11-Member JA Leadership Delegation Heads for Japan

Japanese American Leadership Delegation at the Japanese American National Museum. Front row, from left: Kaz Maniwa, U.S.-Japan Council; delegates Michael Takada, Leslie Ito, Lynn Nakamoto; Irene Hirano, USJC; delegates Sawako Gardner, Roy Hirabayashi, Wendy Takahisa, Consul Shigeru Kikuma. Back row, from left: Delegates Jason Fujimoto, David Boone, Ken Russell, Gary Yamashita, Patrick Oishi.

By J.K. YAMAMOTO, Rafu Staff Writer

The 17th Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD) left for Japan on March 3 and will meet with meet with leaders in politics, business, culture, academia and other fields — including Prime Minister Shinzo Abe — during their weeklong stay.

The 11 delegates, representing different generations, occupations and geographical areas, continue a tradition that started in 2000 and bring the total number of delegates to nearly 200. The program is administered by the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) and sponsored by Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs through the embassy in Washington and 16 consulates.

The delegates will visit Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, where they will participate in a panel discussion sponsored by the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership and the USJC. They will then go to Tokyo.

The group, who met for the first time during an orientation held Feb. 3 and 4 in Los Angeles, consists of:

• David Boone of Alexandria, Va., president of CB&I Federal Services, which does environmental remediation and construction work. He served in the U.S. Navy for 30 years, including three years at the Atsugi base in Japan. He grew up in Yokohama and his roots in Japan are in Nagoya on his mother’s side.

• Jason Fujimoto of Hilo, president and COO of HPM Building Supply, a diversified building material distributor and manufacturer in Hawaii. A Gosei, he chairs the Military Affairs Committee of the Hawaii Island Chamber of Commerce and is involved in the Hawaii Asia Pacific Association’s Young Leaders Program. His roots are in Hiroshima, Yamaguchi and Kumamoto prefectures.

• Sawako Tachibana Gardner of Portsmouth, N.H., a judge for the 10th Circuit Court, Portsmouth District Court. Her legal career includes serving as a public defender and an assistant county attorney. Her father worked for JETRO and the family lived in Los Angeles, New York and Dusseldorf, Germany. Born in Japan, she has roots in Saga and Fukuoka prefectures.

• Roy Hirabayashi of San Jose, co-founder and past executive director of San Jose Taiko, a founding member of the North American Taiko Conference, a judge for the International Taiko Contest in Tokyo, and board member of the Japantown Community Congress of San Jose. His roots are in Hiroshima Prefecture.

• Leslie Ito of Los Angeles, president and CEO of the Japanese American Cultural and Community Center, formerly program director for arts and health at the California Community Foundation, director of grant programs at the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, and executive director of Visual Communications. A Yonsei married to a Chinese American, she says she has a “pan-Asian background and family.” Her roots are in Fukuoka, Wakayama and Kumamoto prefectures.

• Lynn Nakamoto of Salem, Ore., who was appointed and then elected to the Oregon Supreme Court, becoming the first Asian American to serve in that capacity. She was previously appointed and elected to the Oregon Court of Appeals. Born in Los Angeles and raised in Orange County, she went to law school and worked in New York before returning to the West Coast. Her roots are in Kumamoto and Hiroshima prefectures on her maternal and paternal sides, respectively.

• Patrick Oishi of Seattle, a judge on the King County Superior Court, Washington’s largest and busiest trial court, former chief judge of the Maleng Regional Justice Center, and the state’s first Superior Court criminal commissioner. A Sansei born and raised on Maui, he has roots in Hiroshima and Fukuoka prefectures on his maternal and paternal sides, respectively.

• Ken Russell of Miami, a commissioner of Miami’s District 2 and the city’s first Japanese American elected official. Formerly a professional yo-yo player, a skill learned from his mother, he has chaired the Downtown Development Authority, Coconut Grove Business Improvement District, and Omni Community Redevelopment Agency, and promotes investment and partnerships with Japanese businesses. His roots are in Nara and Tokyo.

• Michael Takada of Chicago, CEO of Japanese American Service Committee, a social service agency primarily catering to seniors as well as a community and cultural center. He has over 30 years of experience in the financial sector and has been elected chair of the Chicago Japanese American Council, whose affiliates include JASC and the Japanese Chamber of Commerce. Born to a Japanese mother and a Nisei father from Los Angeles, he has roots in Miyazaki and Nagano prefectures on his maternal and paternal sides, respectively.

• Wendy Takahisa of New York City, executive director of the Office of Community Relations at Morgan Stanley, where she works on community revitalization, to help low- and moderate-income people get housing and help small businesses achieve economic growth. She is a board member and past president of Asian Americans for Equality. Her father is a Nisei from California and her mother is of Eastern European Jewish descent. Her roots on her father’s side are in Tokyo and Osaka.

• Gary Yamashita of Denver, CEO of Sakura Square, who is overseeing development of that site into a Japanese cultural and community center. He has 35 years of experience in the real estate and banking industries and is executive director of the Sakura Foundation, a nonprofit that promotes Japanese heritage and culture through programs, grants and scholarships. His roots are in Shizuoka and Wakayama prefectures on his maternal and paternal sides, respectively.

California Representatives

For Leslie Ito, the only Southern California delegate, this will be her seventh trip to Japan, but the circumstances will be different. “My first trip, my grandparents took my sisters and I with their redress money and a group of family members returned to my great-grandfather’s house in Fukuoka …

Leslie Ito and Mark Yokoyama, the 2017 and 2016 Southern California delegates. (J.K. YAMAMOTO/Rafu Shimpo)

“I’ve been there several times in the last four years because we’re trying to revive and strengthen the relationships that helped us to found the organization [JACCC] but also make new relationships as well … I’m really looking forward to the trip and taking on the role of being an ambassador between the two countries.”

Ito said that Japanese Americans can play “an important role … to bridge between the U.S. and Japan,” particularly at a time when “there’s a lot of uncertainty on both sides … because of the leadership transition in our country.”

“We care about and we’re connected and linked to the economic success of Japan,” she added. “Their success is our success.”

Noting that the Japan Business Association of Southern California (JBA) helped make the JACCC a reality by getting public and private financial support in both countries, Ito said that JACCC’s upcoming “Bridge to Joy” concert, which will feature a choir of 300 singers from the U.S. and Japan, is “the perfect example of … how arts and culture can [also]play a role in strengthening our communities.”

Mark Yokoyama, former police chief and current city manager of Alhambra, was last year’s Southern California representative and the only 2016 delegate to attend this year’s orientation. He said of his experience, “It came down to really learning about the culture, meeting new people, establishing relationships. So we now have connections on both sides of the world. That’s really what it was all about, learning different perspectives and viewpoints about current issues.”

Roy Hirabayashi, the lone Northern California representative, has visited Japan a number of times, studying and training with other taiko groups and developing collaborative projects. “This is much, much different, a whole different level that I’ve never worked with before,” he said of his participation in JALD, because it involves deep discussions of the Japanese American experience and current events in both countries.

Having performed extensively with San Jose Taiko, he said, “What’s interesting being Japanese American and doing taiko, as we go around and play, the American public thinks I’m from Japan, but when I go to Japan … they know I’m American.”