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Chicago Shimpo
Singer Kosetsu Minami Brings Young Spirit
to JCCC New Year’s Party

• The annual New Year’s Party of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Chicago (“JCCC”) was held at the Renaissance Schaumburg Convention Center Hotel in Schaumburg on January 14, featuring veteran folk singer-songwriter Kosetsu Minami as the special guest.

• With approximately 900 attendees, the festivity began with the national anthem of both Japan and the United States, led by Yoshio Goto. Then the JCCC Chairman Kazuo Shimizu of Kikkoman Foods Inc. welcomed Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner and his wife. Rauner was the first sitting governor of Illinois who attended the JCCC New Year’s Party.

• During his opening speech, Shimizu outlined the history of the JCCC, which started in 1966 with 58 participating companies and now has more than 500 members, one of the largest organizations in major U.S. cities.
• Shimizu explained the JCCC’s three primary missions as follows: (1) promoting interactions between the corporate members and the local business communities through implementing events and projects that the time and circumstance require; (2) continuing to support the local education effort for Japanese students through Chicago Futabakai Japanese Schools; and (3) contributing to the local communities through the JCCC Foundation (established in 1991), which provides grants to a local youth development program and other projects. The foundation has granted more than $5 million to date.

• Following Shimizu was the JCCC’s Honorary Chair Naoki Ito, Consul General of Japan in Chicago, who praised Rauner for his trade mission to Japan last year. Ito said Rauner’s visit to Tokyo for the 49th Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference in September 2017, his first overseas visit as the Illinois governor, helped raise the awareness of Illinois in the Japanese business community.
• Following the conference in Tokyo, Ito launched a campaign called “Grassroots Caravan” in cooperation with the Japan External Trade Organization (“JETRO”) Chicago. In this campaign, Ito visits communities and businesses in Illinois to promote local understanding of the contributions made by the Japanese businesses in the area and develop new trade/investment opportunities. In November 2017, Ito and Rauner visited Japanese companies in southern Illinois, including Aisin Manufacturing Illinois LLC.
• “We will continue the Caravan this year, in collaboration with the Illinois government,” Ito said.

• According to the Consulate General’s survey, as of October 2017, there are 630 Japanese business offices in Illinois, employing more than 46,000 people. The employment increased 6% over the past year and 16% during the past 5 years. The number of Japanese residents in Illinois was 15,300, an increase of 250 from the previous year.

• As Ito noted, it’s been 45 years since Kosetsu Minami’s song “Kandagawa” became a big hit in Japan. This year, Ito continued, also marks the 45th anniversary of the signing of the Chicago-Osaka sister-city agreement, 45th anniversary of the building of Kikkoman’s Walworth plant in Wisconsin, and 50th anniversary of the Midwest U.S.-Japan Association Conference.
• With these milestones in mind, Ito said he would continue to promote the presence of Japan and Japanese businesses in Chicago, Illinois, and the Midwest. “At the Consulate General, we will promote cultural exchange activities that are centered on festivals, Japanese gardens and Japanese language education,” he added.

• Governor Bruce Rauner, meanwhile, offered a new year’s greeting in Japanese, “Akemashite omedeto gozaimasu,” and said that he came to say thank you for the Japanese community’s effort for strengthening friendship with the people in Illinois.
• Rauner also stated he wanted to continue visiting Japan to promote further trade & investment, tourism and friendship, and to create a better future for the people of Illinois and Japan. It’s wonderful to have a two-way relationship between Japanese businesses in Illinois and the U.S. companies in Illinois, the former investing in Illinois and the latter investing in Japan, Rauner added.

• A New Year’s speech by a Japanese student, the annual feature of the JCCC New Year’s Party, was presented by Kanta Nakano, a senior at the Futabakai Japanese Saturday School. Nakano, who came to Chicago four years ago on his father’s overseas assignment, is attending the Futabakai while going to a local high school as a regular student. Based on his experience, he spoke about the impact that direct communication has in everyday life to build new relationships of trust.

• Al Larson, mayor of Schaumburg, proposed a toast to begin the luncheon. The concert by Kosetsu Minami followed the luncheon.

• Minami’s songs are characterized by human emotions such as being in love, anxiety and purity of the youth, and family ties. Citing the words of Dr. Shigeaki Hinohara, who kept working as a doctor until he passed away at the age of 105, Minami said he thought “Keep on going” would mean that our perspective toward life could change depending on how we set our minds to look at things. The song that followed - “Omokage iro no sora” - captured the audience’s heart in its uplifting tone.
• The concert closed with “Ue wo muite arukou” (English title “Sukiyaki”), the U.S. No. 1 hit song of 1963, where the entire audience joined in chorus with Minami. Junpei Sakuma provided excellent performance of guitar and violin to accompany Minami throughout the concert.

• The party featured the annual raffle in the end, a popular event with its generous prizes donated by the participating corporations, including round trip tickets to Japan.

• At the closing, the event’s Executive Committee Chairman Atsuhiro Taji thanked the volunteers, without whom the event “couldn’t have been possible.”
• The JCCC continues its steady steps for the next 50 years and it will “keep on going” toward its centennial, Taji concluded.

