Building Trust through Understanding America’s Diversity

Original article by Professor Naoyuki Agawa in Sankei Shimbun: (below is a translation by Watching America)

The ruling Democratic Party may have suffered a crushing defeat in the midterm elections, but for the most part relations with Japan are moving in a positive direction. Abenomics has stimulated American interest in Japan, and the Abe administration’s series of national security measures have been well received for rising above party lines. Via programs like the TOMODACHI Initiative, cultural exchange between the youth of Japan and America has increased as well.

Certainly, there are still quite a few challenges. The Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations have been rough going, both the U.S. and Japanese governments have been overworked as it is with domestic and foreign issues, and sometimes we are simply at cross-purposes. Despite that — or maybe precisely because of that — both countries must maintain rigorous cooperation and dialogue while advancing our common interests and values. In order to preserve a relationship of trust between our countries, individual human connections are more important than anything else.

Nikkei Who Don’t Seem Like Nikkei

Going forward, what sort of people will maintain the U.S.-Japan relationship? Recently, I attended the annual general meeting of the U.S.-Japan Council — the Japanese-American nongovernmental organization founded by the late Senator Inouye and others — in Honolulu, and I came to realize a few things.

Firstly, there are now nikkei who don’t seem like nikkei.* For example, Commander of the United States Pacific Fleet Admiral Harris — who gave the keynote speech at the general assembly — was born in Yokosuka. His father was a U.S. Navy chief petty officer and his mother Japanese, so he has a Japanese appearance — but with the Southern accent he picked up in his youth, he doesn’t come across as nikkei.

Nikkei tend to be well-educated with a high income level, and marry across race with greater frequency than any other minority group. Among the youngest generation, there are some who look fully Caucasian: Travis Ishikawa, of the World Series-winning San Francisco Giants, and Apolo Ohno, the short track speed skating gold medalist, are some examples of the new nikkei.

It’s not just the nikkei of this new generation who are changing. Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard of Hawai’i also appeared as a panelist. As a Samoan native, a Hindu, and a female veteran of two campaigns in Iraq, she is a first for Congress in more than one sense. Despite being young for Congress at 33, she is active in both the House Armed Services Committee and Foreign Relations Committee.

Read more here.