Article by Mr. Edward Shikada, Deputy City Manager of the City of San Jose

It is with great pleasure and humility that I briefly describe my experience with the 2009 Japanese American Leadership Delegation. Selected as one of two delegates from the Bay Area and thirteen nationwide, the privilege of participating in this extraordinary experience simply cannot be overstated.

My prior experience with Japan was very limited, only recently having made my first trip to Japan as part of the San Jose-Okayama Sister Cities delegation. The Consulate General of Japan in San Francisco, therefore, provided invaluable background and cultural orientation throughout the application and selection process. This preparation was furthered by orientation/briefings for all delegates in Los Angeles, where we were able to learn more about prior delegates’ experiences, as well as meet and get to know our outstanding fellow delegates from around the nation.

By any measure, the delegation trip itself was an extraordinary experience. The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and Japanese American National Museum arranged an unforgettable itinerary of meetings with government, business, and cultural leaders at the highest level. The opportunities to personally speak with the Prime Minister and Speaker of the House of Representatives will always resonate for me as extremely special memories. At the same time, these formal meetings were balanced with more casual networking with participants in the Forum 21 Business Leadership Development Program, as well as other government leaders, and opportunities to experience the exceptional cultural history, sights, and tastes of Japan. The delegation also discussed a variety of issues with Americans living in Japan, both Japanese Americans and staff of the U.S. Embassy.

Beyond literal experiences, the delegation had profound impacts on virtually every delegate, including myself. A cornerstone of the program is the belief that person-to-person contact is essential to the success and progression of the U.S.-Japan relationship. The personal interactions and cultural connections that we experienced led to spirited exchanges of views at times, and ultimately a deeper appreciation for both our heritage and our responsibility to strengthen positive ties.

Continued involvement after the trip with U.S.-Japan relations was described as an obligation; in fact, it has been a genuine privilege. Since returning from Japan I have been involved in a number of activities to strengthen bonds and explore opportunities. These have included information sharing with community-based organizations in San Jose, maintaining contact with the Consulate General, and exploring economic development opportunities through my “day job” position as Deputy City Manager with the City of San Jose. Most notably, the Bay Area delegation served as host to a summit of prior delegates, Consuls General of Japan, and key partners, including Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki and U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye. This summit provided a key milestone in the efforts of the sponsors, delegates, and the new U.S.-Japan Council.

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