The 2012 Japanese American Leadership Delegation. Front row, from left: Paul Watanabe, Janet Ikeda, Barry Taniguchi, Susan Onuma, Shannon Hori, Mark Mitsui. Back row, from left: Barbara Hibino, Michael Tanimura, Neil Horikoshi, Michael Bosack, Irene Hirano Inouye (group leader).

Rafu Staff Writer


The Tohoku region’s recovery from last year’s earthquake and tsunami will be the focus of the 2012 Japanese American Leadership Delegation, which will visit Japan from March 3 to 10.

The 10 delegates, representing different geographical regions and areas of expertise, were introduced to the Nikkei press on Friday at the Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo. The program is sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the U.S.-Japan Council.

USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, who has accompanied all of the previous delegations, will participate this year as well, along with Toshio Odagiri of the Consulate General of Japan in Los Angeles.

“This year’s delegation will be going to Tokyo and to Sendai,” Hirano Inouye announced. “This is the first time that we are taking a delegation to the Sendai area. While we are in Sendai, we will be touring the areas that were devastated by the earthquake and tsunami last March.

“The Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership will be, along with the U.S.-Japan Council, co-hosting a symposium that will be held in Sendai … The symposium is co-organized with the Miyagi NPO Center … The topic of the symposium will explore the future of civil society in Japan post-3/11.

“While we are in Tokyo, as we have done with previous delegations, we will be meeting with leaders from government, from the business sector, and while we are in Sendai, we will be meeting leaders from civil society … We want to provide opportunities for the delegation to learn first-hand what people have had to go through the past year, but more importantly, what are the plans for the future …

“And the intent of the program is to have Japanese American leaders better understand Japan and especially U.S.-Japan relations, and to at the same time help to share the experience of Japanese Americans with a Japanese audience, especially those at the leadership level.”

At the request of local prefectures, the group will go to Matsushima, a tourist site, in order to spread the word that “much of the region is certainly open for business and open for tourism,” Hirano Inouye said.

Last year’s delegation happened to be in Tokyo when the March 11 earthquake struck. Hirano Inouye recalled, “We were on the final day of the trip. We were on our way to a business meeting with Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives), and after that meeting we were scheduled to meet with the minister of land, infrastructure and transport and the prime minister. Those two meetings, of course, were canceled. The delegation was scheduled to leave on Saturday but most of us left on Sunday or days after.

“So certainly for this program and for the delegates that were there last March, there is an even more special relationship and a commitment to help support the rebuilding and to ensure that there’s a strong relationship between our two countries.”

In addition to raising funds for nonprofit organizations providing earthquake relief, the USJC has joined with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the government of Japan to launch the Tomodachi Initiative, which Hirano Inouye described as “a public-private partnership … to support the next generation of Japanese and Americans to become better acquainted with each other’s countries, especially (sending) young Japanese that live in the Tohoku region … to the United States for short-term exchanges …

“We will be announcing a number of upcoming programs. We’re raising funds to support those programs and it will be an initiative over the next three years that we hope will very much contribute to a much larger number of young people from Japan that will have the opportunity to come to the United States.”

She added that in choosing the JALD participants, “we did place particular emphasis this year on finding people in the education sector, the entrepreneur and business sector, because those are two areas that both the U.S.-Japan Council and the Tomodachi Initiative are focusing on.”

Extending a Helping Hand

The delegates discussed what they hoped to accomplish during their visit.

Michael Bosack of Colorado Springs is the manager for international programs at Sparta Inc., currently serving as a senior advisor and consultant to the U.S. Missile Defense Agency on U.S.-Japan ballistic missile defense cooperation. He attained the rank of colonel in the U.S. Army.

As a board member of the Japan America Society of Southern Colorado, he said, “We’re one of many, many Japan America Societies throughout the United States that really led a grassroots effort to collect donations to send to Japan in the aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami. Even in a small city like Colorado Springs, it was amazing to watch the outpouring of support from the local community … Tomorrow back in Colorado Springs, we’re having our mochitsuki taikai … Even there we plan on still collecting donations.

“So that’s the message I would like to take to Japan, that we haven’t forgotten and we continue to support Japan in their efforts to rebuild the Tohoku region.”

Barbara Hibino of San Francisco is  CEO of OpenWebU, an Internet company that has a website where anyone can distribute their training online and any student can take it. In her spare time, she helps provide green technologies in Silicon Valley and writes a newsletter for Japanese Americans on leadership.

