Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Visit to Washington, DC (Day Two)


Address to a Joint Meeting of the U.S. Congress, “Toward an Alliance of Hope”

The Prime Minister addressing the joint session of Congress (Photo courtesy of Prime Minister Abe's Twitter, @AbeShinzo)

The U.S.-Japan Council was well-represented at Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s historic address to a joint session of the United States Congress, the first by a leader from Japan. Some of the individuals who attended through the generous invitation of Members of Congress were: Board of Directors Atsuko Fish, Fred Katayama, and Susan Morita; Board of Councilors Glen Fukushima, Yasuchika Hasegawa, Yorihiko Kojima, Norman Mineta, Walter Mondale, Susie Roos, and Tom Schieffer; TOMODACHI Initiative Advisory Board Takamune Okihara and John Roos; executive staff Irene Hirano Inouye and Suzanne Basalla along with other Council Members and staff. Members of the USJC Board of Councilors Senator Mazie Hirono and Congresswoman Doris Matsui along with Congressman Mark Takai were among the Congressional members who were asked to escort the Prime Minister into the Chamber. Some of our Members, including Bill Tsutsui (Arkansas) and Glen Gondo (Texas) flew to Washington, DC to attend the speech as guests of their respective Members of Congress. Speaker of the House John Boehner hosted a small private reception before the address, which included several of our leaders, U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, Assistant Secretary of State Danny Russel and other administration officials. 

USJC leaders and supporters at Speaker of the House John Boehner's reception: (L-R) Amb. Schieffer (Former U.S. Ambassador to Japan), Mr. Kojima (Chairman of the Board, Mitsubishi Corporation), Irene Hirano Inouye, Mr. Taka Yanagi (Chief Representative of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ, Ltd. in Washington, DC), Mr. Okihara (Senior Advisor and Former Chairman of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group, Inc.) and Mr. Hasegawa (Chairman & CEO, Takeda Pharmaceutical Company Limited)

Prime Minister Abe spoke confidently in English, an impressive endeavor that reflected his earnest efforts to communicate directly with Members of Congress and the American public. He engaged the audience with humor, and shared his stories of his first encounter with America as an exchange student who was amazed by its diversity. He described being “intoxicated” by an American meritocratic culture that chooses the best idea, no matter whose it may be. He even said his time in America caused others to call him “cheeky” upon his return.

(L-R) Irene Hirano Inouye, Rep. Takai, Rep. Mark Takano (Photo courtesy of Rep. Takai)

Prime Minister Abe thanked the Congress for sending “shining champions of democracy” to Japan as ambassadors, including Mike Mansfield, Vice President Walter Mondale (seated with Irene in the Gallery), Tom Foley (represented by Ms. Heather Foley, also seated in the front row of the Gallery), and Howard Baker. Poignantly, he spoke for many of us when he remarked, “We all miss Senator Daniel Inouye, who symbolized the honor and achievements of Japanese Americans.”

Prime Minister Abe deftly weaved the unprecedented story of the U.S.-Japan relationship since the end of WWII throughout his remarks, referring to his own grandfather’s decision as Japan’s post-war Prime Minister to choose a “path for Japan to ally itself with the United States, and to go forward as a member of the Western world” and pointing out that the alliance has lasted “more than a quarter of the entire history of the United States.” He emphasized that for Japan “there is no alternative” to the alliance with the United States, which “cherishes our shared values of the rule of law, respect for human rights and freedom.” He stated clearly that Japan “will support the U.S. effort first, last, and throughout” to enhance peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. He pledged to stand with the United States and to “take yet more responsibility for the peace and stability in the world.” 

In that context, he briefed Congress on his commitment to realize legal changes to support the recently concluded U.S.-Japan Defense Cooperation Guidelines, and called for joint leadership to bring the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to a successful conclusion. He explained that the TPP will lead to a market “that is fair, dynamic, sustainable, and is also free of the arbitrary intentions of any nation”; will spread our values of the rule of law, democracy, and freedom to the world; and provide strategic value that goes beyond economic benefits and extends to security, “for the sake of our children and our children’s children.”

His address received repeated rounds of applause and standing ovations, perhaps most enthusiastically when he spoke of changing “old habits” to “empower women so they can get more actively engaged in all walks of life,” an issue that has been of great importance to the U.S.-Japan Council for many years.

Prime Minister Abe spoke of deep remorse over the war, saying, “Our actions brought suffering to the peoples in Asian countries. We must not avert our eyes from that.” Significantly, he added, “I will uphold the views expressed by the previous prime ministers in this regard.” Prime Minister Abe focused his wartime reflections on the U.S.-Japan experience. Drawing upon his visit to the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. and its representation of lost Americans and battles such as Pearl Harbor, Bataan Corregidor, and the Coral Sea, Prime Minister Abe spoke of “deep repentance in my heart” and added, “my dear friends, on behalf of Japan and the Japanese people, I offer with profound respect my eternal condolences to the souls of all American people that were lost during World War II.” He shared the story of reconciliation reflected in annual joint memorial services for lost Americans and Japanese at Iwo Jima, introducing the men involved and describing their friendship as a “miracle of history.” He noted, “Armed conflicts have always made women suffer the most. In our age, we must realize the kind of world where finally women are free from human rights abuses.”

The Prime Minister at the World War II Memorial (Photo courtesy of Prime Minister Abe's Twitter)

As he concluded his remarks, Prime Minister Abe paid tribute to the support from the U.S. Armed Forces and many others from “all corners of the U.S.” extending assistance to children in the disaster area following the Great East Japan Earthquake. He said that Japan understood in its very darkest night that it has a true friend in America. This gave “precious hope for the future” to Japanese. Prime Minister Abe ended by calling for the United States and Japan to join together in an “alliance of hope” and do our best to make the world a better place to live. 

We are very proud of the role the U.S.-Japan Council and our members have played in providing this friendship and hope through the USJC Earthquake Relief Fund, the TOMODACHI Initiative, and many individual actions by our leaders and members. They have all helped create this “alliance of hope.”

(Image courtesy of the Embassy of Japan's Twitter, @JapanEmbDC)

Following the speech, Speaker Boehner graciously hosted a VIP reception and welcomed the Prime Minister and his delegation to celebrate his successful address.

Other Activities in Washington, DC

Later that day, Prime Minister Abe took his message directly to the business community, holding a by-invitation roundtable convened by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its affiliate, the U.S.-Japan Business Council (USJBC). Approximately 100 corporate executives joined, including 19 U.S. CEO’s and senior executives, for a conversation on trade and the importance of TPP. More details can be found in the Chamber’s press release.

Continuing his marathon day of speeches, the Prime Minister next addressed a crowd of approximately 400 attendees at the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA's Second Annual Security Forum. His remarks capped off a day of discussions with government officials, academics and other U.S.-Japan stakeholders on topics of security strategy and cooperation, commerce and trade, and more. (One of the speakers was Admiral Harry Harris, Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet, who also spoke at the last two USJC Annual Conferences.) During his address, the Prime Minister emphasized the importance of the U.S.-Japan relationship for the mutual peace and prosperity of both countries and the Asia Pacific, and lauded the progress made on issues of defense and trade during his visit. During a conversation with Admiral Dennis Blair, the Prime Minister further explained his views on the interdependence of security and economic policy and strategy, and how he used the time between his two terms in office to develop a comprehensive and effective agenda for both.

Prime Minister Abe with Admiral Dennis Blair

Meanwhile, Mrs. Akie Abe continued her itinerary of outreach with grassroots organizations. The previous day she had invited Mrs. Michelle Obama to visit the Great Falls Elementary School in Northern Virginia, which runs a Japanese-immersion program that Mrs. Abe has been supporting for ten years. On Wednesday, she held a roundtable with Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) alumni (including USJC Program Manager, Dr. Mya Fisher) to discuss how JET participants and alumni can better strengthen the relationship, as well as the role of other grassroots projects, including the Government of Japan’s KAKEHASHI program. Mya expressed to Mrs. Abe the importance and value of diversity and bringing new voices into the U.S.-Japan relationship. She also spoke about how short-term cross-cultural programs like the TOMODACHI Inouye Scholars program under KAKEHASHI can inspire young people to change their course, including seeking more Japan-related learning opportunities like JET.

Gala Dinner at the Freer Gallery

Prime Minister Abe sharing a laugh at the Freer Gallery courtyard with House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy (Photo courtesy of Prime Minister Abe's Twitter)

In the evening, Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe hosted a gala dinner at the beautiful courtyard of the Freer Gallery. Ambassador Sasae opened the program by paying tribute to the gift of friendship that marks the 70th anniversary. Prime Minister Abe said to the guests that the keyword in the relationship is “trustworthy.”

After the meal, and to the delight of all the guests, Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe returned to the stage for an armchair chat with Bob Schieffer of CBS News. A relaxed Prime Minister and his wife showed their sense of humor and offered insights into their marriage. They joked about the Prime Minister’s continual practice for his address to Congress, which made him feel “like a student” all over again. The Prime Minister said that his wife can be a tougher critic than opposition Diet Members, and Mrs. Abe defended her role in providing “unheard voices” to her husband on important issues. They shared that they have a huge gap in views on energy and security issues. The Prime Minister spoke about his decisions on the defense and security agenda, saying they are required due to the drastic change in the security situation, because if the United States cannot count on Japan, Japan cannot be a friend. Mrs. Abe spoke about the priority she places on women and girls’ empowerment, and shared some reflections about the importance of grassroots exchanges. All in all, they conveyed a sense of true partnership.

Asked what his one message would be to the audience, Prime Minister Abe said that the Alliance is the cornerstone of peace and prosperity, but that we need to remind others and ourselves that mutual effort is the key to a vibrant and strong alliance. His answer seemed to highlight why the work of the U.S.-Japan Council is essential. He said that an important component of that effort is people-to-people exchanges, especially among students. He touted his new KAKEHASHI program, which has been further solidified with Japan’s commitment to invest in U.S. universities, exchanges, and other people-to-people activities.

We’ve enjoyed seeing so many of our Members and supporters during the week. In addition to those previously listed, these events have gathered many other Members/Friends of the Council, including: Board Member George Takei, Kent Calder, Ryu Goto, Leona Hiraoka, Eiichi and Yumi Kuwana, Eric Nakajima, Priscilla Ouchida, Torkel Patterson, John Tobe, Sharon Yanagi, and many of our Corporate Members. We apologize if in the course of the week, we missed seeing any of our Members.

Off to the West Coast…

After a successful trip to Boston and Washington, D.C., the Abes head to Northern and Southern California. USJC leaders in California are actively involved in the numerous events that will mark the Prime Minister and Mrs. Abe’s two-day visit. We commend the Prime Minister for including both regions of California--especially Silicon Valley--in his itinerary. The U.S.-Japan Council actively promotes the importance of building strong people-to-people ties regionally, nationally and internationally, and we are proud to have great leaders throughout the state. We will send an inside-view of the Prime Minister’s trip to California as shared by our Board, Members, supporters and staff.

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