• Interview with Kosetsu Minami

• Singer-songwriter Kosetsu Minami was born in Oita-shi in southern Japan to a family of Buddhist monks. He made his solo debut in 1970 while he was a student at Meiji Gakuin University, and shortly after that formed a three-member band Kaguyahime. The band is known for several hit songs until it broke up in 1975.
• Since 1975, Minami has been active as a solo singer and has numerous albums and hit songs. In 1976, he held a concert at the Nippon Budokan hall for the first time as a Japanese solo singer-songwriter. He currently lives in Kitsuki-shi in the Oita prefecture and enjoys gardening and outdoor life while continuing music activities.

• Q: You were born into a Buddhist temple. Why did you become a folk singer?

• Minami: I was the youngest of the four children, and had two older brothers. I think my parents got tired of taking care of kids, in short – they were like, “You, just do whatever you like.” I was lucky.
• I heard Elvis Presley’s song when I was 9, and that really hit me. That was eye-opening for me to the Western music. I started to listen to all the songs on the hit chart, and tried to learn them.
• There were some people who were playing a guitar and singing – singing songs by Simon & Garfunkel, Peter, Paul & Mary, John Denver, and so on. I felt they were my kind of people. That’s why I chose that path [of singing and playing a guitar].

• Q: Was it an excuse to leave home and go to Tokyo that you enrolled Meiji Gakuin University?

• Minami: Yes. It had to be Tokyo, definitely. Back then, everything – the radio program that I listened to for the hit chart, information about books [on folk music] – was coming from Tokyo. You must be in Tokyo to feel the temperature of the time. That’s why I went to Tokyo.

• Q: How long did you go to the university?

• Minami: Two years. That was the time of the 1970 U.S.-Japan Security Treaty conflict, and student rebellion. All the schools [high schools and colleges] were shut down by the students’ lockout, and you could pass the test by simply submitting a written report. I had begun singing and had my own [radio] program by that time, so I just stopped going to the classes.

• Q: Your band, Kaguyahime, created a lot of hits, but you dissolved it at the peak of its popularity. I heard, back then, that you broke it up because you were so smart and wanted to avoid paying big taxes.

• Minami: That’s not the case. I’m still pretty bad about taxes. [laughs]
• Back then, I was earning huge loyalties, but most of them had gone to taxes. If you receive millions of yen in royalties, you’d think that’s all yours, right? But about 70 percent of my royalties had been taken away as tax payments at that time. I actually took a loan from a bank to pay my taxes.

• Q: I read a story on Wikipedia about a sick girl who was a fan of yours, which goes like this:
• Just before your band’s last concert in April 1975, you were hosting your late-night radio show, “All Night Nippon,” and you read a postcard you received from a girl that said, “I want to go to your last concert but I’m seriously ill and can’t make it.” You then said, on your show, that you hoped she would get better and come to the concert. But shortly afterward, a letter arrived from a friend of the girl’s, informing that the sick girl had passed away.
• During the concert, a lot of the fans recorded the band’s performance with a radio-cassette recorder. After the concert, many of them noticed a young woman’s voice saying “Let me hear it” during the interlude of the recorded performance, and you heard it too when you checked the original recording. Is this true?

• Minami: That’s true. The voice was in the tape that the engineer from our recording company recorded. He investigated it a lot – the voice cannot be there, but it was there for sure.
• I don’t remember about reading the postcard on my show, though.

• Q: You have been performing in concert for a long time, so a lot of younger people know you too, don’t they?

• Minami: First, I love to sing, love to play a guitar and sing in front of the people who will listen. Also I love to make my songs known to the public. That’s all. When you love to do something, it makes you move your body. Maybe that’s the source of my energy.

• Q: Any new songs recently?

• Minami: A song called “Midori no tabibito” (A Green Traveler). We are all travelers, our generation, to go through our lives. I want to trace back the way I came, as a green traveler.
• I always liked to stand against the wind. The song is about going against the wind to find and explore a new land that nobody has set foot into. Something like that.

• Q: We are living in an increasingly uncertain world today. What do you think about that?

• Minami: Japan lost the war, but we have been striving to be prosperous without having military or nuclear weapons. That’s wisdom for us to get along with the world.
• The postwar leaders of Japan – Shigeru Yoshida, Eisaku Sato, Kakuei Tanaka and other political leaders both progressive and conservative – used this wisdom to build today’s Japan. We should carry on that legacy.
• Japanese people share an attitude that goes: volunteering for a small loss would profit you in the end. When one of three people in negotiation says, “I will take 500,000 yen for my share instead of a million yen,” then the other two would say, “Really? Are you sure? Then I’m OK with 500,000 yen, too.”
• The traits that the Japanese people have - kindness, care for others, tenderness – these were part of the foundation of Japan’s peace and prosperity. I feel that this is the time for us to spread a message of care and kindness to the world. I believe it’s important for Japan to take leadership in the spiritual area.

• Q: Thank you very much.

The participants make toast for a good luck in 2018 New Year.

Governor Bruce Rauner and his wife participate in the Japanese business community's New Year's Party.

JCCC's incoming and outgoing leaders

Kanta Nakano speaks about his experiences and hopes.

Kosetsu Minami, singer and songwriter, performs at JCCC's New Year's Party.