“I’m really excited about the program that they put together for JALD,” she said.

Shannon Hori of Miami is a reporter and anchor for the CBS affiliate in that area. This will be her first trip to Japan.

“I think it’s so important to learn about different cultures and especially our own culture, so on a personal level I’m really looking forward to that because it’s important for me to share it with my own children as well as the community that I live in,” she said. “I’m really fascinated about seeing how the Japanese are assisting in the rebuilding after the tsunami … and seeing what’s being done there. And I really hope I don’t make any faux pas.”

Neil Horikoshi of Washington, D.C. is president and executive director for the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, which provide scholarships to underserved students across the country. He worked for at IBM for 30 years in a variety of legal and management positions, including assignments in Japan.

“The earthquake and tsunami became very personal to me because of having relatives being so close to the epicenter,” he said. “To not hear from them for almost a week was very troubling.”

It turned out that his relatives survived, and his father’s cousin was helping with the reconstruction as president of an electrical supply company. “I found out that they had to live in their car for about three days because they couldn’t go back into their home because of the structural concerns and damage … There were a lot of concerns about whether they would stay there long-term because of the immediate issues that they were facing, from food to radiation to everything else.”

At the same time, he was impressed with by their “gambatte attitude” and “the amount of hours and days they had to work … to begin that reconstruction.”

Janet Ikeda of Lexington, Va. is an associate professor at Washington University, where she teaches in the Department of East Asian Languages and Literatures. She is also past president of the Association of Teachers of Japanese.

She said that she had just taught her first-year Japanese students the word “kizuna,” which was selected as Japan’s kanji of 2012. “I really wanted them to think about … the idea of community bonds and social values and how throughout the world we are now interconnected,” she explained, adding that she asked each student to come up with one word that they could convey to people in the Tohoku area, “words of encouragement and friendship.”

Ikeda has relatives in Fukushima Prefecture and met one of them, her grandfather’s half-brother, when she was an undergraduate studying in Japan. “Sad to say, though, my mother is gone and all her siblings are gone, so we’ve somewhat lost that contact, but we certainly did think of them,” she said.

Paul Watanabe is a professor of political science and director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. His parents immigrated to the U.S. from the Nagoya region.

He emphasized that the fates of Japanese Americans and the people of Japan have historically been linked, and that there is “a bond of understanding … so when they suffer and they face this tragedy, even though we are far away … this relationship is also important to the well-being of Japanese Americans. It’s true to my family, it’s true to me. I just got a text message about four hours ago that my first grandchild just came home from the hospital, and I would suggest that this relationship is going to be important to the well-being of that child as well.”

Barry Taniguchi of Hilo is president and CEO of KTA Super Stores, a family-owned grocery chain on the Big Island that his grandparents started.

He noted that in 1960, when he was 13, Hilo was devastated by a tsunami. “There were over 60 people that died, and over the years as I grew up, the town recovered. It’s a new town today. You wouldn’t know there was a tsunami there … So I think the message I’d like to take is ‘gambaru’ — we need to persevere and recover.”

Michael Tanimura is creative director and co-founder of Silver Image Creative Inc., a graphic communications firm that mostly deals with nonprofit educational institutions. He is also president of the Japanese American Service Committee, an agency that was formed to help Japanese Americans resettle in Chicago after internment. He is visiting Japan for the first time.

“One of the things that I hope to get from this is a better understanding of Japanese,” he commented. “In Chicago, we don’t have a really large Japanese or Japanese American population. Therefore we have fairly limited capacity and resources, and yet I find that we will hold events on the same days, we’ll have small crowds at each, and we haven’t learned to really work together, to cross the cultural bridges between being Japanese American and Japanese. I hope to gain some of that knowledge which we can apply to Chicago.”

Susan Onuma of New York is an attorney and partner with the law firm of Kelley Drye and Warren, where she is also co-chair of the Asian Practice Group servicing Japanese corporations doing business in New York. She is a board member of JANM and USJC and is involved with the Japan Society.

She would like to take a message of hope to Japan. “Sometimes when something terrible happens … it’s also a great opportunity to start fresh, and I think for many of the towns and villages that have been wiped out, it’s a way to reconstruct and do things better. So hopefully they will not see it as the end but as the beginning.”

Mark Mitsui is president of North Seattle Community College, which has an international education component that he is interested in expanding to include more students from Japan.

