Back row from left: Eric Takahata, Martin Iguchi, Julie Azuma, Kenzo Kawanabe, David Yamahata, Kelly Ogilvie, Verne Naito and Amy Yamashiro. Front row from left: Irene Hirano Inouye, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, Emily Murase and Marion Friebus-Flaman.

TOKYO – Ten Japanese Americans from across the United States had the rare opportunity to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on March 15 to discuss issues pertinent to the U.S.-Japan bilateral relationship as a part of the 2013 Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD) program.

The delegates and U.S.-Japan Council President Irene Hirano Inouye shared that Americans continue to support the rebuilding and revitalization of Tohoku and that the events of March 11, 2011 have not been forgotten. They also described the purpose of the trip as building people-to-people relationships with Japanese leaders from all sectors of society in order to strengthen and diversify U.S.-Japan relations.

Abe thanked the delegation for demonstrating their continued support for Japan and said,”People-to-people exchange is the cornerstone of the U.S.-Japan relations. I would like to ask your continued contribution to further developing this bilateral relationship.”

The meeting came soon after Abe's Feb. 22 meeting with President Barack Obama, during which the two leaders reaffirmed their commitment to working together, especially in trade and security.

Immediately before traveling to Tokyo, the delegates visited Fukushima for the first time in the program's 12-year history. In Fukushima, one of the regions hardest hit by the natural disasters and nuclear crisis, the delegates visited Fukushima Prefectural Medical University and a food monitoring center called Agricultural Cooperative Center, and participated in a symposium, “Towards Common Ground: Connecting Diverse Voices for the Future,” sponsored by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership.

The 10 participants of the program are active in their communities, engaged in U.S.-Japan relations and committed to deepening ties between Japanese Americans and Japan. JALD is sponsored by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan and organized by the U.S.-Japan Council, a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to building people-to-people relations between the two countries. For more information, visit

The 2013 delegates with Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida (center).

2013 Delegates

Julie Azuma, president and founder, Different Roads to Learning, DRL Books Inc. (New York City)

Marion Friebus-Flaman, principal, Thomas Dooley Elementary School (Schaumburg, Ill.)

Martin Y. Iguchi, dean and professor, Georgetown University, School of Nursing and Health Studies (Washington, D.C.)

Kenzo Kawanabe, partner, Davis Graham & Stubbs LLP (Denver)

Emily Murase, executive director, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, and commissioner, San Francisco Board of Education (San Francisco)

Verne Naito, vice president, Naito Corporation (Portland, Ore.)

Kelly Ogilvie, founder, chairman, president and chief operating officer, Quemulus Inc. (Seattle)

Eric Takahata, managing director, Hawaii Tourism Japan (Honolulu)

David Yamahata, deputy chief, Los Angeles Fire Department (Pasadena)

Amy Yamashiro, data and evaluation coordinator, Arlington Public Schools (Arlington, Va.)

Delegates with students at Iidate Elementary School in Fukushima.