Article by Miyoko Katsura Sawamura, Chief of the Office of Regulations and Hearings, California Department of Public Health


Miyoko Katsura Sawamura
2007 Japanese American Leadership Delegation to Japan
March 2 - 11, 2007
Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima


A thirteen-member delegation of Japanese Americans from throughout the United States was chosen by their Consulate Generals of Japan to be part of a life-changing trip to Japan. I am extremely privileged and honored to have been nominated by Consul General Makoto Yamanaka of the San Francisco Consulate of Japan. I am honored and humbled to be a member of the 2007 Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD). This program is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) and Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP). The Japanese American National Museum (JANM) serves as the coordinator of the JALD. I am forever grateful to these three visionary partners for giving my fellow delegates and me the opportunity of a lifetime. Irene Hirano, President & CEO, JANM, and Consul Hiroshi Furuzawa, Los Angeles Consulate of Japan, accompanied us to Japan. Their patience, guidance and leadership have been an invaluable part of our JALD experience.


The goals of the JALD include improve understanding and strengthening long-term relations between Japan and Japanese Americans, develop and implement ongoing strategies to expand the role of Japanese Americans in advancing U.S. - Japan relations and develop a network of Japanese American leaders that will continue to advance U.S. - Japan relations on a long-term basis.


The JALD began with a very critical orientation held February 2-3, 2007, at JANM. The 13 delegates received a historical perspective of U.S.-Japan relations, talked about issues facing Japanese and Japanese Americans, received a brief history about Hiroshima pre and post-World War II, and an overview of the official trip and roles/responsibilities as delegates. The orientation also provided an opportunity for the 13-member delegation to meet each other prior to departing for Japan. We are grateful to Consul General Kazuo Kodama of the Los Angeles Consulate of Japan for hosting a wonderful reception and dinner at his residence. Previous delegates provided great stories of their trips and offered important tips for the new delegates. Prior to our departure for Japan, we scheduled several optional conference calls to keep each other informed and share our thoughts about the upcoming trip to Japan.


To give you an idea of who we are as a delegation, we represent 9 states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Texas, and Washington), four members had never been to Japan, the majority of members are Sansei or Yonsei, several members speak Japanese fluently and a few members previously lived and/or studied in Japan. We are also diverse in terms of our professional backgrounds, such as, government, media, non-profit, education, law and business. I want to tell you that I was, and still am, in awe of the accomplishments of my fellow delegates, not only in terms of their work experience as established leaders, but also their extensive community volunteer efforts. I have developed a deep abiding respect for my fellow delegates and will treasure their friendships for many years to come.


My fellow 2007 JALD delegates are: Susan Eichor, President & COO, aio Group, Honolulu, Hawaii; Donna Shimoda Hollingshead, Executive Director in the Office of the Deputy Superintendent of Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, Rocklin, Maryland; Brian Matsumoto, Mobility Specialist, Pathways Home Care Center, President, Resources International, Inc., Aurora, Colorado; Dr. Brennon Morioka, Deputy Director, Hawaii State Department of Transportation, Kailua, Hawaii; Albert Muratsuchi, Deputy Attorney General, California Department of Justice, Torrance, California; Eric Yoshiaki Nishizawa, Attorney, Law Offices of Eric Y. Nishizawa, Los Angeles, California; Larry Oda, Manager, Fleet Maintenance, City of Salinas, Monterey, California; Michelle Sugahiro, Project Director, Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory, Portland, Oregon; Robert Takagi, General Manager, Chicago Transit Authority, Glenview, Illinois; Sandra Tanamachi, Teacher, Brazosport, Texas; Harold Taniguchi, Director, King County Department of Transportation, Seattle, Washington, and Donna Tsufura, Media Creator and Global Connector, New York, New York. I now work for the California Department of Public Health, Office of Legal Services in Sacramento, California. I am the Chief of the Office of Regulations and Hearings.


Our trip started in Tokyo, followed by one day in Kyoto and two days in Hiroshima. We were privileged to meet with many high ranking government officials, elected officials, Japanese business leaders, Japanese Americans doing business in Japan, educators and citizens. We were also provided cultural orientations in each of the cities. One of the many highlights of this trip included an audience with Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado. Throughout the trip, we were provided the most wonderful guide and interpreter, Eiko Sato. She provided the subtleties of Japan that we would otherwise have missed, resulting in a more in depth experience, even for those delegates familiar with Japan.


Our official visits began in Tokyo on Monday, March 5th. We visited with many high ranking officials of MOFA, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Diet members and the U.S. Embassy. We enjoyed candid discussion and open exchange with these officials, which reinforced the importance of U.S.-Japan relations and our role as delegate members. In addition, we met with Forum 21 and Keidanren. The delegation members emphasized how important it was meeting with them to establish important people-to-people relations to build on enhancing U.S.-Japan relations. We are all hopeful that we can be resources to each other in the future. We were also privileged to receive a guided tour of Kantei, the official residence of the Prime Minister. The delegation enjoyed the unique opportunity to tour the press briefing room, where each delegate had their picture taken behind the podium.


