A group of 10 young researchers from The Heritage Foundation arrived in Narita International Airport on Japan’s national Foundation Day holiday (also known as Kenkoku Kinen no Hi), which celebrates the establishment of Japan.

The group—consisting of researchers from a variety of backgrounds, including national security, trade, and foreign relations—was invited on a cultural trip to Tokyo and Kyoto by the Japan Foundation in connection with the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The trip is a way to share with America the culture, history, and current political and economic situation of Japan. On our first day of orientation, we were given presentations on Japan’s national security policies, Japan’s economic situation, and female participation in the labor force—three very hot topic issues in Japan right now.

It was clear from the presentations that the U.S.–Japan security and economic alliances were of key importance not only for the two countries but also for the entire Asia–Pacific region.

Japan’s stance on territorial issues was an important topic discussed. Masahi Nishihara, president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security, noted Japan’s current territorial issues with China, South Korea, and Russia. The latter two are the oldest of their territorial disputes, but the dispute with China over the Senkaku islands is the most worrisome. He noted that the U.S.’s presence in Okinawa was an important but highly disputed topic, with local Okinawans often protesting the neighboring Futenma airbase while more southern islanders (those closer to the Senkakus) often voice their approval of a U.S. presence in the area.

Professor Etsuro Shioji from Hitotsubashi University looked at the comparisons and similarities between the U.S.’s and Japan’s quantitative easing policies and noted their ineffectiveness to solve financial crises. It was good to hear from someone who was more critical of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s economic plan, called “Abenomics.”

Professor Machiko Osawa briefly discussed women’s participation in the labor force and Japan’s need for its increase to work itself out of its 20-year economic stagnation. It will be hard, though, for employment to increase if Abe’s call for wage increases is implemented.

While there were some contradictory statements about deregulating services and how much should be left to the free market, it was good to see that a strong U.S. presence in Japan is still welcome and that strong, free-flowing trade between the two countries is taking place.