Political, business leaders exchange views on enhancing Japan-U.S. relations

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A message from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was read on his behalf at the U.S.-Japan Council’s general assembly in Shibuya Ward, Tokyo, on Friday.

Political and business leaders from Japan and the United States exchanged views on strengthening Japan-U.S. relations at the U.S.-Japan Council’s general assembly held at a Tokyo hotel.

About 700 people attended the meeting of the council, a nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, whose aim is to bolster Japan-U.S. relations through private-sector exchanges and other activities.

Attendees shared opinions on topics such as the leadership required in today’s world, how to utilize the latest digital technology and climate change.

A message from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida was read on his behalf at the beginning of the plenary session Friday, stating, “I promise to continue to work with you to strengthen Japan’s relationship with Japanese Americans, and with the United States of America, Japan’s most important alliance partner.”

Speeches by U.S. Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel and Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike were followed by a panel discussion that included Hawaii Gov. David Ige and Tokio Marine Holdings Inc. Chairman Tsuyoshi Nagano.

The general assembly of the council, which was established in 2008, had been held alternately in Japan and the United States annually, but was held for the first time since 2019 because of cancellations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Building connections

The U.S.-Japan Council also works to nurture the next generation of Japanese American leaders who will serve as a bridge between the two countries.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Steve Sakanashi speaks during an interview.

“Over the generations, the ties between Japanese Americans and Japan have been fading,” said Steve Sakanashi, 36, a board member of the U.S.-Japan Council (Japan). “We want to restore the connection.”

According to the council, many of the fourth and later generations of Japanese Americans do not speak Japanese and do not have Japanese acquaintances, compared to the third generation, whose grandparents were first-generation Japanese Americans.

Sakanashi is a fourth-generation California native who grew up without learning Japanese. He became interested in Japan because his mother is Japanese and moved to Japan eight years ago.

While working for a software company, Sakanashi has been involved with the council out of gratitude to Japan for the warm welcome he received.

The council invited many fourth- and fifth-generation Japanese Americans living in the United States to Friday’s meeting, providing an opportunity for them to deepen exchanges with Japanese political and business leaders.

“The most effective way to strengthen ties is to talk face to face,” Sakanashi said. “The fourth and fifth generations are more assertive and willing to take on challenges than the older generations. By deepening the relationship, they should be able to contribute to both the U.S. and Japanese communities.”