If the average American's understanding of Japan was wanting, the Oil Shock and Japan's nimble response to it, especially in the area of automotive exports, created a whole new demand for information. U.S. companies made urgent calls for information about Japanese automobile makers. Given the proximity to Detroit, it was natural that the Center provided the Big Three U.S. auto makers with information about the Japanese automobile industry that, at the time, no one else in the U.S. had. The need for information led to a joint effort with Technova, a Japanese think-tank that in turn resulted in the "Joint U.S.-Japan Automotive Study." The study was financed by Toyota with substantial support from the U.S. Big Three. The study group also included members of the United Auto Workers union. So urgent was the need for accurate information that at the original auto conference held on campus in 1981, more than 1,200 attendees were present when only about half the number had been expected! The initial conferences and publications, which expanded throughout the 1980s, were among the earliest sources for information about some of the key overall principles considered to underlie Japanese automotive and economic success. The U.S.-Japan Automotive Study resulted in a comprehensive report published in 1984, and it was followed by the formation of the International Auto Industry Forum, which was active from 1984-1990. Meetings with representatives from car-making countries throughout the world rotated annually from the United States to Japan sites. These large-scale conferences were supplemented in the mid-1980s by practical seminars for interested business people, including executives from Ford Motor Company and Dow Corning, for example.
The 1980s brought more and more world attention to Japan. The Japanese economy was now a juggernaut. The country continued to play a larger and larger role on the world stage, while it struggled with the newfound scrutiny of its international responsibilities. As interest in all things Japanese continued to swell, University of Michigan faculty saw increasing enrollment in virtually every course having to do with things Japanese.
Paralleling the expanding number of lecturers and publications in all fields, the core Japanese language courses offered since 1936, saw enrollment jump as well. Business-related activities expanded too, and in 1983, the Center joined with the School of Business Administration to offer the MA/MBA degree in Japanese studies and business. Also, in 1985, the Center for Japanese Studies, the Center for Chinese Studies, and the School of Business Administration began a joint venture called "The East Asia Business Program." To strengthen the capacity of American business in East Asia, the program included promoting both a general understanding of East Asia and specific knowledge needed to cope with current business problems and opportunities. It included executive seminars on Japan and China, academic conferences, single company presentations, a joint degree program in East Asian studies and international business, internships for graduate students, business-related language training, and more.
Short workshops, such as the East Asia Business Program’s "Negotiating with the Japanese," became quite popular and continued to be offered through many of the scholars and programs affiliated with the Center for Japanese Studies.
In a Center effort to balance business issues with the arts and the humanities, the 1980s saw, among other things, a focus on Japanese literature publications. In emphasizing the cultural dimension, the Center, which had been showing Japanese films almost constantly since the early 1970s, also revamped its annual film festivals. Since then, thousands of viewers continue to be exposed to the best critically acclaimed and popular films of the Japanese cinema, many with little other international exposure. Over 500 films, including documentaries, animation, classics, experimental films, and popular favorites, have been shown in their original Japanese (with English subtitles) to Ann Arbor audiences. The free screenings, normally open to the public, have also been used in conjunction with semester-long courses, public lectures, and seminars from leading scholars on Japanese history, film, and society. The Center also supports on a yearly basis, a variety of other performances including Japanese music, theater, and more, giving Japanese artists and American audiences rare opportunities for direct interaction.