When Joshua W. Walker *12 stepped into his new office in New York last December, he sat down at his desk and contemplated the opportunity before him. It was more breathtaking than the view from his window. At just 38 years old, he had been selected to succeed Ambassador Motoatsu Sakurai as the president and CEO of Japan Society — the largest U.S. organization committed to relations between the United States and Japan.
Walker’s duties include hosting events to help solidify relations between the two nations and meeting with prominent figures from both countries. He manages a staff of 80, an eight-figure annual budget, and an endowment of over $60 million.
Given those responsibilities and the timing of his appointment — Walker assumed his new post seven months shy of the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo — he realizes those quiet moments of reflection on his first day in office may be his last for the foreseeable future.
“In the best way possible, it’ll be a busy first few months on the job,” he says. “I’m very excited about the Summer Games, when the world will be coming to Japan. We’ll do everything we can to help celebrate Japan’s moment in the global spotlight. As one example, the theme of our annual dinner in June will revolve around the Olympics in Tokyo.”
This is not the first time Walker — who earned a bachelor’s degree from University of Richmond and master’s degree from Yale University in addition to his Ph.D. in politics and public policy from Princeton — has received a noteworthy opportunity at a young age. He has been selected as a fellow or scholar by the likes of the Fulbright Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. The Presidential Centers or Libraries of five former presidents populate his résumé. He has held positions within the U.S. Departments of Commerce, State, and Defense. From Washington D.C. to Turkey, he has worked or taught at organizations and institutions around the globe.
This wealth of experience will serve Walker well in his new role, but he knows that effective international relations requires more than an impressive curriculum vitae.
“When it comes to bridging cultures, nations and societies, you need more than experience, technical skills, and knowledge. Demonstrating a true interest and curiosity in someone else’s background, culture, and language goes a long way,” he says.
As much as ever, Walker believes such efforts are vital on the world stage.
“We are going through major geopolitical changes; 2020 feels like an inflection point,” he says. “The macro trends are not encouraging, but I’m optimistic about the future when looking at the example set by U.S.-Japan relations: two nations that couldn’t be further apart culturally, geographically, or historically, and who have fought as bitter enemies, but are now the closest of allies and friends.”
For Walker, the opportunity to lead the 112-year-old Japan Society is more than a professional accomplishment. Given his familial ties to both nations, it is a source of personal pride. Walker was raised in Japan before coming to America at the age of 18. His parents still reside in the former. He lives with his wife and two children in the latter.
He says, “I’ve always considered these two countries home and sought to be a bridge-builder between them. So, it means a great deal to me and my family that I have this chance to lead an organization with the history, mission, and legacy of Japan Society.”