By SUZANNE BASALLA, President/CEO, U.S.-Japan Council
On July 23 (24th in Japan), we had the honor of First Lady Dr. Jill Biden dedicating a room at the Chief of Mission Residence in Tokyo to the senator and Irene (Hirano Inouye) for their significant contributions to U.S.-Japan relations.
The ceremony was held in the Great Room (which many of our members have visited for embassy receptions). The “Inouye Room” will be one of the guest rooms upstairs in the private quarters, and a plaque will be placed on the door.
This honor came from the embassy community, initiated by the embassy’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion. This is in addition to the fountain in the residence garden that then Ambassador John Roos and his wife (and USJC Board of Councilors member) Susie Roos dedicated to the senator.
Because of COVID restrictions, the ceremony was quite intimate. The newly arrived charge d’affaires, Ray Greene, presided. Representing both the Inouye and Hirano families was Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors Masa Tanaka, joined by his wife, Hiroko. Another in-person participant was Christina Le, who is the chair of the Embassy’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion.
The ceremony featured the remote participation of Irene’s daughter, Jennifer Hirano, and the senator’s son, Ken Inouye (both members of our Board of Councilors). I had the privilege to join remotely as well.
Dr. Biden spoke so warmly about Irene and the senator! She particularly highlighted Irene’s focus on empowering women, saying, “Irene dedicated her life to lifting up women, especially those of Japanese descent. And not simply through words but through action. She was led by a strong sense of social responsibility and lifted Asian American women out of what she called ‘invisibility.’”
Her comments about the deep friendship between President Joe Biden and “Danny” were particularly moving, sharing that “he was a mentor to my husband Joe but more importantly, he was a true friend whose kindness really knew no bounds.”
Jennifer shared her families’ appreciation with the first lady, saying, “When I think about the future visitors to the ambassador’s residence that will see my mother and Sen. Inouye’s names and reflect on their shared vision of advancing U.S.-Japan relations for future generations, it really means a lot. Their collective leadership after the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami really spurred action and led to the creation of the U.S.-Japan Council’s Tomodachi program to invest in future American and Japanese leaders.
“So, this dedication feels especially fitting because they really loved bringing the next generation of leadership to Japan for diplomacy trips, and I know this room will certainly host its fair share of diplomats.”
In his remarks, Ken shared his memories of the close relationship between his father and the now president, referring to the memorable swearing-in ceremony.
Ken also noted, “[My father] would view this not so much as something that’s honoring him and Irene. He would probably be looking at this as something that is recognition and a validation of that mission that he and Irene and so many others shared, of working to bring harmony between the American elements of their background with the Japanese elements of their background. And they would look at this as a sign that there are others along with that mission who want to keep it rich and vibrant.”
Following Ken’s remarks, Dr. Biden mentioned she was looking forward to meeting Ken and his family the following day in Hawaii as her travel continued.
When I first learned about the room dedication from then Charge d’Affaires Joe Young, I was delighted. I have many fond memories of working with Irene at the residence, including a chance for us both to stay upstairs as guests of John and Susie Roos in adjoining guest rooms. I’m thrilled that through the honor of this naming, her work, alongside the senator’s, will be shared with future guests and visitors to the residence.
I know you all join me in gratitude for this moving commemoration. How appropriate that it started with the grassroots call for Irene and the senator’s recognition from the Japanese and American members of the embassy community through their Council for Diversity and Inclusion.
It was capped by a dedication presided by the first lady, who spoke for our president as well. Masa Tanaka represented their significant contributions in the early days of the council, and those of us on Zoom represented the future generations dedicated to honoring their legacy.
The dedication is truly an honor that we can all take pride in being associated with as we carry on the work of Irene and the senator through the Council!