Chicago Shimpo
Sr. Advisor to Chicago’s Consulate-General Receives Imperial Decoration

• William G. Christensen, Senior Advisor to the Consulate-General of Japan in Chicago, received the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold and Silver Rays during the July 24 ceremony held at the official residence of Consul General of Japan.
• Christensen is one of the recipients of the Japanese government’s 2019 Spring Imperial Decorations, announced in May, for his outstanding contribution to the Japan-US relationship.

• As a long-time advisor, Christensen has been part of the Consulate’s effort of cultivating a good relationship between Japan and the Midwest. His career covers one third, or 40 years, of the entire 120-year history of the Consulate.

• After completing Japan and China studies at university and graduate school, Christensen was hired by the Consulate in 1978 and assigned to the economic section. Since then, he has been studying issues such as economic policies, direct investment trends and state exports to Japan to work on how to integrate Japan with the Midwest economy. He is also known as a witty speech writer.

• Naoki Ito, Consul-General of Japan in Chicago, who handed the Order to Christensen, congratulated him and noted that he was among the first to be honored with this award since the ascension of the current emperor.
• “It’s so rare for our staff to receive this honor, especially while still working for the Consulate; it demonstrates how exceptional Bill is,” Ito said.

• Theresa Kulczak, Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Indiana, praised Christensen and said, “Bill provides an indispensable link with the Consulate. His advice is always spot-on. He has been invaluable to our success not only in Indiana but to all the Midwest states.”

Changes in the Japan-Midwest Economic Relationship: Christensen’s View

• During an interview with the Chicago Shimpo in late August, Christensen shared his view on the changes in the Japan-Midwest economic relationship over the course of the past 40 years.

• When Christensen joined the Consulate in the late 1970s, Japan and the U.S. were engaged in a “very different trade situation,” with Japan-U.S. trade friction already well into its development.
• Back then, Japan had about a 50% trade surplus with the U.S., which is down to 9% today. Transformation over the past decades has been tremendous, both from business/economic standpoint and in cultural, grassroots relations, said Christensen.

• The mid-1980s saw the beginning of Japan’s direct investment in the Midwest.
• The Midwest state governments, in turn, started to visit Japan in an active effort to lure Japanese investment to their states.
• When he joined the Consulate, there were some Japanese banks and trading companies in the greater Chicago area, but there were only “a handful” of Japanese manufacturers.
• Today, in a stalk contrast, there are about 1,600 Japanese companies in the 10 Midwest states under the Consulate’s jurisdiction, which employ nearly 160,000 people, and 75,000 of them are manufacturing jobs.
• Christensen said the change is huge and the transformation is very, very positive.
• These jobs are located not just in major cities but also in smaller communities, contributing to the expansion of the Japan-Midwest relationship.
• These Japanese companies are also contributing as good corporate citizens, paying taxes and helping in various causes. “It’s really a positive integration,” Christensen said.

• Christensen also sees cultural interactions growing more and more active throughout the Midwest region.
• An increasing number of Japan America Societies have been formed and remain highly active in bringing both the business and cultural aspects to each state.
• There are many Japan festivals cropping up across the region, attracting a growing number of visitors.
• Programs like the Japan Exchange and Teaching (“JET”) Program have been helping more and more young Americans gain personal experience of living and teaching in Japan. They come back to the U.S. with “real” Japan experiences that can influence their careers in the future.
• GEN-J Program by the Japan Foundation is a grassroots program where civic and business leaders, as well as economic development officials, are given a chance to visit Japan and gain a first-hand experience from both the business and cultural sides.

• The Consulate has seen an increase in the number of inquiries from smaller communities and local governments about such programs.
• “We’ve seen a lot of local communities, cities, mayors, economic development people, and business people are going to Japan, and sending their own missions,” Christensen said. “So we are now reaching out to them, and they are reaching out to Japan.”

William G. Christensen (C), Consul General Naoki Ito (R) and Theresa Kulczak, Executive Director of the Japan America Society of Indiana