“We have an entrepreneurship education program as well a nonprofit accounting program,” he said. “We just heard today that civil society and also entrepreneurship are important components of helping to rebuild Sendai, so we’re very interested in looking at how we might be able to contribute to that.”

Hirano Inouye said that when the delegates come home, they will speak to the press in their respective regions to remind people that recovery efforts are still under way.

So far, there are 136 JALD alumni. Two reunions have been held, with a third planned for October in Seattle. Hirano Inouye noted, “Because this is a national group … most of them did not know each other (prior to each trip), so I think the result has been … a really strong Japanese American network of people who share a common interest in supporting U.S.-Japan relations. The U.S.-Japan Council has a large number of alumni that are very active members.”

Delegate Profiles

Following are profiles of the delegates provided by the U.S.-Japan Council.

• Michael Bosack (Denver), manager of international programs at Sparta Inc. and a senior advisor under contract to the Missile Defense Agency for U.S.-Japan ballistic missile defense (BMD) cooperation, working with the U.S. and Japanese governments, military and industry on BMD interoperability, integration and operational planning. He also provides operational, technical, and managerial support for international BMD efforts that involve countries such as the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, India, and South Korea.

Bosack is a board member for the Japan America Society of Southern California and has attended the Japan National Institute for Defense Studies in Tokyo, as well as the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force Command and General Staff College, also in Tokyo. He received his M.A. in East Asian studies from Stanford University and his M.S. in systems management from the University of Southern California.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: Kanagawa.

• Barbara Hibino (San Francisco), CEO of OpenWebU, Inc., an Internet company that provides an online platform for education and training. It currently hosts classes in continuing medical education, accounting, and other topics. While at OpenWebU, she worked after hours as vice president of marketing for OptaMotive Inc., which developed technologies for electric vehicles. Before that, she was the director of applications for nine years at Oracle, where she oversaw a team that created applications for the public sector.

Hibino is the N! Leadership Network founder, vice president of membership and the author of its newsletter. N! Leadership Network is a group of Japanese American entrepreneurs and executive management that strives to create networks and connections between the U.S. and Japan. She holds a Ph.D. from the Stanford University School of Education and an M.S. from Ohio State University in agricultural economics and rural Sociology.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: Aichi.

• Shannon Hori (Miami), an Emmy-award winning journalist and main anchor for WFOR/CBS 4 News in Miami/Ft. Lauderdale. She has previously worked for CBS and NBC affiliates in cities including Dallas, Orlando and Louisville. Hori volunteers for a number of nonprofit organizations, is a member of the Asian American Journalists Association, and in 2007 received the Media Award from the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber.

Immediately following the March 11, 2011 disaster in Japan, Hori produced a report for WFOR about her Japanese American heritage and the importance of maintaining relations between U.S. and Japan. She earned her B.A. in journalism and speech communications from Indiana University.

Prefecture of ancestral origins: Aichi (Nagoya).

• Neil Horikoshi (Washington, D.C.), president and executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund (APIASF). Prior to APIASF, he worked in Tokyo for IBM Corporation, where he served in a variety of legal and executive management positions in the U.S. and the Asia Pacific region. Based in Washington, D.C., APIASF is the country’s largest non-profit organization dedicated to providing college scholarships to Asian and Pacific Islander Americans.

Horikoshi serves as board chairman of the Aplastic Anemia and MDS International Foundation, and as an advisory council member for the Asian American Justice Center (AAJC), the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies (APAICS), and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Gates Millennium Scholars Program, as well as an advisory board member for BB&T Bank and board member of the Institute of Higher Education Policy (IHEP). He holds an M.B.A. and a J.D. from the University of Southern California.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: paternal side from Fukushima, maternal side from Kumamoto.

• Janet Ikeda (Lexington, Va.), associate professor in East Asian languages and literatures at Washington and Lee University, where she teaches courses on Japanese language, literature, and the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Ikeda is the current Fulbright Program advisor for the university and is the former president of the Association of Teachers of Japanese (ATJ). In October 2011 she served as a speaker on the Japanese language panel featured at the U.S.-Japan Council’s Annual Conference in Washington, D.C.

