokyo in the late 1980s and continued to stay involved with Japan. But through Tadashi Yamamoto and JCIE, I met Japanese colleagues at the very outset of my professional career who became close friends and have remained important associates ever since.

I was, of course, very early in my career—still just a postdoctoral fellow. But he and JCIE worked in so many ways to promote and advance the U.S.-Japan partnership. In fact, JCIE itself was only one of his many lasting contributions to the alliance. These included every conceivable type of exchange between the United States and Japan. He promoted parliamentary exchanges, corporate exchanges, exchanges between students and scholars, and much, much more.

My modest personal remembrance reflects the legacy of having met him as a twentysomething, just launching off on a career studying Asia professionally. He provided a lasting link to a community of Japanese specialists, scholars, officials, and journalists devoted to the idea of partnership with the United States.

As for that JCIE trilateral project, he was convinced that the rise of China was going to change Asia in big, important ways—and that, in turn, was going to have vast implications for the U.S.-Japan alliance. So he wanted to explore whether and how the United States and Japan might work with China on new challenges, not least in the aftermath of the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, which had sent shockwaves throughout Asia. But more, he wanted to make sure that the United States and Japan were preparing and adapting as Asia evolved.

He was, as the Wall Street Journal put it this morning, an ardent champion of the U.S.-Japan alliance. His legacy will stand for a long time.

As for what I learned, well, I tried to carry some of his lessons into my subsequent work. When I worked on East Asia for the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, the opportunities to work with Japanese colleagues were many and frequent. But I tried to continue reflecting these early lessons even after I moved on to other things. For example, while working on Central Asia, I helped launch broadened U.S.-Japan consultations on the region, not just between the State Department and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs but also with project finance experts from the Japan Bank for International Cooperation, officials from the Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, development officials from the Japan International Cooperation Agency, and experts on energy and defense. And when I subsequently shifted to working on India and South Asia, I tried to continue making a small contribution to U.S.-Japan coordination and cooperation.

Today, there are far more tests to global order than when I first attended that JCIE conference. But the U.S.-Japan alliance remains a force for progress. One of Tadashi Yamamoto’s many legacies was to tend it across generations, ensuring that younger Japanese and Americans—a young scholar like me, for example—would develop a body of shared experience, much as their seniors had over the postwar decades.

It was so sad to hear this morning of Tadashi Yamamoto’s passing. His was a life to celebrate. He left a mark on me.

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