By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer
The 10 members of the 2018 Japanese American Leadership Delegation gathered in Little Tokyo over the weekend of Feb. 3-4 for orientation and a kickoff dinner at the Miyako Hotel.
Each year since 2000, Japanese American leaders from across the U.S. have traveled to Japan to engage with leaders in the business, government, academic, nonprofit and cultural sectors. Japanese leaders gain a greater understanding of multicultural America while the delegates work to strengthen U.S.-Japan ties.
The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, represented in the U.S. by the embassy in Washington, D.C. and 17 consulate general offices, sponsors the program. The U.S.-Japan Council provides administration and support. To date, 197 delegates have participated. This year’s group will be in Japan from March 2 to 10.
The dinner was hosted by the Japan Business Association of Southern California. Yuko Kaifu, executive vice president of JBA and president of Japan House LA, recalled that JALD “used to be called the young Sansei leadership program, and we dropped that name because not everyone is young, not everyone is Sansei. [At first] we tried to focus on those who had never traveled to Japan, but we thought it’s a pity to exclude those people who have a lot of or some experience with work in Japan because they are movers and shakers in the U.S., so we changed the name … It’s been amazing how successful it has been.”
She added that she was pleased that out of 18 Japanese chambers of commerce in the U.S., “we are the only one who gets to host the delegates.”
Hitoshi Ishikawa, president of JBA and senior vice president/general manager of Los Angeles Branch for Mitsubishi Corp. (Americas), noted, “JALD program was originated in California and has started to cover the entire U.S. gradually.” In recent years, delegations have included only one delegate each from Southern and Northern California.
He urged the delegates to “look and listen what current Japan is” so that they can offer informed opinions on how to improve U.S.-Japan relations upon their return.
USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, who will accompany the delegation, discussed some of USJC’s other projects, including an annual conference in Washington, D.C.; a program on Israel-U.S.-Japan relations jointly hosted with the American Jewish Committee at the Japanese American National Museum; a Japan-Hawaii economic summit; an upcoming Japan-Texas economic summit; a conference in Tokyo in November; and a conference in Hollywood next year.
Regarding the current state of U.S.-Japan ties, she said, “Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe and President Trump have done a great deal to forge a strong relationship between the two countries … People ask me how are things in Washington. Things are kind of crazy, but thank goodness there is a strong relationship between our two countries, and certainly the work that the JBA and USJC does is a very important contributor to that.”
Consul General Akira Chiba said that Japanese Americans are still bound together by the wartime treatment of their community and families, even if they didn’t personally experience it. “It’s something very unique … Among Japanese Americans, the moment they meet each other they act like they’ve been brothers and sisters for a while … The legacy is still there.”
As the delegates carry on this legacy into the future, Chiba told them, “After you come back, [consider] what are you going to bring back, give back? … This is what we count on.”
Meet the Delegates
• Sheri Bryant of San Francisco, vice president of strategic business development and marketing, Linden Lab. Originally from Palo Alto, Bryant lived in Southern California for more than 20 years, then moved back to the Bay Area two years ago. “I had been in entertainment here, film, finance and then digital media,” she said. “When I sold my company to Legendary Studios, there was a clean break … I got very interested in virtual reality and digital media, kind of where tech meets entertainment.”
Bryant has been involved in technology from an early age. “Both my parents are computer scientists. My mom came from Japan she was 16 and she went to college and became a math major and then got into computer science, worked for IBM [and] the Stanford Research department. The only mentor I ever had was my mom.
“She kept us very close to Japan growing up. We’d go there in the summer. I got a Godzilla collection … watched ‘Ultraman.’ I feel very close to the culture, so it’s wonderful to be going there now on a delegation where it’s bringing together Japanese Americans with various histories … Everyone has really interesting stories and somehow Japan is close to their heart.”
As a parent, she is now trying to instill cultural awareness in her son.
• Darcy Endo-Omoto of Honolulu, vice president of government and community affairs for Hawaiian Electric Company, the state’s largest public utility, where she manages relationships between the company and key stakeholders. She has ties to Los Angeles, having lived there for seven years and earned her J.D. from Loyola Law School. Her origins in Japan are in Yamaguchi and Hiroshima on her mother’s side and Hiroshima and Yamanashi on her father’s side.
• Monica Okada Guzman of Mangilao, Guam, CEO and managing director of Galaide Group, LLC, where she oversees the creation and coordination of media campaigns, public outreach events and special projects, including management and operation of the Guam Museum. Noting that Guam is just three hours from Japan, she said, “My grandfather came to Guam [from Chiba Prefecture] when he was 7 years old in 1907 and married a local girl, so I’m Sansei.”
