From 22 to 24 October 2012, International Christian University (ICU) hosted the “2012 Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum” on its verdant campus in Tokyo, Japan. The Forum was cosponsored by ICU, the Aspen Institute and the Japan ICU Foundation (JICUF) and formed part of ICU’s 60th Anniversary Project. The three-day event, the first ever of its type on the ICU campus, centered on discussion among over ninety specialists and intellectuals from twenty-two countries worldwide. The Forum dealt with the role culture plays in “the Art of Peace-Building and Reconciliation,” which served as the central theme of the three day event. The format was designed specifically to encourage participation of the diverse participants through candid discussions of difficult issues in the field of cultural diplomacy, particularly within the Asia-Pacific region.
Entering its 5th year, the Aspen Cultural Diplomacy Forum has been established as the world’s premier cultural diplomacy event. It is convened by the Aspen Institute Global Initiative on Culture and Society in collaboration with partners who contribute to its scope and mission. The inaugural Forum was hosted in Paris in 2008 by the Aspen Institute and the Arts Arena of the American University of Paris under the dual themes of “Culture in Conflict” and “Culture on the Move”. The 2011 reiteration of the Forum—the Creative Arts World Summit— was co-hosted in Oman by the Aspen Institute and the Royal Opera House Muscat to explore various artistic and cultural trends.
Among the participants of the Forum at ICU, two in particular were especially highly-esteemed. Madame Sadako Ogata, special advisor to the President, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), spoke about her extensive experiences regarding the development of the concept of Human Security as the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees and president of JICA. She also focused on Japan’s future and its relationship with such neighboring nations as China and South Korea. She expressed her hope that students would work to be more actively involved in the world outside Japan and step up to take important roles in society and politics. Olusegun Obasanjo, the former president of Nigeria, spoke about his country’s transition from a colonial state to independence and recalled his own role in the transition’s subsequent civil wars, democratization and stabilization.
The Forum also involved discussion on ways to strengthen peace-building work through reducing propaganda and widely accepted cultural prejudices, removing negative labels attached to regions and races, and looking not for differences but commonalities among humans. Each day of the Forum brought large numbers of students hoping to become involved in peace-building and diplomacy, including a number of the Rotary International Peace Fellows on campus. Both Japanese and international, graduate and undergraduate students alike were able to meet the participants and integrate themselves fully into the three day Forum. With such a significant Cultural Diplomacy Forum on the ICU campus, especially dealing with such a variety of contemporary issues in the Asia-Pacific and beyond, the seeds for a more peaceful future were sown.