Oxy in Japan: Oxy’s Impact on Japanese-American Relations From the 20th Century to the Present
Advised by Ambassador Derek Shearer
Diplomacy and World Affairs Comprehensive Project
Situated on the Pacific Rim and located in a city with the second largest Japanese population in the United States, Oxy has long been involved in US-Japan relations.
The idea for this project was inspired by my work in Ambassador Derek Shearer’s Oxy and the World Task Force class in Fall 2022.
Part I introduces two Oxy alumni who came to the forefront of US-Japan relations in the latter half of the 20th century. These two alumni were critical players in a volatile moment in the US-Japan relationship. I craft this story with help from their personal and working papers in the Occidental College Special Collections Archive.
Part II introduces a curated collection of quotes from Oxy graduates who worked or currently live in Japan. It also spotlights some of the graduates, each with their own short biography on their background and work. I reached out to them via LinkedIn and then via the virtual snowball sampling method, where I asked my LinkedIn interviewees if they were acquainted with other Oxy alumni in Japan.
I learned about the stories of U. Alexis Johnson and Toshiro “Henry Shimanouchi” from Ambassador Derek Shearer’s Oxy and the World Task Force class in Fall 2022. This, along with a desire to interview Oxy alumni currently or previously lived or worked in Japan, has culminated into this project.
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Thank you for taking the time to view my project!
~ Jonathan Fang
A Brief Background The United States and Japan
We’ll first review the context of what was happening in Japan, in the United States, and between the two nations, so that you may better understand where our two alumni come into the story.
The United States of America
The United States has always been deeply fascinated with Asia since its independence in 1784 from Great Britain.
In 1784, the Empress of China sailed from New York harbor in 1784 to Guangzhou with a shipload of spices.
As a reminder, 1784 was the same year the Treaty of Paris was signed, which officially acknowledges the existence of the U.S. as a free, sovereign, independent state.
By the early 20th century, the United States was establishing itself as a great power and looking westward to Asia.
Commodore Perry famously opened Japan from its 200-year-old “Sakoku” isolationist policy, forcing the archipelago nation to open diplomatic and trade relations with the United States, paving the way for other imperial nations to take suit.
Japan: From the Tokugawa Shogunate to Imperial Japan
In 1868, a group of young reformers overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate and ushered in the Meiji Era with the restoration of the emperor.
The government launched a series of reforms to modernize and industrialize Japan, then a feudal society. They began building railroads, developing a modern army and navy, and promoting industry, manufacturing, and commerce.
Japan westernized by adopting many aspects of Western culture and technology. It adopted a Western-style legal system, the Gregorian calendar, and sending students and scholars to study abroad in Europe and America.
Buoyed by their technological and industrial achievements, Japan began to cultivate a sense of nationalism, shown in its increasingly belligerent imperialism and militarism.
Japan fought several wars, including the First Sino-Japanese War (1894-1895) and the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905). It began to expand its empire, annexing Taiwan, Korea, and parts of China.
During the Taisho Era (1912 – 1926), the United States and Japan maintained diplomatic relations and engaged in trade but became increasingly strained due to Japan’s expansionist policies in Asia.
Part I: Two Friends, Two Nations Johnson '31 and Shimanouchi '31
Photograph of U. Alexis Johnson circa 1970
A portrait of Shimanouchi in the Oxy Alumni News
In researching U. Alexis Johnson’s story, I mainly relied on his personal papers in Special Collections and his memoir The Right Hand of Power. In researching Toshiro Henry Shimanouchi’s story, I relied on his personal papers in Special Collections.
Before the War Debate Partners and the Great Depression
Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi was born in Saga, Saga Prefecture, Japan. His family moved to the United States and his father ran a Japanese-language newspaper in Los Angeles. He attended Pasadena High School and competed in debate tournaments with Johnson as a debate partner.
Ural Alexis Johnson was born in Falun, Kansas in 1908. His family moved out to Glendale when he was in high school and met Shimanouchi while attending debate tournaments. He attended Glendale High School.
They both attended Oxy from 1927 to 1931 and became good friends. Notably, Shimanouchi was part of the football team. They both graduated in 1931 — Shimanouchi in Political Science, Johnson in Economics.
Shimanouchi and Johnson kept in touch even after leaving Oxy. When Johnson came to Tokyo with his wife and children for his first assignment as a Foreign Service Officer, he met up with Shimanouchi and his wife.
As a Japanese national, he figured that he would not have much opportunity to advance his career in the United States, so he endeavored to return to his native Japan, but the Great Depression stymied his plans. He ended up picking up some temporary gigs to make money to return home, one of which was reporting the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic Games for the Los Angeles Bureau of the Asahi Shimbun, a major newspaper in Japan.
