The 70th Japan-America Student Conference Report
By Jacques Chaumont ‘18
This past August, the 70th Japan America Student Conference (JASC) took place in four sites
across America. The sites for this year’s conference were Madison (Wisconsin), Lexington
(Virginia), Washington D.C., and Portland (Oregon). There were nearly 70 participants total, and
me and the rest of the Executive Committee (16 members total) spent the 11 months prior
planning the entirety of the conference. This was a substantial undertaking, and with multiple
weekly meetings, constant research, emailing, and logistical planning, it was often difficult to
balance with my studies and extracurriculars. However, to understand why I decided to
volunteer for this position in the first place requires an explanation of my experience as a
delegate of the 69th JASC.
In August of 2017, I participated in the delegation that traveled throughout Japan to Kyoto,
Ehime, Mie, and Tokyo. Each day of the 3-week long conference was packed with programming
from morning to night, and I was surrounded by people with common interests and passions to
my own. This overload of intellectual stimulus fostered my interest in international relations
and allowed me to draw upon my own experiences and knowledge as a half-Japanese
American. The other participants came from schools across Japan and all over the U.S., and
each brought their unique perspectives to the table. And beyond just the academic- and
professional-oriented aspects of the conference, there were also ample opportunities to bond
with other participants and form friendships. In fact, this would keep most of us staying up until
the late hours of the night, talking about any number of things. As a student studying Japanese
in Williamstown, there are very few opportunities to speak with Japanese students. So, being
surrounded by 36 Japanese students my age, all of whom also had excellent English ability, was
a really rare chance. Even during my times studying abroad in Japan, this wasn’t something I
So as the 69th JASC was winding down in Tokyo, I was feeling incredibly inspired by this once in
a lifetime program that had been designed by that year’s Executive Committee. Knowing that
the continuation of the conference was dependent upon participants like myself, I decided to
carry on the legacy of JASC and try to create a whole new program for the next year, taking
place in the United States. I was confident that this job could be done with the right group of
people as an Executive Committee, so following the elections at the end of the 69th JASC the 16
of us embarked on our own journey of planning and executing the 70th JASC.
I’ll spare the details of all the planning that went into organizing a conference of this scale but
suffice it to say that every minute detail and micro-logistic from the start to end had to be
considered. Designing programs, brainstorming themes and discussion topics, inviting speakers,
finding venues, food, accommodation, and transportation. When spread over an 11-month
planning period, it seems manageable, but it was certainly a daunting realization when we had
our own student lives to lead and were volunteering our time to do this. Meeting deadlines,
working together with a team of very different personalities, reviewing and interviewing each
and every applicant, and finally, coming together in August to make sure the whole thing went
smoothly, dealing with situations as they arose. This was both a challenging and fulfilling
experience, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of my wonderful teammates and proud to have
been a part of this year’s Executive Committee.
So, what did we actually do this past August? The 70th JASC began with American
Orientation in Madison, Wisconsin.
American Orientation is the first time that the American side of the JASC delegation meets in
person, and is a time of icebreakers, preliminary discussions, and basically getting to know each
other. The pre-conference activities in Japan are different, so the Japanese delegates actually
had multiple programs together before the main conference in August. Such trips are much
harder to coordinate given the size of the U.S., so the American delegates only have weekly
video call meetings with their roundtables (topic-centered small groups) in the months leading
up to August. American Orientation also gives the American delegates a chance to experience
the intense scheduling and pace of the conference, which was certainly something I had to get
used to when I first participated.
After those three days, it was time to greet the Japanese delegation as they arrived into
Madison, and after a big welcoming dinner, we had plenty of opportunities to get to know each
other and plant the seeds of friendship. We tried to make the icebreaker activities as accessible
and entertaining as possible, and it turned out to be a perfect way to get to know the other
students from across the globe.
The following day, we got into our business formal suits and launched into our programming.
After our opening ceremony, we attended a local community event called Lanterns for Peace,
centered around the anniversary of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Japanese
delegates presented on the effects of the bombings, and their own hopes for a world without
another nuclear attack. This event eased our transition into a presentation the following day
given by Caren Stelson, author of Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb’s Survival Story, and a panel
discussion on the themes of War and Peace.
We spent several more days in Madison, exploring the importance of the dairy industry, touring
the largest Kikkoman factory in North America, experiencing the Wisconsin State Fair, and
finding various ties between Japan and Wisconsin. On the 11th of August, we held our Madison
Site Forum in the State Capitol Building. Delegates moderated a panel on agricultural
development, as well as participated in a panel on peacemaking moderated by a local Zen
From Madison, we flew out to Lexington, Virginia, where we were graciously hosted by
Washington & Lee University.Here, we would explore multiple themes including the interactions
of nature and humanity, the challenging racial history of America, as well as mass violence in recent history.
We were able to visit the Natural Bridge State Park and caverns and learn about the Monacan
Native American tribe that once inhabited the valley. We also visited Charlottesville on the
anniversary of the 2017 riots and spoke to the deputy mayor on the lessons to be learned from
such an event and its aftermath. In Lexington, we had a panel of many local small business
owners and talked about community engagement, particularly in more rural areas. We also
participated in a short Japanese tea ceremony with the University’s tea ceremony club and
were showed many materials from the amazing Special Collections and Archives of Washington
& Lee. On our last full day of programming, we had our Lexington Site Forum, and I moderated
a panel of delegates and three faculty members on the topics of mass violence and conflict
resolution, as well as the roles of local communities with regard to such issues.
Next, we traveled to the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. I was one of the two American site
coordinators for D.C., so I played a large part in the brainstorming, planning, and organizing of
our time in D.C. After getting off the bus from Lexington, we quickly changed into our business
formal and went straight to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There, we spoke to several
officials from IMF and the World Bank about the roles of such international organizations in the
global economy and international affairs. That evening, we went to a reception hosted by
Toyota for the winners of the American Bowl (English essay contest for Japanese high
The next day we held a panel on Women Empowerment, moderated by a delegate and
featuring the director of the Better Life Lab and NY Times bestselling author Brigid Schulte. In
the following days we visited the National Japanese American Memorial, explored the Capitol
and National Mall, and explored places in D.C. relating to our individual roundtable topics. I
coordinated the Technology & Innovation Roundtable, so I brought my roundtable to the
Smithsonian Air & Space Museum and the National Building Museum.
The morning of the last full day of programming in D.C., delegates participated in a Six Party
Talks Simulation at the Korean Economic Institute. Later that afternoon, we held our forum at
the Old Ambassador’s Residence of the Embassy of Japan. I MC’ed the event and our keynote
address was given by Bob Takai, SVP General Manager at Sumitomo Corporation of America
and former JASC alumnus. We then had a panel on Soft Power with Bob Takai, Department of
State diplomat Julie Chung, and two student delegates. Our program was recorded by NHK
Broadcasting, and video segments from the program and interviews with JASC participants
appeared on national TV in Japan.
For the remainder of the conference, our delegation moved to Portland, Oregon, where we
were hosted by Portland State University. There, we focused first on the U.S.-Japan relationship
through the lens of the history of the Japanese-American community in Oregon. From there, we
touched on other important topics including mental health and LGBTQ issues and experiences
in the U.S. and Japan. These discussions took place in panels of delegates moderated by
Executive Committee members, as well as in small group discussions.
The following day, we were hosted by Wacom and had a presentation on their cutting-edge
technologies, given by one of the digital artists from the stop-motion animation studio Laika.
The same day, we had a panel on innovation and entrepreneurship featuring local Portland
entrepreneurs and the creator of a Portland startup incubator. As the conference neared its
end, we had an alumni reception hosted by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, held at the
Portland Japanese Garden, attended by many notable JASC alumni and local officials.
To cap off our main conference, we held our Final Forum, where each round table gave a short
concluding presentation on their topic and their findings from the three weeks of extended
discussion. We also had a panel on the future of JASC and concluding remarks by the American
and Japanese Executive Committee Chairs.
With Final Forum over, the only remaining item on the agenda was the election of the next
year’s Executive Committee, those who would carry on the torch and craft the 71st JASC taking
place in Japan next year. With elections taken care of, we had our Final Reflection and got
ready to bid farewell in the morning. The goodbyes are always the hardest part, speaking from
my experience on two JASCs, but it is amazing to see how close people can become in a few
So that was the 70th Japan America Student Conference in a nutshell. Putting the experience
into words is nearly an impossible task, so hopefully you also get a sense of the atmosphere
through the photos scattered throughout this report. One of my responsibilities throughout the
duration of the conference was being the primary photographer, so I always had my camera
ready and eye trained on capturing special moments.
Though I covered most of the main programming that occurred as part of the conference, some
of the most memorable and enlightening moments took place outside of programming. Long
bus rides and plane rides, late nights following busy days, walking through sweltering D.C. in
business formal attire. These were all opportunities to get to know each other, have
conversations with someone new, and learn about each other’s backgrounds. Ask any JASCer
and they will tell you that you won’t really sleep much throughout the conference, since you’ll
want to spend as much time together as possible. The camaraderie and friendships shared by
the participants stretch far beyond the three weeks spent together, and by the end you’ll truly
feel like you have a network of friends throughout both America and Japan. I still regularly talk
to many of my JASC friends, both in the U.S. and Japan, and my fellow Executive Committee
members are some of my closest friends. I feel very lucky and grateful to have been able to
participate in JASC, and although organizing the conference was one of the toughest things I’ve
ever done, I never regretted taking on the task and it was an incredible opportunity for growth.
The next JASC will be taking place in Japan, with Tokyo and Kyoto as sites (as well as possibly
one or two other cities). Having spent a considerable time with next year’s Executive
Committee, I am confident that they will do a great job putting together a worthwhile
conference. JASC’s reputation is quite prestigious in Japan, so there are many opportunities for
networking, professional development, and personal growth. Also, as a student of Japanese,
being able to speak with so many Japanese students with shared interests is an invaluable
opportunity. If you are on the fence about applying, I can’t recommend it enough. If you have
any questions, feel free to send them to me at [email protected], and check out the
JASC website at http://iscdc.org/jasc/2019. There, you can find information about the sites,
executive committee members, and round table topics of next year. If you want to see more
JASC photos, I have uploaded close 2000 of them in full quality to the JASC Flickr page at
http://flickr.com/jasc1934/albums. Thank you for reading through my report, and a special
thank you to the Japanese and Asian Studies Departments at Williams for making my own
participation in JASC a possibility.