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In Appreciation of Philanthropic Visionary Tadashi Yamamoto

April 18, 2012

Tadashi Yamamoto. Photo courtesy of JCIE.

Tadashi Yamamoto, founder and president of the Japan Center for International Exchange, passed away on April 15 at the age of 76. He was an extraordinary person whose career was marked by extraordinary accomplishment. He was a liberal internationalist, an optimist who believed wholeheartedly that cultural exchanges and dialogue could bring peoples and nations closer together, especially those that previously had been adversaries. He believed that people-to-people exchanges in all their forms were a formidable vehicle for international understanding and peace. He committed his life to interpreting Japan to the world and the world to Japan.

Tadashi never served in a formal governmental role (other than chairing numerous advisory groups and commissions), but he formed close and influential relationships with political leaders in Japan, the United States, Germany, Australia, the United Kingdom, Korea, and China. He was responsible, sometimes single-handedly, more often in strategic partnership, for parliamentary exchanges, intellectual dialogues, Track II dialogues, “wise men” groups, corporate citizenship study missions, workshops on “non-traditional security” threats and global health, and much more. He was formally honored for his life”s work by the governments of Australia, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom. Upon conferment of the Order of the Rising Sun Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon by the Government of Japan in July 2011 (for distinguished achievements in international relations, Japanese studies, or promotion of Japanese culture), the JCIE staff published a 36-page Commemorative Booklet highlighting milestones in Tadashi”s 47 years of nongovernmental public service, with testimonials from a broad array of world leaders whose lives and careers he influenced.

My own friendship and professional collaboration with Tadashi began in 1987, when I was starting a multi-country research project on contemporary philanthropy in Asia. Tadashi”s name came up everywhere I sought advice and information. “You have to meet Yamamoto; he is Mr. Philanthropy in Japan.” And indeed he was already a veteran when I started. In 1974, JCIE had launched study tours and research on philanthropy in Japan and the United States. In 1977, JCIE created the Asia Community Trust, Japan”s first philanthropic intermediary loosely based on the U.S. community foundation model, but with developing Asia as its scope; and in the mid-1980s, JCIE had already organized a series of Keidanren study tours to the United States to exchange ideas about corporate philanthropy. Tadashi”s deep commitment to philanthropy – private action for public benefit – was at the core of his aspirations for global citizenship.

With Tadashi”s intellectual support and gentle mentoring, we launched a pioneering series of studies of local philanthropic traditions and the current state of philanthropy and civil society in East Asia, resulting in published volumes in 1991 (Philanthropy and the Dynamics of Change in East and Southeast Asia), 1993 (Evolving Patterns of Asia-Pacific Philanthropy), and JCIE”s monumental Emerging Civil Society in the Asia Pacific Community in 1995. These became the intellectual basis of the Asia Pacific Philanthropy Consortium, a research and advocacy network established in Osaka in December 1994, which Tadashi and I led for a decade. JCIE went on to publish a distinguished series of other books on philanthropy and civil society in Japan and Asia.

Tadashi was a remarkable person, warm, engaging, gentle, passionate, committed, yet tolerant of cultural differences, always curious, and always busy and fully engaged in the many projects he undertook simultaneously and in sequence. He was a visionary, fiercely advocating a world of peace through dialogue. He will be missed for the person he was, his many accomplishments, and his unswerving belief in the community-building promise of people-to-people exchanges.

Dr. Barnett F. Baron is president & CEO of Give2Asia. He can be reached at bbaron@give2asia.org. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and not those of The Asia Foundation.

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