By SAMANTHA MASUNAGA
RAFU STAFF INTERN
In honor of the 50th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Los Angeles and the city of Nagoya, the Los Angeles City Council presented a proclamation to recently elected Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura on Friday.
Speaking in front of the Council at City Hall, Kawamura thanked the city for its support.
“We’ve had a strong relationship both economically and culturally,” he said.
He also discussed the similarities between Los Angeles and Nagoya and praised the Council meetings for their consideration of resident input.
“Los Angeles sets the model,” Kawamura said. “It’s a big city with a large population, but it reflects the local voice.”
Various councilmembers also welcomed the mayor, including Jan Perry of Council District 9, Herb Wesson Jr. of Council District 10, and Jose Huizar, councilman for council district 14.
Both Wesson and Huizar spoke of their visits to Nagoya, reflecting upon museum trips and memorable meals, in addition to the character of the city.
“(Nagoya) respects and honors traditions while advancing technologically,” Huizar said.
Perry also announced the beginning of Nisei Week during the meeting and encouraged the Council to attend the various taiko drumming, sumo, and martial arts demonstrations, in addition to the parade on Sunday.
In accordance with tradition, she also introduced the 2009 Nisei Week
Court, all of whom spoke briefly about the activities planned for the upcoming week.
After the meeting, the court was presented with individual resolutions from the Council in recognition of their achievements.
On Thursday, during an interview with the Rafu Shimpo, Kawamura displayed the relaxed and breezy demeanor that was one of the keys to his election to Nagoya’s mayoral seat in April. He said he considers himself a humorist as well as a politician, and he has made numerous appearances on Japanese entertainment programs.
“I’m closer to the common people of Nagoya that I am to the political establishment,” Kawamura said at the Kyoto Grand Hotel on Thursday. “I want to be someone who represents everyone who lives in Nagoya.”
Kawamura, 60, was a member of the Democratic Party of Japan and the country’s House of Representatives before resigning his seat to run for mayor of Nagoya. He ran his campaign on a platform of reform, at a time when Nagoya and Aichi Prefecture find themselves especially hard hit by the ongoing recession.
Toyota, one of the major industrial forces of Japan, is located in Aichi and like the global auto industry, has seen a huge downturn in sales.
However, change is slowed by built-in resistance in Japan’s political structure.
“After President Obama was elected, there are some things he could change immediately,” Kawamura explained. “He is able to appoint people to certain posts or fire others.
In Japan, it’s very difficult to reform the previous administration because career politicians can run for office forever.”
The lack of term limits combines with lavish salaries and fat pensions to keep the same leaders in power, sometimes for generations.
“That is very common in Japan. It’s quite bad, very cruel,” Kawamura lamented. “Sometimes, in trying to change things, I feel as if I’m very lonely, in a desert.”
One of his first acts as mayor was to refuse the pension that would be offered after he leaves office and to take a pay of two-thirds, as compared to his predecessor. He has also proposed ideas to help reduce energy use in Nagoya, including lining city streets with plants to absorb carbon emissions and designing buildings so that wind moves through them, lessening the need for air conditioning.
Kawamura has expressed a keen interest in the structure of municipal governments in the U.S. and sees this visit to Los Angeles as a valuable opportunity.
He also said he would like to expand the activities between the two Sister Cities to include student exchanges.
“I want them to be able to experience meeting people in urban centers, to see the night life and visit fun places like restaurants and honky tonks,” he said.
The mayor’s activities this weekend include a symbolic cherry-tree planting ceremony Saturday morning at the corner of First and Main streets.
He and the rest of the Nagoya delegation also participated in the
Nisei Week Grand Parade through the streets of Little Tokyo on Sunday.
—Additional reporting by MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS