By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
A distinguished group representing 10 areas of the U.S. has been selected for the 2014 Japanese American Leadership Delegation, which will visit Japan from March 7 to 14.
Supported by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs with the participation of the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and administered by the U.S.-Japan Council, the program is designed to “involve Japanese American leaders from throughout the U.S. and in Japan to the larger U.S.-Japan relationship,” said USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, who traveled with the 13 previous delegations and will be going this year as well.
Also accompanying the group will be Consul Izuru Shimmura from the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles, which has been involved with JALD since its inception.
In addition to Tokyo, the delegation will visit Fukuoka, one of the prefectures from which man of the early Japanese immigrants came. “So there are strong prefectural connections with Japanese American communities, certainly in Hawaii and California in particular,” said Hirano Inouye. “My grandmother and grandfather on my father’s side came from Fukuoka and my late husband Sen. (Daniel) Inouye’s parents also came from Fukuoka. We have two members of the delegation who have roots in Fukuoka as well.
Fukuoka Gov. Hiroshi Ogawa, who will meet with the delegation, is one of six governors working with the USJC to build relationships between prefectures of Japan and regions of the U.S.
The delegates are also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, Princess Takamado, officials of the U.S. Embassy, and members of the Diet, Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and Forum 21, a leadership development group for business executives.
The 2011 delegation was in Tokyo when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. Subsequent delegations visited Fukushima to see the impact of the tsunami first-hand and to meet with NGO (non-governmental organization) and NPO (non-profit organization) leaders working to rebuild the Tohoku region.
Hirano Inouye and other USJC officials introduced the following delegates — four of whom will be visiting Japan for the first time — to the Nikkei media on Jan. 24 at the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center in Little Tokyo:
• Elisa Dozono, a Yonsei from Portland, Ore., whose ancestral origins are in Fukuoka and Okayama on her paternal side and Tokushima and Chiba on her maternal side. She is a partner at Miller Nash LLP, where she specializes in business litigation and government law; chair of the Oregon State Lottery Commission; a member of the Metro Exposition Recreation Commission; and a member of the Governor’s Judicial Screening Committee.
“I’ve been on two trade delegations (to Japan) … one when I was with the Mayor’s Office and one when I was with the Port Authority,” said Dozono. “I think a lot of it is the relationships … because a lot of government officials change quite frequently, so having the council to be a link between the U.S. and Japan, I think, is very important. We have a lot of connections.”
• Leona Hiraoka, originally from Los Angeles, is vice president at Washington, D.C.-based Points of Light. She is a senior communications executive, enterprise-level strategist, and media entrepreneur specializing in advancing client company goals with targeted audiences using integrated media platforms and marketing. Her ancestral origins are in Hiroshima and Kumamoto on her paternal side and Yamaguchi on her maternal side.
On visiting Japan for the first time, Hiraoka said, “I was involved early on with the Asian American Journalists Association, I’m an officer with the Japanese American Citizens League, I’ve written on Asian American issues and been able to give my children a real sense of their culture. One of my daughters has been to Japan three times already. For work I’ve traveled internationally, yet not had the opportunity to actually do any work in Japan. So this leadership delegation offers a wonderful opportunity to learn more about my heritage first-hand and to also contribute to building bridges between the two countries in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible.”
• Yoriko Kishimoto is a former mayor of Palo Alto, an international business consultant, co-author of “The Third Century: America’s Resurgence in the Asian Era,” and a director of the Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District. Her ancestral origins are in Osaka on her father’s side and Shiga on her mother’s side. Born in Japan, she grew up in the U.S. and was inspired to work on bilateral relations when she visited Japan as a college student.
“When I was mayor, my call to action was to build a green economy through innovation, so that’s the passion that I want to bring” to the delegation, said Kishimoto, adding, “Even though there are many personal connections between the U.S. and Japan … there’s also a deeper, structural understanding that needs to continue to be improved. For example … both countries come from such different energy situations that energy decision-making is completely different … but it’s so essential that the two countries cooperate.”
• Brad Miyake, a Sansei born and raised in Seattle, is acting city manager and former deputy city manager of Bellevue, Wash., where he oversees a biennial budget of approximately $1.3 billion, over 1,200 employees, and all city operations. His ancestral origins are in Hiroshima Prefecture and this will be his first visit to Japan.
“I’m very interested in finding more about my heritage, where my parents are from, my grandparents are from,” he commented. “I’m particularly interested in learning more about the cultural and economic relationships … especially with emphasis on local government.”
