Ito Leaves Chicago after 2+ Years of Cultivating Japan – Midwest Ties
• Consul-General of Japan in Chicago Naoki Ito left Chicago
on August 28, having completed his two and a half-year assignment filled
with activities to further develop the Japan-Midwest relationship.
• During the August 22 farewell ceremony held at the
Japan Information Center in the Consulate General of Japan in Chicago,
Ito said he was grateful to the “hardworking allies to Japan” in the Midwest
and would remember the “famous Midwestern hospitality” he had experienced
during his tenure.
• “It’s something I’ll always remember and carry with me,” he said.
• The Consulate covers 10 states in the Midwest region,
the largest jurisdiction among those of the 14 Japanese Consulates in
the U.S. This keeps the Consul in Chicago quite busy, but Ito said he
“rather enjoyed moving around.”
• Ito arrived in Chicago one month after the inauguration
of President Donald Trump.
• Back then, in Tokyo, it wasn’t clear “what might happen between Japan
and the Midwest.”
• Still, throughout his stay in Chicago, “good things happened” as friendship
and partnership between Japan and the Midwest region continued to develop.
• With the Consulate’s support, a variety of Japanese
festivals have been developed and promoted across the Midwest under Ito’s
• Among such festivals was Japan Festival 2019 in June, held in downtown
Chicago. It is Ito’s “nicest memory” in Chicago, as it returned to Millennium
Park for the first time in decades. The hugely successful festival attracted
as many as 25,000 visitors (according to the organizer’s estimate), and
it will be held again next year for two days in the same format over a
weekend in June, Ito said.
• Also memorable was the ongoing effort to renovate Japanese
gardens in Chicago’s Jackson Park under Project 120.
• The project aims to preserve and renovate the Japanese gardens (including
the Phoenix Garden and the Osaka Garden) built after the Phoenix Pavilion
from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago, as well as to help
develop the surrounding neighborhoods.
• The Phoenix Pavilion was erected by the Japanese government for the
fair, then donated to the Chicago Park District as a symbol of friendship
but subsequently burned down in 1946.
• Earlier this year, seven gardeners from Japan came to Jackson Park to
renovate the gardens, relocating stones and remodeling water flow.
• Ito noted that the original work had been done in 1893 by 24 Japanese
carpenters, who had brought the Phoenix Pavilion to Jackson Park for the
• “So, this year those seven gardeners from Japan opened a new chapter,”
Ito said. “They did an excellent work.”
• Another legacy of Ito’s was the “Grassroots Caravan,”
a touring project jointly initiated by him and the Japan External Trade
Organization (“JETRO”) Chicago.
• It’s a project designed to promote understanding in the Midwest communities
on what Japanese companies are doing there and seek opportunities to further
mutual trade and partnership.
• Over the last two years, Ito said he had taken 18 caravan tours, visiting
small cities and communities as well as the metro areas across the Midwest.
• During these visits, Ito wondered how the traditional, local manufacturers
might be feeling after having been acquired by Japanese corporations.
But he discovered they “really loved” the fact that they were now partnering
with Japanese companies. They believed that having partnership with Japanese
companies was benefiting them in competitiveness.
• That’s something quite different from the time of his predecessors 20
or 30 years ago, observed Ito. “I was so fortunate, and I would like to
stress that this economic partnership is really, really important as we
move forward into the future.”
• He thanked the organizations for their help in the community activities.
The Japanese American community in Chicago has also been “such a close
partner” for his office in promoting friendship and increasing “the presence
of Japan in the Chicagoland area,” Ito said.
• Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Honorary Consuls
of Kansas City and Des Moines were present to say farewell to Ito, as
well as the representatives from the Illinois Governor’s Office and Chicago
• Andrea Zopp, President and CEO of World Business Chicago, presented
Ito with a commemorative photo panel.
• Ito continued his public service until the last minute,
appearing at the Japanese culture event on August 25 at Wrigley Field’s
Gallagher Way before the Chicago Cubs game.
• According to the official announcement of August 30,
Ito will be the Ambassador to Bangladesh.