Asian American State Legislators Meet with Top Japanese Government and Business Leaders (2015)

WASHINGTON, DC – Six state elected officials from diverse Asian American backgrounds and regions recently traveled to Japan as part of the 2015 Asian American Leadership Delegation (AALD) program. From September 25 to October 3, the Delegation traveled to Tokyo and Kyoto and exchanged ideas with Japanese political and government leaders, business executives and non-profit leaders, creating networks that can mutually benefit the U.S.-Japan relationship.

The six state legislators are:

  • Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood – State Senator, Michigan State Legislature
  • Representative Scott Kawasaki – State Representative, Alaska State Legislature
  • Representative Mark Nakashima – State Representative, Hawaii State Legislature
  • Representative Kesha Ram – State Representative, Vermont General Assembly
  • Delegate Kriselda Valderrama – State Delegate, Maryland General Assembly 
  • Senator Ervin Yen – State Senator, Oklahoma State Legislature

The legislators began their week with a trip to Kyoto, where they met with Mr. Keiji Yamada, Governor of Kyoto; and Mr. Daisaku Kadokawa, Mayor of Kyoto, among others. On September 28, the delegates spoke at a panel discussion at Ritsumeikan University titled “Diversity in Leadership: The Journey of Asian American State Legislators,” discussing their varied personal and professional journeys as Asian Americans. USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye—who accompanied the delegation along with Irene Kawanabe, Director of the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators—served as moderator. The legislators shared their insight on why young people should run for office, inspiring the many students in the audience. The panel discussion was co-hosted with Ritsumeikan University and supported by the U.S.-Japan Research Institute.


Japanese and American government leaders the legislators met in Tokyo included Mr. Taro Kono, Lower House Diet Member (and now Minister in charge of Administrative Reform); Mr. Yasuhide Nakayama, then State Minister for Foreign Affairs; Mr. Yasushi Furukawa, Lower House Diet Member and former Governor of Saga Prefecture; Members of the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly; Ms. Margot Carrington, Minister-Counselor for Public Affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo; and a representative of the American State Offices Association.

Business leaders included representatives of Keidanren (Japan Business Federation), the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, and Keizai Doyukai (Japan Association of Corporate Executives); Mr. Tatsuo Yasunaga, President & CEO of Mitsui & Co., Ltd.; Ms. Merle Okawara, Chairman of JC Comsa Corporation; and Mr. Tamotsu Hiiro, President of Johnson & Johnson K.K. On October 1, they met more corporate leaders at the U.S.-Japan Council’s fourth meeting of the Business Advisory Board, a group of business leaders in Japan with experience in the United States. This meeting featured as the speaker astronaut Ms. Naoko Yamazaki.

Senator Hopgood was born in South Korea and adopted by a family in Michigan, and aims to bring children throughout Michigan the same educational opportunities he had. Representative Kawasaki previously served in the Fairbanks City Council as the first Japanese American Councilman; he is also Chinese American. Representative Nakashima is a fourth-generation Japanese American, who was inspired by his political family and Hawaii Senator Spark Matsunaga to run for office. Representative Ram, who is Indian American, is the youngest Democratic and female legislator serving in Vermont. Delegate Valderrama is a second generation Filipina American, whose father also served in the Maryland House of Delegates (he was the first Filipino American state congressman in mainland United States). Born in Taiwan, Senator Yen is the only physician serving in the Oklahoma Senate, and the first Asian American elected to the State Legislature.

AALD is funded by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation and implemented by the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC), a 501 (c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to building people-to-people relations between the United States and Japan, in collaboration with the National Asian Pacific American Caucus of State Legislators (NAPACSL) and the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). For more information on the program and full biographies of the delegates, see:


Photo Caption:

(Left to right) – USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye, Delegate Kriselda Valderrama, Representative Kesha Ram, Senator Ervin Yen, Senator Hoon-Yung Hopgood, Representative Mark Nakashima, Representative Scott Kawasaki, and NAPACSL Director Irene Kawanabe at the Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly