U.S.-Japan Council Conference Heads for L.A.

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Three-day confab seeks to engage next generation of Nikkei leaders.

By ELLEN ENDO, Rafu Shimpo

When the U.S.-Japan Council Conference convenes in Hollywood on Nov. 4-5, the emphasis will be as much on the future as it is on the present.

This is because one of the main objectives for this year’s conference, according to USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, is to continue to encourage young Japanese Americans to become involved in their communities. For the past several years, she has led the creation of programs designed to engage the next generation of leaders, urging them to take on important roles in their communities.

Irene Hirano Inouye

As a result, more than half of the anticipated 700-750 attendees will be young men and women. Among them will be alumni from across the country who have participated in previous USJC programs and will have opportunities to interact with USJC’s corporate and civic leaders.

The conference will also explore the development of artificial intelligence (AI) and will launch the first USJC Leadership Workshops, a national pilot program of seminars that will provide hands-on skills training and professional development opportunities.

The full spectrum of speakers will include prominent international executives, sports stars, and members of Hollywood’s creative community. Among them will be Bobby Webster, a Yonsei who is general manager of the 2019 NBA champion Toronto Raptors, and Maia and Alex Shibutani, world champion ice dancers. Award-winning author and futurist Amy Webb, founder and CEO of the Future Today Institute, will also be featured.

“Sports is an area where there’s a lot of young talent,” Hirano Inouye notes, adding she hopes “people will come away inspired by the accomplishments of the young talent. It’s important to grow the younger generation, invest in young people.”

She adds that USJC’s Tomodachi Initiative has enabled over 8,000 Japanese and young Americans to visit and study in each other’s countries. “We’ve developed a strong alumni group of young people over the past eight years.”

From the corporate world, Takeshi Uchiyamada, Toyota Motor Corporation chairman, and Kazuo Hirai, senior advisor and former president and CEO of Sony, will be speaking at the conference as well as Marc Knapper, deputy assistant secretary for Korea and Japan, Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, U.S. Department of State.

Hirano Inouye underscored the significance of holding the conference in Los Angeles for the first time. “Our 10th year is an appropriate time to showcase Los Angeles and the role it has played in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.”

She is the founding president and CEO of the L.A.-based Japanese American National Museum, where, among other initiatives, she established the Japanese American Leadership Delegation, a program that each year invites a select group of Japanese American leaders from across the U.S. to travel to Japan to engage with Japanese leaders in the business, government, academic, nonprofit and cultural sectors. Next year will mark the 20th anniversary of the program, which is administered by USJC in conjunction with Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Consulate General of Japan.

USJC was founded in 2008 by a group of Japanese Americans who envisioned creating an organization that would be focused on strengthening the people-to-people relationship between the U.S. and Japan. Individuals like philanthropist Dr. Paul I. Terasaki and Hirano Inouye’s late husband, U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye, “created a strong foundation” for impactful growth, she observes.

“Part of the senator’s hope is that there would be people engaged in their communities but also involved in politics, involved in campaigns, civically engaged, so important in our communities. There isn’t as much (engagement) as we would hope, but we can help people understand the importance of getting involved.

“By bringing together people who are serving on corporate boards but also on nonprofit boards, we can expand those opportunities for future connections at the business and nonprofit level.”

Another key aspect of the event is its location. “We will be in Hollywood, one of the growing areas where there has been a strong relationship (between the U.S. and Japan). Looking at technology, there is an opportunity for partnerships in AI and new technologies…a chance to look at what’s happening in Southern California.”

She cites Sony’s Hirai as an example. “Sony’s rebirth began under Hirai’s leadership. It’s an example of the significance of the role a leader like Hirai can play. Japan has a big presence here with Sony Pictures.”

She continued, “We’re proud we have built a foundation. Going forward, the council is going to continue in the development of leaders. We might have high school and college individuals involved, expand leadership roles, and then involve senior leaders who can help open doors.

“What the conference will provide is a chance to meet a broad range of individuals. (Conferees) will be able to hear from inspiring speakers, larger areas of U.S.-Japan relations, including trade.

“In terms of Japanese American community specifically, I’ve found it is much more diverse than it was when it began with the Issei. Japanese born in U.S. who choose to study in Japan. People from multiple backgrounds. I think the council in many ways has been a place where that diversity is reflected.

“Sansei and Yonsei have had a connection. For many, they never had that connection. You might have grown up in Texas. We also need to bring together the newer Japanese who have chosen to live here. We have many JAs who are now living and working in Japan, which is another community. It’s a wonderful network.”

Prior to the conference (Nov. 1-3), the Japan America Society of Southern California is presenting Japan Cuts Hollywood (http://japancutshollywood.com), a film festival celebrating Japanese cinema.

Some spaces are still available for those wishing to attend the conference. For details, visit http://www.usjapancouncil.org/us_japan_council_annual_conference.

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