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Reflections by Mr. Kenzo KAWANABE, the participant of 2013 Japanese American leadership Delegation to Japan

We would like to introduce the reflections by Mr. Kenzo KAWANABE, the participant of “2013 Japanese American leadership Delegation to Japan”.

The relationship between the United States and Japan is one of the most important in the world. Economically, they are the first and third largest economies. More importantly, these two countries share a common value system that promotes global peace and security. Both countries exemplify representative democracies, with the rule of law as a founding principle which ensures justice.

Prior to my trip, I hoped for a greater connection with the country of my great-grandparents. I had visited Japan a handful of times, including spending a semester in Tokyo studying Japanese law. However, this Japanese American Leadership Delegation (“JALD”) trip has forever changed my perspective.

The trip began in Fukushima, the prefecture ravaged by the 3/11/11 Triple Disaster. Two years ago, the tsunami left over 18,000 people missing or dead, and 370,000 houses destroyed in the area. The Triple Disaster (Great Eastern Earthquake, tsunami, and Fukushima nuclear power plant accident) caused unimaginable devastation to the area. This loss of human life and property were a great tragedy that brought sympathy from the entire world, especially Japanese Americans.

The JALD visited Fukushima Medical University, the elementary school for children who were evacuated from three other elementary schools, and the agricultural testing facility which made sure that Fukushima foods and products were safe. At 2:46 p.m. on 3/11, the JALD shared a minute of silence at the Odagaisama community center for residents living in over 100 temporary housing units. While the people in Fukushima experienced one of the worst natural disasters in history, they were rebuilding their lives and planning for the future.

In Tokyo, the JALD met with numerous political and business leaders. Delegates spent time with Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, and members of the Diet (national legislature). Delegates interacted with Keidanren and other prominent business organizations, which included leaders from the largest companies in Japan such as Mitsubishi, Toyota, and Canon. A sense of hope permeated all of these meetings.

While the Japanese economy has declined over the past two decades, the current economy is experiencing large gains in the stock market and a decreasing value of the yen which allows Japanese exports to better compete in the world. The same day that we met with Prime Minister Abe, he announced that Japan would join the discussions of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (“TPP”). The TPP includes the United States, Australia, and Chile, and a handful of other countries which will hopefully allow TPP members to better cooperate and compete in the world economy.
The hope and warmth that we experienced was infectious, and the JALD left Japan with a feeling of optimism and renewed dedication to help strengthen the relations between two of the greatest countries in the world.

Upon my return, I intend to become more active in U.S.-Japan relations including my participation with the U.S.-Japan Council, and friendship with the Japanese Consul-General’s Office. On a local level, I will coordinate with the political and trade organizations in Colorado, and work towards increasing tourism, trade, and discussions regarding energy. The timing could not be better, as United Airlines will soon begin the first direct flight between Tokyo and Denver. Japan is Colorado’s 4th largest trading partner, and this direct line of transportation will increase travel and business between Japan and Denver.