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Symposium “U.S.-Japan Relations: 70 years and Beyond”

• A symposium, “U.S.-Japan Relations: 70 Years and Beyond” took place on November 21 at the Harris Hall on the Evanston campus of Northwestern University. A-day-long event consisted of four sections, and Japanese Americans (JAs) from a variety of backgrounds discussed about “Historical and cultural perspectives that shape the Japanese American Identity,” “Issues that affect and concern the Japanese American community,” “Japanese Americans in the Pan-Asian Movement,” and “The Role of Japanese Americans in U.S.-Japan Relations.”

• Richard Morimoto of Northwestern University welcomed the participants.
• In his greeting remarks, Consul General Toshiyuki Iwado said, “The world is becoming smaller and smaller, and we need to think seriously about how people of different backgrounds can come together to make a better society. This is a matter for all of us, governments, communities, and individuals.”

• William Yoshino of JACL briefed the development of the JA history in Chicago.
• Originally, about 400 issei (first generation) lived in Chicago before WWII. During and after the war, about 20,000 issei and nisei (second generation) moved in Chicago from concentration camps across the U.S. Some years later many of the JAs returned to California where they had settled before the war.
• In Chicago, the rest of the JAs formed a community and organized institutions such as the Japanese American Service Committee, JACL Chicago and the Midwest chapter, and churches and temples.
• From the 1970s, new issei came to Chicago from Japan, and the community has become more complex with new issei, new nisei, and mixed race of yonsei (fourth generation) and gosei (fifth generation).

• “The Baseline: Who Are We? – The History and Culture that Shaped the Chicago Japanese American Community”, was one of the most interesting discussions.
• Megan Nakano is a business consultant and President of the Chicago Chapter of JACL. She was raised in a white Jewish community in Chicago area and didn’t recognize that she was different until someone pointed out her different appearance and background. She is proud of the JA community where she has settled and said, “The JA is a distinguished community compared to the rest of the Asian American communities.” The Japanese American community is one of the oldest of the Asian American ethnic groups in the U.S. Despite no longer being one of the largest groups, its history and organizations still make it one of the more influential voices within the pan-Asian American community.
• She was the first one in her family who visited Japan, and felt that she was extremely an outsider when she was in Japan. Through her job, she works with everyone from different racial or ethnic groups and doesn’t think of her own identification, but she said that she felt comfortable seeing the similar faces in a JA event such as the symposium.

• Jason Matusmoto is a yonsei and has led the Ho Etsu Taiko drumming group. His first ID was Asian American; then it was changed to a JA. During his college years, he joined the Sophia University in Tokyo for one year and stayed with his host family. While he was in Japan, he felt himself as more American than ever.

• Kenji Negi is a new nisei and a son of Japanese mother and Chinese father. He has been involved in the JA community since he was a child, but he feels that new issei and nisei are different from JA sansei, yonsei, and gosei, because new issei and nisei didn’t have internment camp experiences while JA sansei and yonsei are easily united and sharing the camp experience of their parents or grandparents.
• Negi studied at the Ritsumeikan University in Kyoto in his junior year. He also has his grandparents in Osaka in Japan. He feels at home in Japan.

• Ryan Masaaki Yokota’s case is more complex. He is a yonsei, and at the same time, he is a new nisei. He was raised in Southern California, and his first ID was Asian American. As he grew up, his ID moved to JA during his high school and college time. When he became 27 years old, he got a sense of “nikkei (Japan related)” as his ID. He studied the Japanese language and now is fluent in it. He said that he felt more Japanese with a nikkei ID and had more connections with the homeland. As a nikkei, he feels more connections with nikkei people in the world. Furthermore, he has gotten a sense of being a new issei although it would be strange for him. On the other hand, he has a sense of being a yonsei and respects his father’s American legacy. Yokota is a Ph.D. candidate in Japanese History at the University of Chicago.

• “The Role of Japanese Americans in U.S.-Japan Relations” would be an important subject for both JAs and Japanese business people.
• Irene Hirano Inouye, President of the U.S.-Japan Council, pointed out that the JA Leadership Delegation program has created opportunities for sansei and yonsei to reconnect to Japan. The program started 15 years ago, and so far 15 delegations have gone to Japan. She said, “Because of WWII, disconnection occurred. There was no close relation between Japanese business communities and JA communities during the 1960s and 1970s.”

• Dayne Kono, a Principal at the Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell law firm, participated in the Delegation in 2010. He said that the Japanese government has begun to recognize the contributions of JAs who can work professionally with Japanese companies.

• As an attorney, Kono started to work with Japanese companies at the time of the trade conflict between the U.S. and Japan. He has worked to interconnect the two countries, particularly in foreign direct investments. He said that he felt much more comfortable with his background as a JA and having been exposed to Japan growing up as a foundation of the relationship. He also said that JAs naturally have basically two homelands, the U.S. and Japan.

• He started to work with Japanese clients when Japanese companies didn’t make much investment in the U.S. It was just before Toyota invested in its joint venture with GM in California. He said that he was lucky because he was interested in Japan, and interested in meeting business people from a different corporate culture who knew little about age discrimination, gender discrimination and other important U.S. legal concepts. So these facts were advantages for him. He could relate to them and provide advice on doing business in the U.S.

• According to Kono, Japan is the largest foreign investor nation for the last two years in the U.S. “I think there are a lot of opportunities because JAs basically have two home countries.” Kono said that this can be an advantage in helping to build bridges.

• Irene Hirano Inouye said that there are a growing number of American companies in Japan, and there would be opportunities in the future. She also said that the Prime Minister indicated greater opportunities in Japan, and that tendency didn’t happen in the past years.
• She also mentioned that there are increased investments from Japanese companies, particularly in the South and the Midwest, and that would create opportunities for jobs.
• From JA’s side, they can help Japanese companies to understand the diverse culture in the American business environment. Japanese business people also can learn issues about discrimination, what they can and cannot do, through JA experiences, and challenge any difficulty they will face.

• Kono said that his Japanese clients have become globalized because in addition to North America they have established operations in China, Southeast Asia, South America, and Europe. He has seen Japanese companies begin to hire foreign director-level people who often meet in Japan and bring interpreters along to regular board meetings. These changes have made companies’ procedures more transparent. Kono also mentioned that in his experience, generally, there are few executive positions held by women in Japanese companies, but JAs have the opportunity to provide successful role models.

• The symposium was organized by the Organizing Committee (Joyce Morimoto, Richard Morimoto, Sandra Yamate, and William Yoshino), Northwestern University Asian American Studies Program, Japanese American Citizens League Chicago Chapter, U.S.-Japan Council, and Chicago Nikkei Forum with the support by the consulate General of Japan in Chicago, Chicago Japanese American Historical Society, Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago, Japan America Society of Chicago, Chicago Japanese American Council, Japanese American National Museum, UIC Asian American Studies Program, DePaul Global Asian Studies Program, and others.