The Japanese American Leadership Delegation with Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda (front row, center) and other guests on March 7. (Photo courtesy of U.S.-Japan Council)

TOKYO — Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda welcomed the 2012 Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD) in a rare meeting between the country’s highest-ranking government official and a select group of Nikkei leaders on Wednesday.

Noda expressed his deep appreciation for the delegates’ contributions to U.S.-Japan relations, including their assistance in the restoration and reconstruction of areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Prior to meeting with Noda, the delegation visited the Tohoku region, where they toured the affected area with representatives from JEN, a Japanese nongovernmental organization involved in the recovery efforts.

The delegates delivered hand-written messages of hope called “Genki Notes” from American children to Japanese still living in temporary housing. They also participated in a symposium in Sendai titled “Empowering Civil Society for the Future of Japan,” sponsored by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the U.S.-Japan Council.

USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, who has led each delegation since the program’s inception, said, “Through its relief efforts, the council found that the March 11 disasters served as a catalyst in the emergence and strengthening of the civil society sector of Japan. Many Japanese NPOs (nonprofit organizations) responded to a natural disaster in their home country for the first time and seek support from the government and business sectors going forward.”

Now in its 12th year, JALD provides an opportunity for Japanese American leaders to deepen their understanding of Japan by participating in intimate discussions with Japanese government, business and civil society leaders. The 2012 delegation also met with Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba, members of the Japanese parliament and business entities, including Keidanren, Keizai Doyukai and Forum 21.

The delegates are Michael Bosack of Colorado Springs, Colo., Barbara Hibino of San Francisco, Shannon Hori of Miami, Neil Horikoshi of Washington, D.C., Janet Ikeda of Lexington, Va., Mark Mitsui of Seattle, Susan J. Onuma of New York City, Barry Taniguchi of Hilo, Hawaii, and Michael Tanimura of Chicago.

JALD is an official trip sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and co-organized by the USJC, a non-profit organization led by Japanese Americans working to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations.

The council’s latest initiative, Tomodachi, is a public-private partnership that supports Japan’s recovery from last year’s disaster and invests in the next generation of Japanese and Americans in ways that strengthen cultural and economic ties, and deepen the friendship between the two countries over the long term.

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