In the early 1940s, the first group of Nanpou Tokubetsu Ryugakusei 南方特別留学生 or “Nantoku (ナントク)” arrived in Japan.
The Nantoku were young men from Japan’s occupied territories of East and Southeast Asia who were similarly chosen and sent to study in Japan. Filipinos, Thais, Malays, Indonesians, Indo-Chinese, Burmese. They were young, numbering several hundred. Dispatched to study in the land of their countries’ foreign occupation force, they learned a strange language and began to imbibe a different set of cultural and social values. The Nantoku belonged to a special category of young Asians who were being groomed for future roles of leadership.
Sometime in 1974, then Finance Minister of Japan Takeo Fukuda visited Kuala Lumpur where he met Rajah Datuk Nong Chick, a Malaysian Nantoku who by then had become a prominent business and political leader. Rajah Nong Chik spoke passionately about the opportunities that would emerge if Japan would recognize and attend to the wartime students. Within that year (1974), the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) organized the highly successful if emotionally charged first Reunion (Tsudoi 集い) of Wartime Students in Japan. Among the attendees were Rajah Datuk Nong Chik of Malaysia and Halim Abubakar of the Philippines. They spoke of the possibility of forming an ASEAN organization of former students to Japan.
In 1976, Takeo Fukuda became Prime Minister of Japan and in 1977, he famously declared the Fukuda Doctrine of “Heart-to-Heart” 心と心relations, where Japan committed to build relationships with Southeast Asian countries on the basis of mutual confidence and trust. He also advocated positive cooperation with ASEAN as an equal partner. The Fukuda Doctrine has since served as the foundation of Japan’s foreign policy and diplomacy towards the rest of Asia.
Encouraged by the bold declaration of the Fukuda Doctrine, Japan alumni from Southeast Asia who were gathered in Tokyo for the 3rd Tsudoi (1976) formally proposed the establishment of a Japan alumni organization composed of ASEAN nationals who studied in and graduated from Japanese schools, universities and training institutions. In their meetings with fellow Nantoku, they discovered the strong, unbroken ties that bind fellow Ryuugakusei ( 留学生; foreign students in Japan).
On March 25, 1977, a “Protocol of Intent to Organize” was signed in Singapore by representatives of five Japan alumni associations from ASEAN, namely:
- Association of Indonesia Alumni from Japan (PERSADA),
- Japan Graduates’ Association of Malaysia (JAGAM),
- Japanese University Graduates Association of Singapore (JUGAS),
- Old Japan Students’ Association, Thailand Under the Patronage of His Majesty the Kin (OJSAT), and
- Philippine Federation of Japan Alumni (PHILFEJA).
On June 11, 1977, after several days of meetings among officials of the five founding associations at the newly built Philippine International Convention Center in Manila, the ASEAN COUNCIL OF JAPAN ALUMNI (ASCOJA) was officially established.
Consistent with the spirit of ASEAN, the organization structure of ASCOJA was designed to be governed by a Board of Governors representing each country-member association. The Board functioned as an executive body while an ASCOJA Council (composed of five delegates from each country association) decided on policy matters by consensus. The biannual ASCOJA Conference was originally distinct from the meetings of the Board of Governors or the Council, but over time, these meetings were collapsed within the single event – the ASCOJA Conference.
Three years after ASCOJA was established, the Japan Solidarity Committee for Asian Alumni (JASCAA) was organized in 1980, envisioned to serve as the Japan counterpart organization vis-à-vis ASCOJA, thereby recognizing the importance Japan placed on ASEAN relations – even providing a channel to promote, enhance and funnel Japan relations with ASEAN through the latter’s alumni associations.
In April 2000, the Asia Japan Alumni (ASJA) International was established to assume the original role of JASCAA. A fulltime ASJA Secretariat was established headed by a Secretary-General. ASJA is now a key conduit of Japan Government scholarships and grants to ASEAN, through ASCOJA. In turn, ASCOJA member associations hold one seat in the ASJA Board of Directors which meets annually in Tokyo.
Myanmar Association of Japan Alumni / MAJA became a member of ASCOJA.
Japan Alumni of Cambodia / JAC and Japan Alumni of Vietnam / JAV became members of ASCOJA.
Japan Alumni Organization of Laos / JAOL became a member of ASCOJA.
Brunei Association of Japan Alumni / BAJA rejoined ASCOJA as a member.
BAJA received Chairmanship for ASCOJA in 2017
ASCOJA celebrates 40 years since establishment in 2017