Many Philadelphians don’t know it, but our city has a rich legacy of cultural and economic ties with Japan dating back to the mid-1800s.
"There’s this long history of friendship, academic interchange and business interchange," says Kim Andrews, Executive Director of the new Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia
(JASGP), which this summer officially merged with the Friends of the Japanese House and Garden (FJHG).
The first Japanese envoys to visit Philadelphia arrived in 1860 and the plantings at the Shofuso Japanese House and Gardens in Fairmount Park near Parkside (our old On the Ground
haunt) were installed in 1876. The depth of this history is interesting for an East Coast region with a relatively small Japanese and Japanese-American population (a 2010 survey of the five-county area reported about 3,000 people of Japanese heritage).
"It’s not very large, but it is a very deep and important cultural history," says Andrews.
When she became executive director at FJHG, the idea of joining forces with JASGP had "been bubbling in the atmosphere for a long time" -- the two nonprofits had a lot of overlap in their missions.
FJHG’s two main programmatic goals were interpreting, maintaining and preserving the Japanese house and garden; and creating arts and cultural programming. JASGP’s two-fold mission was building connections between businesses in Philadelphia and Japan, and hosting Japanese arts and cultural events.
The merged organizations' three-fold mission wasn’t hard to develop: to continue the Shofuso stewardship, to "enrich connections between the business and government sectors of Japan and Philadelphia," and "to offer educational public programs about Japanese art, business and culture."
In terms of staffing and budget, JASGP is now the second-largest Japan America society among 37 across the country (second only to New York).
Andrews notes that the original JASGP brought excellent national and international business and political connections to the table, as well as a strong relationship with the Japanese Consulate in New York. It also produced Philly's annual Cherry Blossom Festival, which drew about 14,000 people this year, and which, according to Andrews, is considered one of the U.S.'s most authentic Japanese-style festivals.
For their part, FJHG board members were "subject area experts" on Japanese culture, art and preservation.
"It’s been a really good mix," she says.
In the immediate future, there won’t be much evolution in programming as the two organizations get settled. (The merger was funded by Philly’s Nonprofit Repositioning Fund
). The board will take a strategic planning retreat next month, and in 2017 embark on a new formal strategic plan with funding from the William Penn Foundation
. New programming should roll out by 2018.
Besides the goal of furthering appreciation for the deep roots of Japanese heritage in Philly, the two nonprofits' merger is good news for the city in general. As Andrews explains, stakeholders no longer have to split donations, and the organization can streamline its budgets and operations on everything from payroll to newsletters while working towards the new joint mission.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Kim Andrews, the Japan America Society of Greater Philadelphia
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