Asian American State Legislators Meet with Top Japanese Government, Business Leaders

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From left: Shuichi Ohno, president, Sasakawa Peace Foundation; Rep. Theresa Mah of Illinois; Delegate Mark Chang of Maryland; Assemblymember Steven Choi of California; Yohei Sasakawa, honorary chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and chairman of the Nippon Foundation; U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano Inouye; Sen. Michelle Kidani of Hawaii; Rep. Fue Lee of Minnesota; Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou of New York; National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators Director Irene Kawanabe.

WASHINGTON – Six state elected officials from diverse Asian American backgrounds and regions recently traveled to Japan as part of the 2018 Asian American Leadership Delegation (AALD) program.

From Nov. 30 to Dec. 8, the delegation traveled to Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka. They exchanged ideas with Japanese political and government leaders, business executives, nonprofit leaders and academics, creating networks that can mutually benefit the U.S.-Japan relationship.

AALD is in its fifth year, and the 2018 delegation included the following six legislators, four of whom were visiting Japan for the first time:

• Delegate Mark Chang, Maryland General Assembly

• Assemblymember Steven Choi, California State Assembly

• Sen. Michelle Kidani, Hawaii State Senate

• Rep. Fue Lee, Minnesota House of Representatives

• Rep. Theresa Mah, Illinois House of Representatives

• Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou, New York State Assembly

Government leaders the legislators met included Yuriko Koike, the governor of Tokyo, and members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly; Daisaku Kadokawa, mayor of Kyoto, and the president and vice president of the Kyoto City Assembly; and the president and vice president of the Osaka City Council.

They also met with U.S. Ambassador to Japan William Hagerty and Joseph Young, deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo; members of the National Diet; and officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Business leaders included representatives of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation) and Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives). They also met with leaders of Daikin, IBM Japan and Panasonic; Kansai Keizai Doyukai; the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan; Yohei Sasakawa, honorary chairman of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and chairman of the Nippon Foundation; and Shuichi Ohno, president of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation; and journalists at Kyodo News and The Nikkei Asian Review.

The delegates also spoke at a panel discussion in Osaka titled “Diversity in Leadership: The Journey of Asian American State Legislators.” This was co-hosted by U.S.-Japan Council and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. The delegates shared their varied personal and professional journeys as Asian Americans, including their careers before becoming politicians. They also spoke about the importance of diversity in politics, especially as it relates to current events.

Karen Kelley, U.S. consul general for Osaka-Kobe, moderated the discussion.

Chang, who is a first-generation Korean American, has served as outreach chairman of the Maryland Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus.

Choi emigrated from South Korea to the U.S. as a Peace Corps language instructor, and went on to earn a Ph.D. in library and information science.

Kidani, who has Japanese ancestry, credits her multiracial background for her compassion for minorities.

Lee, who is of Hmong descent, came to the U.S. as a refugee, and was elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives when he was 25 years old.

Mah was the first Asian American elected to the Illinois General Assembly in its 200-year history.

Niou, who is Taiwanese American, helped form New York State’s first Asian Pacific American Legislative Task Force.

USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, as well as Irene Kawanabe, director of the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL), accompanied the delegation.

AALD is funded by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and implemented by USJC, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization dedicated to building people-to-people relations between the U.S. and Japan, in collaboration with NAPACSL For more information on the program and full biographies of the delegates, see: www.usjapancouncil.org/aald

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