• Carrie Okinaga of Honolulu is general counsel and corporate secretary for First Hawaiian Bank, served as corporation counsel of the City and County of Honolulu through three mayoral administrations, and is a board member of the Honolulu Authority for Rapid Transportation (HART), which oversees the county’s first elevated fixed-guideway mass transit system. Her ancestral roots are in Fukuoka on her paternal side and Kumamoto on her maternal side.
“I’ve been to Japan twice, but not had the opportunity to visit Fukuoka,” she said. “I think it will be a very emotional experience to be able to visit where your ancestors came from, so I’m very much looking forward to that. Some of my fondest memories from childhood was going to the Fukuoka Kenjinkai picnics in Hawaii.”
• Derek Okubo of Denver, the son of a Sansei mother and Nisei father, is Mayor Michael Hancock’s appointee as executive director of the Agency for Human Rights and Community Partnerships, a position once held by the late civil rights leader Min Yasui, one of his role models. He has visited Japan six times, most recently as part of United Airlines’ inaugural flight from Denver to Tokyo. His ancestral origins are in Toyama on his paternal side and Hiroshima on his maternal side.
“I can’t emphasize enough the opportunity that the U.S.-Japan Council has provided for these face-to-face interactions on topics of serious relevance for all of our communities,” he remarked. “I know that in Denver, Japan is very much a priority … in a number of areas, economically, educationally, culturally, recreation and sports.”
• Keiko Matsudo Orrall of Boston is the first Japanese American elected to the Massachusetts Legislature, where she has served for two years. She is the ranking minority (Republican) member of the Joint Committees on Labor and Workforce Development as well as State Administration and Regulatory Oversight. Her father is from Hawaii and his parents were from Okinawa. This will be her first visit to Japan.
“This is a dream come true … I am very interested in learning more about women’s roles in government and within the business community,” she said. “I’m also very interested in learning about and strengthening relationships with Japanese businesses to further economic development, especially in Massachusetts … This is a great opportunity to learn about my heritage and I’m very honored to participate in this delegation.”
• Toko Serita was born in Sapporo, Hokkaido, came to the U.S. as a child with her parents, and grew up in New York, where she is a Criminal Court judge and the first Japanese American to serve on the bench. She currently presides over the Human Trafficking Intervention Court in Queens County, which deals with domestic and foreign victims of sex trafficking, and also presides over the drug treatment and mental health courts in Queens.
“My court has served as a model for the creation of trafficking courts throughout New York state, an initiative that was developed in October last year,” she said. “I look forward to this trip to increase communication between the judiciary in Japan and the U.S.”
• Keith Walters of Santa Monica is Nisei on his mother’s side and was raised in Monterey Park. A lieutenant colonel in the Army, he is a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, taught military history at West Point, and currently serves as an Army research fellow in East Asia policy studies with the RAND Corporation.
Stressing that he was not speaking on behalf of the Army or RAND, Walters noted that politics in East Asia are becoming “volatile” and could lead to conflict. “A lot of people in the United States … don’t see the bigger picture or the historical background of the relationships in East Asia. So with the U.S.-Japan Council, this is one vehicle to educate the American public on the relationships and educate the American people on what’s at stake … for the U.S. and Japan as we enter this dynamic period.”
• Gary Yamashiroya, a native of Chicago, has been with the Chicago Police Department for over 27 years and is currently a detective commander. He is also a professor of criminal justice at Truman College and an attorney licensed in Illinois and Hawaii. He is Yonsei on his father’s side and Nisei on his mother’s side, and his parents’ roots are in Yamaguchi and Hiroshima, respectively.
On visiting Japan for the first time, Yamashiroya said, “My parents met in Japan, they were married there and came back to the U.S. I think it would be wonderful to see what my father experienced when he went to Japan. But also in Chicago with the Police Department, we do host a lot of delegations that are coming over to do research about how we do things … in the criminal justice field. So it would be interesting for me to go there and actually see what they’re telling me about what’s going on in Japan and maybe make some good connections so we can continue to improve that relationship.”
Hirano Inouye said that over the years it has been rewarding for her to see the delegates “come back very enthused and very committed to contributing in some way within their own region to building a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship.”
In addition, she said, “Most of them didn’t know each other before they came together. They get to meet each other, they build friendships and they have a chance to build a network among themselves as well as the alumni from the other delegations. That building of a network among Japanese American leaders is important for the Japanese American community …
“Many of the delegates have returned to Japan, have taken their families, in some cases have had a chance to take their parents who maybe have never gone to Japan … Each member of the delegation has roots in Japan that they may not know about.They can extend it to their families, to their friends … That’s been a very important byproduct of the trips.”
For more information, visit www.usjapancouncil.org.
Individual photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo