The Japan-America Society of Saint Louis (JAS) was founded in 1967 with the mission to promote the exchange and understanding between the people of Japan and the United States. The Society is a 501(c) (3) non-profit, non-partisan, educational and cultural organization. It serves as the major information and resource center about Japan in the St. Louis Metropolitan region. The Society also serves as the umbrella organization for the Japanese Activities Committee (Dave Lowry, Chair), Japan America Society Women’s Association (Luise Hoffman, President) and Seinen-kai (Association of Young Men and Women) (Steve Masaki, President).
The leadership for the Society is provided by the board of directors, including 22 elected members, and six elected officers. All of the work of the Society is done by volunteers. The Office of International Studies and Programs at University of Missouri-St. Louis (Dr. Joel Glassman, ISP Director & Associate Provost of Academic Affairs at UMSL) provides office space and operational support.
The Society receives and answers 150 inquiries in a given year on anything and everything about Japan. In addition to our monthly cultural or social programs, the Society responds to requests for lectures and demonstrations from local libraries, schools and other organizations in the St. Louis region. The Society also supports the St. Louis Japanese Language School for Children in St. Louis.
Our largest community engagement is annual Japanese festival, held at the Missouri Botanical Garden (MBG). The festival has become one of the largest and oldest Japanese festivals in North America. Each year, 30,000 to 50,000 people come and enjoyed the festival. The Japanese Activities Committee of the Japan America Society of St. Louis coordinates production of the festival events. It works with all Japan-related groups in St. Louis, including Bon Odori (Dancing), Bonsai, Fujima Ryu (Dancing), Gaku (Musical ensemble of Japanese koto, shamisen, flute), Ikebana, Karaoke (Enka singing), Kimono, Marshall arts, Niji Choral (Folk songs), St. Louis Osuwa Taiko, and Tozan Ryu (Dancing).
The Japanese festival originated in the 1960s when the first and second generation Japanese Americans and Japanese residing in the St. Louis area produced the festival every year. They raised seed money for construction of a Japanese garden in St. Louis and approached Dr. Peter Raven, then MBG President. The result of these efforts led to the dedication of the Japanese Garden, Seiwa-en (meaning the garden of harmony and peace) on a 14 acres land in 1977. Since then the Society and MBG have developed a unique partnership in hosting the annual Japanese festival.
The Japan America Society of St. Louis is also unique with its close relations with the International Studies and Programs (ISP) and the Shibusawa-Arai Endowed Professorship of Japanese Studies at UMSL. In 1999, Mr. Seigo Arai, businessman and friend of the Japan America Society of St. Louis, made a gift ($550,000) to UMSL to establish the Ei’ichi Shibusawa-Seigo Arai Professorship in Japanese Studies. Currently, the position is held by Dr. Laura Miller, a Professor of Anthropology. Her research focuses on Japanese culture, language and gender, and linguistic anthropology. Together with ISP and the Shibusawa-Arai Japanese Professorship at UMSL, Japan America Society of St. Louis provides lectures, events, and cultural programs about Japan. The Japan America Society of St. Louis also holds a partnership with the Japan America Student Association at UMSL through which it occasionally co-sponsors Japan-related events.