We were so honored to have an audience with HIH Princess Takamado at her residence. I was so nervous I was going to make a mistake introducing her HIH Princess Takamado to the delegation and thus, shaming my family name, I could barely breathe. However, I soon found out I had nothing to worry about. When HIH Princess Takamado entered the room we rose to greet her. She exuded graciousness, charm and intelligence. She immediately put us at ease. She is such a wonderful role model and representative of modern Japan. This meeting with HIH Princess Takamado was indeed a highlight of the trip for me.


March 8th began our day in Kyoto. We had the honor of a personal demonstration and performance by Kyogen master Mr. Masakuni Shigeyama of the Okura Ryu (school) at his personal residence. Mr. Shigeyama is the 14th generation in his family that performs this highly stylized art form. Mr. Shigeyama and another Kyogen actor performed Bonsan (The Dwarf Tree Thief). After the performance we had lunch and enjoyed a cultural orientation of Kyoto. We enjoyed the historical sites such as the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku Ji) and the Heian Jingu. Since Kyoto is world renown for its mingei-ya, traditional Japanese crafts, we visited shops in downtown Kyoto, which market these crafts to the public. We also went to the Gion section of Kyoto where we saw a maiko stroll by in her magnificent kimono and elaborate makeup.


Upon arrival in Hiroshima, we had dinner with our CGP symposium organizers. It was a nice way to end our evening and prepare for the symposium the following day. Delegation members were asked to share their personal thoughts or reflections about the trip thus far. The common thread, of course, was that we are all so honored to be a part of this special trip and program.


Friday, March 9th marked our first day in Hiroshima. Acting Mayor, Yasushi Yamada and his staff received us at the Hiroshima City Office. He provided a brief history about the bombing of Hiroshima and hoped that we would learn much from the Peace Memorial Museum visit. He closed our meeting by asking the delegation to play a more important role in ensuring the success of future endeavors among Japan and Japanese Americans.


Mr. Kawada greeted us when we arrived at the Peace Memorial Museum. He encouraged us to see as much of the museum as possible in the short amount of time we had and made some suggestions for "first timers." After our tour we were fortunate to have a private meeting with Ms. Miyoko Matsubara, an A-bomb survivor. It was such an honor to meet her and hear her story. Ms. Matsubara was so kind to sign her story for me in a book entitled Hiroshima In Memoriam and Today, A Testament of Peace for the World. Ms. Matsubara's story is on page 198 called "The Appeal of a Girl Survivor." I bought this particular book during my previous visit in the fall of 2006. I never dreamed I would have the honor of meeting one of the survivors I read about in the book. Ms. Matsubara is a true symbol of peace, courage and forgiveness. I am truly humbled by Ms. Matsubara.


In the afternoon we attended the symposium. The symposium was sponsored by CGP, Hiroshima Peace Museum and JANM and entitled: "Japanese Americans at a Crossroad: Connecting Past, Present and Future." Our fellow delegates, Donna Shimoda Hollingshead, Sandra Tanamachi and Harold Taniguchi, participated in the symposium. One of the highlights of this trip was being able to see Ms. Tanamachi meet her relatives for the first time. They traveled from Fukuoka to meet her and to see her presentation. It was truly a heartwarming experience.


Saturday, March 10th, marked our last day of official visits before returning to Tokyo. We visited Miyajima Island and Itsukushima Shrine. Mr. Nishizawa was kind enough to assist me in purchasing the shrine's Goshuin. On Sunday, the Delegation began their return trips home. It was hard to say good bye to everyone involved with this delegation after sharing this life changing experience with them. I was also very excited to share this life changing experience with my family, friends and other colleagues.


I was inspired by Glen Fukushima's speech entitled, "Don't Be a Bridge, Be A Player!" (orientation material) prior to the trip. After reflecting on Mr. Fukishima's speech and this incredible life changing experience, I am hoping this amazing journey is not over for me. Hopefully, it is the beginning of a new wave of experiences yet to unfold. I hope that I will inspire others to actively engage in enhancing U.S.-Japan relations by sharing my experiences and continuing my involvement in the JALD. I am hopeful that through our camaraderie, my fellow delegates and I will "be the players" who will enhance U.S.-Japan relations for many years to come.


In closing, this has been the most awe-inspiring experience of my life. Words cannot express my gratitude to Consul General Yamanaka, MOFA, CGP and JANM for the opportunity to participate in such an exceptional program. I am forever indebted to all of you and to my fellow delegates for enriching my life beyond all expectations. Our journey together is just beginning!

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