U Alexis Johnson struggled to make ends meet due to the Great Depression, and he had hoped to attend graduate school at Georgetown University. However, an Occidental College professor encouraged him to apply for the Foreign Service instead. Dr. Bird, the college’s president, wrote a letter of recommendation on his behalf. Johnson eventually secured a position in the Foreign Service.
Once he made it back to Japan, he discovered that he wanted to better understand his own country and culture, and received an opportunity to do so as an invite to work for Count Kabayama, Chairman of the Society for International Cultural Relations, one of the first organizations dedicated to public diplomacy. a semi-governmental organization, the predecessor to the Japan Foundation.
In 1938, he went to New York to establish the Japan Institute and began serving as its executive secretary.
His first assignments were in Tokyo, Korea, and then Manchuria. During his time in Japan, he noticed a strong sense of nationalism among its people. They were proud to have avoided colonization or being carved up like their Asian neighbors. However, he also observed that by the late 1930s, the country’s militant leaders had taken control of the government and were pushing Japan toward a collision course with the United States.
Despite the challenges he faced early on, Johnson’s career in the Foreign Service would go on to be distinguished. His observations of Japan’s political climate during his early years in the service would prove prescient, as tensions between Japan and the United States would eventually lead to their involvement in World War II.
During the War Two Friends on Opposite Sides
As an American Foreign Service Officer in Manchuria, Johnson was a prime target when the United States declared war against Japan after the Pearl Harbor attack. He tried to escape but was captured and interned along with two other American diplomats in a tiny cell in Mukden, now called Shenyang.
Johnson and the other prisoners grew desperate and hatched a plan to break out and meet the Chinese Army, which was not far away from their location. But in June 1942, the Japanese told him and the others to pack up, telling them that they were going to repatriate them.
The red dots and lines represent the destinations and routes that Shimanouchi took to be repatriated, and the blue dots and lines represent the destinations and routes that Johnson took to be repatriated.
Information for this map is based on page 58 of U. Alexis Johnson’s memoir, the Right Hand of Power.
After Shimanouchi returned to Tokyo in August 1942, he decided to work for the Japanese government since international cultural relations were stopped during the war. He worked for the Board of Information, the Japanese counterpart to the American Office of War Information. The Board worked to monitor information about the war domestically while waging propaganda campaigns abroad.
His role was something similar to that of a Public Diplomacy Officer in the U.S. Foreign Service, as he handled press relations with correspondents from friendly and neutral nations.
After his return to the United States, Johnson later helped his State Department superiors with diplomatic cables in Washington D.C. for the rest of the war.
After the War New Opportunity to Make Change
Shimanouchi was placed into the Japanese Foreign Service after U.S. General Douglas MacArthur dissolved the Board of Information.
In September 1951, Shimanouchi participated in the Japanese Peace Treaty Conference in San Francisco as a member of the Japanese delegation.
In October 1954, he served as a counselor at the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C.
From March 1961 to 1964, Shimanouchi became Counsellor of the Foreign Office and Deputy Director of the Information and Cultural Affairs Bureau. During this time, Shimanouchi was a member of the staff of the Prime Minister and participated in summit meetings with numerous presidents and prime ministers, as indicated in the map below.
Shimanouchi participated in summit meetings with prime ministers or presidents from the highlighted countries. Norway is highlighted since he was designated the Japanese Ambassador to Norway, and Japan is highlighted since he was a Japanese Foreign Service Officer. Information for this map is based from Shimanouchi’s personal papers in Special Collections.
Shimanouchi participated in summit meetings with prime ministers or presidents from the highlighted countries.
Norway is highlighted since he was designated the Japanese Ambassador to Norway, and Japan is highlighted since he was a Japanese Foreign Service Officer.
Information for this map is based from Shimanouchi’s personal papers in Special Collections.
As official interpreter for the Prime Minister, Shimanouchi served as the means of communication with these world leaders.
In 1964, Shimanouchi was appointed Consul General of Japan in Los Angeles and served until 1968. During his time as Consul General, Shimanouchi was also active in the Little Tokyo and the Japanese American community.
Shimanouchi was appointed Ambassador of Japan to Norway in January 1969 until late 1970.
He retired from the Foreign Service in October 1970 to become an adviser to the Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren).
He was married for over 40 years to his wife Chiyoko and had a daughter and son, who became a Japanese Foreign Service officer as well.
After the war, Shimanouchi often visited or supported his alma mater. He became an annual donor and was contacted by Oxy when it explored starting the Chinese, Japanese, and Asian Studies department.
In the image below, he’s seen meeting Oxy President Richard Gilman at Oxy.
Shimanouchi ’31 talks with Oxy President Richard Gilman at Oxy in February 1976.