From 2006 to 2010, Ikeda was associate dean of the college, and in past years has served on the boards of ATJ and the Association of Departments of Foreign Languages (ADFL). She has done research on the poet-warrior Hosokawa Yusai and is working on revising a guide to reading and writing Japanese. Ikeda earned her M.A. and Ph.D. in East Asian studies from Princeton University.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: Fukushima, Wakayama, Yamaguchi, Osaka.

• Mark Mitsui (Seattle), president of North Seattle Community College, where he is responsible for establishing a strategic vision and achieving objectives that involve internal and external community building, advancing student success, excelling in teaching and learning, budget development and accountability, fundraising, and supervision of approximately 560 employees and approximately 11,200 students. Prior to this position, he was vice president of student services at South Seattle Community College and assistant dean of student services at Green River Community College.

He is the chair of the Asian American Pacific Islander Association of Colleges and Universities, and is involved with the National Asian Pacific Islander Caucus as a part of the American Association of Community Colleges. Mitsui is studying for his doctorate in educational leadership and policy studies, and holds an M.A. from the College of Education, University of Washington.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: paternal side from Nagano, maternal side from Kumamoto.

• Susan Onuma (New York City), a partner and co-chair of the Asia Practice Group of Kelley Drye and Warren LLP, where she advises Japanese corporations and individuals on how to navigate the complexities of the U.S. legal system and succeed in the marketplace. In particular, she specializes in establishing and nurturing new businesses and joint ventures and has developed a sub-specialty in the area of employment law and cross-cultural communications. She is also on the firm’s Diversity Committee and has participated in the Global Organization for Leadership Development (GOLD) symposiums given in Tokyo.

In 2008, Onuma was named one of Top 50 Women in Business by NJ Biz Magazine. She is currently corporate secretary and a board member of the U.S.-Japan Council, corporate secretary and legal counsel of the Japan Society of New York, a member of the Board of Trustees for the Japanese American National Museum, and honorary president and a member of the Board of Directors for the Japanese American Association (JAA) of New York. Onuma holds a J.D. from University of Pennsylvania Law School and a B.A. in East Asian studies from Barnard College (Columbia University).

Prefecture of ancestral origin: paternal side from Shizuoka, maternal side from Hyogo.

• Barry Taniguchi (Hilo, Hawaii), president of KTA Super Stores, a chain of family grocery stores on the Big Island. He is a director of Hawaiian Electric Industries Inc., American Savings Bank, and Hawaii Employers Mutual Insurance Corporation, as well as chair-elect of the Chamber of Commerce of Hawaii’s Board of Directors. He also serves numerous foundations and organizations, including the board of trustees for the Crown Prince Akihito Scholarship Foundation, the Public Schools of Hawaii Foundation, and the Hawaii Island Economic Development Board.

Taniguchi is a board member for the Pacific Tsunami Museum and the Hawaii Community Foundation, and chair of the Mauna Kea Management Board of the University of Hawaii at Hilo. In 2005, he received the Hawaii Society of CPAs’ Business and Industry Hall of Fame Award, and in 2006 the Leadership Legacy Award from Business Leadership Hawaii. He received his B.B.A. in accounting from the University of Hawaii.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: Hiroshima.

• Michael Tanimura (Chicago), co-founder and creative director of Silver Image Creative Inc., a graphic communications firm working in the education and non-profit sectors. Silver Image specializes in developing exhibits and websites. His experience includes art direction, graphic design, writing, editing, photography, and curating. He is a board member of the Chicago Creative Coalition, a continuing education and networking organization for Chicago professionals in the communication arts field.

As president and board member of the Japanese American Service Committee, Tanimura is working to bring together the Nikkei in the Chicago area to consolidate resources, boost fundraising and attendance at cultural events, and become a more visible and effective presence in the community.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: paternal side from Kumamoto, maternal side from Hiroshima.

• Paul Watanabe (Boston), an associate professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. He is also the current director of the Institute for Asian American Studies at the university. He has conducted extensive research and has published books and articles on the relationship of ethnic Americans to their ancestral lands and has presented talks in Kyoto, Nagoya, and Tokyo.

Watanabe also serves as vice chair of the Race and Ethnic Advisory Committee (Asian Population) for the U.S. Census Bureau, and sits on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts. He is the current president of the Nisei Student Relocation Commemorative Fund and a member of the U.S.-Japan Council. He received his Ph.D. and his M.A. in political science from Harvard University.

Prefecture of ancestral origin: Aichi.

For more information on JALD, the Tomodachi Initiative, and other programs, visit

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