Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies – Interview with Atsuko Fish

On December 5, the U.S.-Japan Council held its second installment of the “Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies” series with an interview of former USJC Board Member and celebrated philanthropist Atsuko Toko Fish. Attendees tuned in for this virtual event, in which Ms. Fish shared personal stories about her journey in Japan and the United States and insights on building a successful career, being an advocate for women’s leadership and giving back.

Ms. Fish is Trustee of the Fish Family Foundation. Among her many notable accomplishments, she established the Japanese Disaster Relief Fund – Boston (JDRFB) to support immediate relief in the affected regions of Tohoku after the Great East Japan Earthquake. Through her leadership, this fund raised approximately $1 million and distributed 24 grants to 19 organizations and projects working directly in Tohoku. As a dedicated advocate for women, she founded the Japanese Women’s Leadership Initiative (JWLI) in 2006. Ms. Fish is a recipient of the White House Champion of Change Award, recognizing her efforts to empower women. In 2018, she was recognized by the Emperor of Japan as a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. 

Ms. Fish offered a historical perspective to the obstacles she faced as a woman, noting that in her youth in Japan, it was not common for women to work. She attributed many of her successes to her mother, who raised her as a single working woman. This offered her a globalized outlook as well as a role model.

She also values the lessons she learned on the tennis court. “Tennis ultimately taught me a ‘fighting spirit,’” said Ms. Fish, who started playing in her teens. “…tennis is such an individual sport; you have to depend on your skill, your health, your strategy… everything is up to you.”

Relaying the challenges of the sport and how they relate to her professional career, she added, “When I encounter trouble or challenges, that fighting spirit always inspires me. It says, ‘you can do it! You can try! Do your best!’”

The event was moderated by Council Leaders Dianne Fukami (JALD ’09) and Debra Nakatomi (JALD ’09), who together co-produced a TV documentary “An American Story: Norman Mineta and His Legacy,” on the life and career of Secretary Norman Y. Mineta (Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors). Ms. Fukami and Ms. Nakatomi are teaming up again to direct this “Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies” series.

The interview with Ms. Fish is available to watch online here. It followed the series’ debut at the Public Symposium in November, which featured Legacy Council Member Thomas Iino. Stay tuned for announcements of upcoming episodes.