• David Inoue of Washington, D.C., executive director, Japanese American Citizens League. Being a Shin-Nisei who is half Chinese and half Japanese, he said, “I think we represent the changing face of what being Japanese American means … Only a couple of people in our group have a connection to the Japanese American incarceration experience …
“JACL is also grappling with how do we deal with this change programs like this help to reinforce that connection that we have … really look to strengthen that connection and really understand that historical background which we come from … I’m very much attending in a professional capacity as opposed to taking my kids over there.”
• Denise Moriguchi of Seattle, president and CEO, Uwajimaya, Inc., a family-owned gift and grocery retailer and wholesaler. “My grandfather learned to make fishcake, Satsuma-age, in Ehime, so when he moved to Seattle and Tacoma, Wash., his specialty was making Satsuma-age, so he named the company Uwajimaya [after a town in Ehime Prefecture],” she said. “I didn’t expect when I took the role of CEO/president how much ties I would have to Japan because the company has been in the U.S. for 90 years. But every day I’m interacting with Japanese companies and Japanese students and actually people who are interested in Japanese culture …
“I just realized how important U.S.-Japan relations are for my company but also just personal interest, so I’m really looking forward to this trip. I’ve been there many times to visit family and also for work, going to a supermarket show or food show, but this trip I think will be very different, it will be a brand perspective, we get to meet many interesting people at all levels. I’ve heard it’s life-changing and I will look at Japan a whole new way and come away with a deeper appreciation.”
She said of the diverse delegation, “There’s people whose parents were born in Japan, there’s people who are half Japanese and half Chinese, half Japanese and half white … The demographic of Japanese Americans is changing, so it’s exciting to meet these people.”
• David Ono of Los Angeles, news anchor, KABC-TV (ABC 7). He has been to Japan numerous times to cover such stories as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake/tsunami and the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, but “this time is different,” he said. “… You learn about Japan from the inside out. We have these incredible opportunities … to meet with the prime minister but with other key people in not only Japan’s government but their culture … [and gain] deeper understanding of this beautiful country that we all have some background in.”
Noting that the delegates will be giving speeches and giving presentations about their respective areas of expertise, Ono said, “As much as we’re trying to get to know them … they’re going to learn from us and our wide range of experience being a minority in the U.S. … All in all, it’s going to be a joyful time for us but it’s also going to be an important time for us to makes sure we take full advantage of the opportunity.”
Although he will not be accompanied by a camera crew, Ono will try to file stories during and after the trip. “One report that I have in mind has to do with the background of Prime Minister Abe and his background in Southern California … The family that he lived with while he was here, their perspective of him as a young man … We can run that story perhaps on the day that I meet the prime minister … We can also share with our audience the background that he actually went to USC … The vast majority of people don’t know that.”
• Lisa Sakai of Chicago, president and CEO, TransAgra International Inc., a multinational agribusiness company that focuses on sustainable, natural and effective solutions for agriculture. A past president of the Japanese American Service Committee, she described herself as “a traditional Sansei on both sides, parents born and raised in Chicago.” Her origins in Japan are in Kumamoto on her mother’s side and Hiroshima on her father’s side.
• June Taylor of Denver, executive director and personnel director for the Colorado Department of Personnel and Administration. She is responsible for managing the offices of Human Resources, the Controller, Administrative Courts, the State Architects, State Archives, and Employee Assistance Program. “I’m looking forward to going to Japan and visiting Yamaguchi, where my mother is from,” she said.
• Chris Uehara of Portland, Ore., assistant chief, Portland Police Bureau. “I was born and raised in Honolulu … Growing up there I had many influences from the uncles and aunties, both related to me and my extended families … I left Hawaii to attend college in Oregon, where I also ended up getting my job,” he said. “I run the Operations Section … which is in charge of overseeing all the uniformed police officers in the city of Portland.”
• Laurie Van Pelt of Waterford, Mich., director of management and budget, Oakland County, Michigan. Describing her county, which is just north of Detroit, she said, “Similar to a prefecture, we have 910 square miles, 62 cities, villages and townships, 1.2 million people and 1,050 foreign companies … from 39 different countries. The majority of those are from Japan … I work for the county executive, [who is] like the daimyo.”
Born in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, she is half Japanese. “My mother is still alive and lives about three miles from me,” she said.
JALD alumni have created a network and have traveled back to Japan to build on and sustain important relationships built on the program. For more information, including biographies of current and past delegates, visit: www.usjapancouncil.org/jald
Photos by J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo (except where noted)