Article by Larry Oda, President of National JACL
Early in March a group of Japanese Americans who were chosen by various Consulate-Generals of Japan from throughout the United States, left on a week long journey of discovery. I had the honor and privilege of being nominated for the 2007 Japanese American Leadership Delegation to Japan by Consul General Makoto Yamanaka of the San Francisco Consulate. I accompanied twelve other individuals from throughout the United States on a trip sponsored by the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP). The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) provided administration and organization for the trip. President Irene Hirano accompanied us, along with Mr. Hiroshi Furusawa, Consul from the Los Angeles Consulate.
The purpose of the trip was to give Japanese American leaders an opportunity to become acquainted with Japan and to meet and exchange information with Japanese leaders in government, business, and cultural sectors. The trip is also an opportunity to give Japanese leaders a greater understanding about multicultural America through the experiences of a diverse group of Japanese Americans.
To prepare for the trip the delegation spent an orientation weekend in Los Angeles getting acquainted with each other and the history of Japanese in America, as well as a concentrated briefing on all aspects of Japan's political structure, economics, and current affairs.
The delegation consisted of Susan Eichor, President and Chief Operating Officer of aio Group Honolulu, Hawaii; Donna Shimoda Hollingshead, Executive Director, Office of the Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland; Brian Matsumoto, President, Resources International, Aurora, Colorado; Brennon Morioka, Deputy Director Hawaii State Department of Transportation, Honolulu, Hawaii; Albert Muratshuchi, Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice, Los Angeles, California; Eric Nishizawa, Attorney, Los Angeles, California; Miko Sawamura, Chief, Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, California Department of Health Services, Sacramento, California; Michelle Sugahiro, Project Director, AmeriCorps VISTA Training, Portland, Oregon; Robert Takagi, General Manager, Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago, Illinois; Sandra Tanamachi, Educator, S.F. Austin Elementary School, Freeport, Texas; Harold Taniguchi, Director, King County Department of Transportation, Seattle, Washington; Donna Tsufura, Filmmaker, New York, New York; and myself.
I was honored to have been part of this delegation. My fellow delegates were very influential leaders not only locally, but regionally and nationally, and not only professionally but in their community involvement. Within the delegation there were varying degrees of knowledge of Japan, 4 of our members had never been to Japan and a like number had gone to school in Japan or had lived there.
The delegation spent 8 nights in Japan, five in Tokyo, one on Kyoto and two in Hiroshima. We visited with high ranking government officials, elected representatives, Japanese business leaders, Japanese Americans doing business in Japan, as well as with educators and citizens. The MOFA provided a very knowledgeable guide and interpreter in Ms. Eiko Sato, to explain the culture and point out the historical significant sites.
In Tokyo, as the seat of government, we visited many high ranking officials at the MOFA offices, the Speaker of the House at his residence, the Prime Minister's Official Residence, the US Embassy, and were privileged to have an audience with Her Imperial Highness, Princess Takamado, at her residence.
In Kyoto the visit was more of a cultural orientation nature. We saw Kinkaku-ji (the Golden Pavilion), attended a lecture and performance of Kyogen at the home of a 13th generation Kyogen Master, and toured Kyoto by bus and on foot. Some of us walked through the Gion district and others took advantage of shopping. Those that went to Gion saw the many Meiko-san (Geisha) schools and were fortunate to see three, scurrying to classes or appointments.
In Hiroshima, we made a courtesy call to the City Offices and were received by the Vice Mayor and his staff before visiting the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. At the Peace Museum, after a short tour we were fortunate to have a private audience with Ms. Miyoko Matsubara, an A-Bomb survivor. In the afternoon, the CGP organized a symposium where three of our members, Harold Taniguchi, Sandra Tanamachi, and Donna Shimoda Hollingshead discussed "Japanese Americans at a Crossroad, Connecting Past, Present and Future" for the public and invited guests. We visited Miyajima Island and the Itsukushima Shrine before returning to Tokyo.
This was the most significant journey of my life. I am extremely grateful to Consul General Yamanaka, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the Japanese American National Museum for the opportunity to take part in this program. I saw and learned so much and had access to people and places that are only seen in pictures. The experience of hearing the actual words of a Hibakusha, and interacting with Princess Takamado will be part of my fondest of memories. Beyond that, I have developed a deep abiding respect and friendships with my fellow delegates, and the individuals we met in Japan. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to take part in this wonderful program and feel a profound sense of indebtedness that I can only begin to repay.