The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) has received a $10.4 million gift to establish the Toshizo Watanabe Democracy Fellowship, which will promote democracy, leadership, diversity, and community empowerment.

The fellowship will facilitate dialogue and cooperation between early to mid-career leaders from Japan drawn from government, business, media, the arts, and NGO sectors and their American counterparts. The fellowship program will be housed at JANM’s National Center for the Preservation of Democracy (Democracy Center).

“Alliances between the United States, Japan, and other democratic nations solidifies and safeguards democracy on a global scale, creates a support network, and enhances our capacity to collectively address transnational issues,” said Ann Burroughs, JANM president and CEO. “By fostering greater understanding, cooperation, and shared values we can build a strong partnership that benefits Japan and the U.S. and contributes to global stability and prosperity.”

“We never know the paths our lives will take,” said Toshizo Watanabe. “However, we do know that life itself and education makes us rich. It spurs our minds to think critically and asks our souls to feel deeply. Life too is a teacher. Live a life that matters.”

Starting in 2024, annual cohorts of Watanabe Fellows will engage in a year-long program that will launch in Tokyo and culminate in a two-week, multi-city U.S. visit to Los Angeles, New York City, and Washington, D.C. to engage with U.S. and international leaders from government and civil society.

During their U.S. visit, Watanabe Fellows will participate in the Watanabe Leadership Congress — a series of site visits, seminars, and workshops on issues of democracy, policy, and civic engagement at the Democracy Center that will enable them to learn about the U.S. through the lens of the Japanese American experience.

The fellowship will conclude with the seminal Norman Y. Mineta Distinguished Lecture at the Democracy Center.

“This flagship program will create a transnational network of professional and diplomatic support that promotes the bilateral spread of democratic principles, ensures that the rights and freedoms of individuals are protected and respected, and fosters community empowerment in the U.S. and Japan for future generations,” said James E. Herr, director of the Democracy Center.

The Democracy Center is a place where visitors can examine the Asian American experience, past and present, and talk about race, identity, social justice, and the shaping of democracy. It convenes and educates people of all ages about democracy to transform attitudes, celebrate culture, and promote civic engagement; educates and informs the public and public officials about important issues; creates strength within and among communities to advocate for positive change; and explores the values that shape American democracy. The Democracy Center looks for solutions that engage communities in self-advocacy, explore the evolving idea of what it means to be an American, and result in actions that bring everyone together.

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