In December, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) of Japan hosted a delegation of Asian-Americans to travel to Japan – among the 10 leaders selected from across the United States was Henry Tanaka, Academic Dean of Art, Design and Humanities at Oakland Community College.
An important visit designed to strengthen global relations, cultural understanding, and prepare for potential policy and business opportunities, the delegation engaged with Japanese leaders in business, government, academic and cultural sectors. Each delegate represented varied U.S. geographies, backgrounds and vocations. Tanaka was the only Japanese-American in the delegation and only one of two from the mid-west.
“This first visit to Japan for me was an amazing personal experience. I was brought up in post-WWII and growing up, my Japanese heritage was an important factor,” said Tanaka.
The MOFA program is a result of a 2014 meeting between President Obama and Prime Minister Shinzō Abe. The purpose of the delegate visits is to promote and enhance the already strong relationship between the U.S. and Japan through direct, people-to-people exchanges. Planned as an annual event, Tanaka’s group represented the second MOFA visit since the launch of the program last year.
“It was an honor for the Japanese government to reach out to all of us on the delegation. During the trip, their leaders spoke about the geopolitical environment and international dynamics. It is important to understand there is great interconnection of all countries world-wide related to political and social issues, as well as trade.”
There was particular interest from MOFA on Tanaka’s view of Detroit’s revival from his vantage as a collaborative leader in the region’s Asian-American community. There are 400 Japanese owned companies in southeastern Michigan.
The delegation visit was a week’s worth of immersed learning on many geopolitical issues and the current U.S.—Japan relationship including meetings with representatives of government, business, academia; briefings by each ministry; exchange of opinions; state dinners; and, local travel.
“During the trip, we learned about many things including post-war recovery changes, NAFTA restrictions, recurring boundary issues and recent recovery struggles from the earthquakes where help is still needed – we are told it will be 30 years till they can return to that part of the country,” Tanaka explained. “The size of Japan, by number of people, is hard to imagine. They are highly dependent on imports of fruits and vegetables as little are grown there to sustain the population.”
During the eight day visit, December 6-13, the group traveled by plane, bus and bullet train to Tokyo, Hiroshima and Kyoto. They visited temples, Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, the Kinkaku-ji (Temple of the Golden Pavilion), the Meiji Shrine, the Theatre of Traditional Japanese performing arts, and other historic and cultural sites
“We were shown tremendous respect and graciousness by everyone we encountered, including dignitaries and the people of Japan.”
In addition to Tanaka, the delegation included Rosemary Abriam, Center for Asian Pacific American Women, San Francisco; Allan A. Alvarez, KPHI Filipino Radio, Hawaii; Christine Chen, Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote, Washington D.C.; Pramila Jayapal, State Senator, Seattle; Daniel Arrigg Koh, Chief of Staff, City of Boston; Tuyet-Anh M. Le, Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Chicago; Clarence Low, Asian Chamber of Commerce, Denver; Patricia Shin Rockenwagner, Condé Nast, Los Angeles; and, Bonnie Wong, Asian Women in Business, New York.
The visit marked the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII in 1945.
For more information and pictures from the historic trip, visit the group’s Facebook page.