At the five years' commemoration of the Great East Japan Earthquake, the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) remembers the many people who lost their lives in the triple tragedy. As leaders who are committed to strengthening the relationship between the United States and Japan, we at USJC have continuously asked ourselves how we can continue to work with Japan as it rebuilds the Tohoku region and supports its people. We have been honored thus far to invest in the next generation of young leaders through the TOMODACHI Initiative, and it has been an inspiring journey since Ambassador John V. Roos, the previous U.S. ambassador to Japan, reached out to USJC to bring TOMODACHI to reality in partnership with the U.S. Embassy and with the support of the government of Japan.
Thanks to so many sponsors, supporters and the USJC network, who tirelessly organized fundraising events, hosted program participants at their home, and invested in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders, what began as an initiative to bring Tohoku high school students to the United States has become a true public-private partnership over these past five years. Programs now allow for exchange between the two countries, and welcome not only high school students but college students and professionals as well. As of December last year, TOMODACHI events and programs had welcomed over 29,000 individuals. In 2015 alone, close to 50 programs were held in more than 40 locations in Japan and the United States and to date 4,600 young people have directly participated in exchange programs.
It is gratifying to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations through people-to-people exchange. Ambassador Caroline Kennedy has noted that TOMODACHI is "essential to the commitment made by President Obama and Prime Minister Abe to double the number of young people studying in each other's countries." What we find even more rewarding is the positive change we see in each participant. TOMODACHI began when, soon after the disaster, Mayor Futoshi Toba of Rikuzentaka asked Ambassador Roos for support in giving "hope, future and dreams" to young people. We believe TOMODACHI offers just that: hope for a better world; possibilities of a brighter future; and support to realize all kinds of dreams, from becoming an astronaut, to performing at the Lincoln Center, to founding a business. Seeing the impact TOMODACHI has had on them, in turn, gives us hope for even stronger ties between our two countries.
Recognizing the ongoing needs in Tohoku, we remain focused on supporting youth in the region. Nearly 70% of TOMODACHI participants have come from Tohoku. To commemorate the fifth year since the disasters, USJC and TOMODACHI are holding events in Tohoku, Tokyo, and cities around the United States; asking Tohoku youth their vision for the next five years; and sending them messages of encouragement on social media. Their lives changed forever on March 11, 2011. TOMODACHI's goal is to change their lives for the better, so that they may nurture their hopes and dreams for a brighter future.
Irene Hirano Inouye
President, U.S.-Japan Council
Irene Hirano Inouye at the 2016 Global Leadership Academy
TOMODACHI Reception (March 4, 2016) - During this event in Tokyo, the TOMODACHI Initiative and its partners announced further support for the rebuilding of Tohoku. TOMODACHI signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with the Government of Japan; the TOMODACHI Fund for Exchanges also renewed their support for Tohoku. Click here to see photos.
TOMODACHI Generation Global Leadership Academy 2016 (March 4-6, 2016) - TOMODACHI alumni from Tohoku reflected on the recovery achieved in the past five years, and discussed goals for the next five years and beyond. Click here to see photos.
TOMODACHI Social Media Campaign (Ongoing) - Participate by using the hashtag #TOMO311 or emailing your photo to firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here to see what others have posted so far.
Events Commemorating the Fifth Anniversary of 3.11 (Ongoing) - List of USJC- and TOMODACHI-related events held in the United States and Japan.