By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki thanked Japanese Americans for helping with disaster relief in Japan and congratulated the community on its achievements during an appearance Saturday at the JACL National Convention, held over the weekend at the Renaissance Hollywood Hotel.
Fujisaki, who was also a speaker at last year’s convention in Chicago, expressed gratitude on behalf of those who were impacted by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami: “After 3/11, people around the world helped us, but especially Americans. And at the core of the Americans were our Japanese American friends. We are coming back, but we could not have come this far without your assistance, your help, your friendship. So thank you very much for standing with us … I assure you the Japanese people will never forget about it.”
The ambassador had just come from a luncheon held by the Japan America Society and the World Affairs Council in Century City, where he discussed “Japan’s Road to Recovery.”
Fujisaki noted that Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) has been named a recipient of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia, the Japanese government’s highest honor for civilians, for his contributions to U.S.-Japan relations.
“Only seven Americans have received this in the past 150 years of Japan-American relations, and he’s the first Japanese American to receive it,” said Fujisaki, who expressed hope that Inouye — the most senior member of the Senate and third in line for presidential succession — will continue to serve “for many years to come.”
Of his relationship with the Nikkei community, Fujisaki recalled, “Since I came to Washington in 2008, I was more and more intrigued by the history of Japanese Americans. I went to the (National) Japanese American Memorial near the Capitol right after my arrival with my wife, and I was so impressed that I showed the place to Prime Minister (Naoto) Kan, Finance Minister (Yoshihiko) Noda, Foreign Minister (Seiji) Maehara, Defense Minister (Toshimi) Kitazawa, and all of them were very much impressed.
“Also, I introduced Defense Minister Kitazawa and Foreign Minister Maehara to our JAVA (Japanese American Veterans Association) friends and they had a very good meeting. The Japanese politicians have learned more about Japanese American history.”
Despite facing discrimination for decades, “you have overcome that with dignity and you have won the respect of all Americans, and you have now such a respectable place in the strongest nation in the world, so congratulations to all Japanese Americans for that,” Fujisaki said.
He added, “What I respect most is that right after 9/11, Japanese Americans issued a message …‘We urge citizens not to release their anger on innocent American citizens simply because of their ethnic origin … Let us not make the same mistake that the nation made … following the attack of Pearl Harbor.’ ”
Fujisaki compared JACL’s stand 10 years ago with that taken by a few individuals during World War II, such as Colorado Gov. Ralph Carr, who opposed the internment and encouraged Japanese Americans to settle in his state; and Hawaii Gov. John Burns, who, as a Honolulu police captain, urged equal treatment of Japanese Americans and helped form the 100th Battalion/442nd Regimental Combat Team.
“I think that it would be wonderful if JACL would try to convey to future generations of Japanese Americans or people in Japan … these courageous deeds of non-Japanese American individuals during the war,” Fujisaki said, suggesting some kind of award or scholarship.
A fellow Japanese diplomat — Chiune Sugihara, who defied his government and helped thousands of Jews to escape the Holocaust— is another reminder of what one courageous individual can accomplish, Fujisaki said. “Jewish people still remember and honor Japanese for what Sugihara did.”
Earlier in the day, the 2011 Nikkei Conference, held jointly by JACL and the California Japanese American Community Leadership Council, included a workshop on the role of Japanese Americans in U.S.-Japan relations. The panelists were Consul General Junichi Ihara, Tracey Doi of Toyota Motor Sales USA, and Kaz Maniwa of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, with Bryan Takeda of the U.S.-Japan Council as moderator and Floyd Shimomura, JACL legal counsel, as commentator.