General MacArthur requested Johnson to return to Japan to help with the Allied Occupation after the end of World War II.
Johnson helped where he could but felt that MacArthur trusted his own staff more than the diplomats the State Department sent to help him.
Afterwards, he was called back to Washington D.C. to assist as Deputy Undersecretary.
As written in Johnson’s memoir The Right Hand of Power, U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson promised Johnson’s wife Pat that he would fulfill her wish to return to Tokyo, which meant making Johnson the Ambassador to Japan.
As Ambassador from 1966 to 1969, Johnson pursued a policy of “quiet but important diplomacy.” He rarely appeared on public television, and worked to iron out the Okinawa Reversion issue, which ultimately culminated in the 1971 Okinawa Reversion Agreement.
In his memoir, he reported that his ambassadorship was one of his most enjoyable jobs of his career.
The United States had administered Okinawa and the rest of the Ryukyu Islands under the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty of 1960, even after the Allied Occupation of Japan ended.
The United States and Japan agreed that the United States should return Okinawa and the islands back to Japanese rule but disagreed on how and when. The United States in particular wanted to maintain permanent military bases there as a foothold in Asia to act if necessary against North Korea, China, or the Soviet Union.
Okinawa Reversion Issue
He was also ambassador to Czechoslovakia (1953 – 1958) and to Thailand (1958 – 1961).
He was involved in talks on the U.S. side during the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) and the Apollo 11 ceremonial landing (1969). He is also famous for being the chief U.S. delegate during the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) I agreement talks with the Soviet Union in Geneva. The SALT I talks (1969 – 1972) were the first round of talks between the United States and the Soviet Union aimed at slowing down the arms race and jointly reducing the number of nuclear weapons.
While arguably one of his most important contributions to international affairs, Johnson often complained that his negotiations with the Soviets were insufferable and extremely circuitous.
Johnson also served on the Oxy Board of Trustees, received the Alumni Seal Award, and was an annual donor to the College.
He welcomed summer interns from Oxy while he was working as Deputy Undersecretary in Washington D.C. and supported the Chevalier DWA program.
Part II: Oxy Alumni in Japan Quotes & Spotlights
Japan and the United States in the 1980s and After The United States and Japan
Japan in the 1960s was a vastly different nation compared to mid-1940s Japan. Administered by the U.S.-led Allied Occupation, Japan completely transformed itself in just under a decade (1945 – 1952).
During the 1950s and 1960s, the nation underwent an “economic miracle,” a period of rapid economic growth.
When the nation hosted the 1964 Summer Olympics, it made a bold statement to the world.
Japan has re-emerged on the world stage, not as a wartime enemy, but as a peaceful friend.
The United States of America
While it was wrapping up the Allied Occupation in Japan, the United States was immediately thrust into the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Notable wars include the Korean War (1950 – 1953) and the Vietnam War (1955 – 1975).
It signed the United States — Japan Security Treaty in 1960, also known as Anpo (安保) for short. This treaty was controversial in Japan because it allowed the United States to maintain military bases on Japanese soil. It was set to renew every ten years. Significant protests happened in Japan in 1960 and 1970.
In the 1980s, the United States became concerned about its large trade deficit with Japan, which became a source of political and economic tensions between the two countries. It signed a series of currency and trade agreements with the Japanese government to improve the trade imbalance. While it has improved, it remains a topic discussed in current trade relations.
Japan Flourishing Again
By 1968, it had emerged to become the world’s second largest economy, behind the United States. This nation was nearly indistinguishable from the wartorn, defeated country in 1945.
This nation was also indistinguishable from the militant nationalistic country 1930s that Johnson encountered as a language officer in Tokyo.
In the 1980s, known as the “Bubble Economy” or “Lost Decade” era, Japan experienced rapid economic growth. Its manufacturing industries, particularly electronics (i.e. Sega, Nintendo, Sony, Panasonic, Toshiba, Hitachi, Yamaha) and automobiles (i.e. Toyota, Honda, Nissan, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru) were highly successful and exported around the world, notably in the United States.
The United States of America
Fast forwarding to 2008, Barack Obama became the 44th President of the United States. Obama, who spent two years at Oxy, furthered Oxy’s impact on US-Japan relations when he became the first U.S. sitting president to visit Hiroshima, where the United States dropped the first atomic bomb during World War II. He visited Hiroshima Memorial Peace Park along with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Through a volatile period in U.S.-Japan relations, these two alumni — U. Alexis Johnson and Toshiro “Henry” Shimanouchi played critical roles, which demonstrates Oxy’s impact on this bilateral relationship. Johnson’s career spanned seven U.S. Presidents, and Shimanouchi’s career spanned eight prime ministers.
Oxy continues to develop a vibrant community of alumni across the ocean — people who are making a difference to those around them.