JASP Launches Inaugural Storytelling Presentations

Council Leader Yuhka Mera made history on October 20, 2020 by delivering the inaugural presentation of USJC’s newly established “Japanese American Storytelling Program” (JASP)

USJC Member, Yuhka Mera

Stressing the value of open-mindedness, Mr. Mera’s presentation to attentive students at Chuo University traced his personal journey as a Shin Nisei dual citizen and kikoku shijo (Japan returnee).  Schooled in both the United States and Japan, he recounted the personal challenges faced fitting into his two homelands and suggested expanding the definition of being “Japanese,” eschewing any notion of blood purity. 

Coining the phrase “Omotenashi for All,” meaning “borderless hospitality,” Mr. Mera  proposed that tolerance and inclusion towards foreigners and fellow citizens alike will lead to a stronger and better society. 

“There is no need for actions such as the nail that sticks out shall be hammered,” he added.

Mr. Mera’s inspirational storytelling was the first of nine Fall 2020 JASP presentations to students at Tokyo area universities including Aoyama Gakuin, Temple University (Japan Campus), Gakushuin Women’s College and Tokyo University. Other JASP speakers (JASPers) are USJC Japan Region members Roy Tomizawa, Kelly Nuibe (ELP ’19), Steve Sakanashi (ELP ’15), George Miller, USJC Board of Councilors Chair Ernie Higa, Ted Katagi and Kaoru Utada (ELP ’10). Special thanks to Council Leader and TEDx Japan co-founder Patrick Newell who generously contributed countless hours of invaluable, expert storytelling coaching to these Japan-based JASPers.  

USJC Board of Councilors Chair Ernie Higa’s Nisei father, Yetsuo Higa, brought Major League Baseball teams to Japan in the 1950’s and built bridges between the U.S. and Japan through “sports diplomacy.”

The response among Japanese university students has been positive. Speaking of Mr. Miller’s presentation entitled, “Appreciating the Differences”, one student wrote: “A very entertaining and educating presentation! It was a great opportunity to learn about your experiences not only as a journalist but also as a mixed-Japanese person living through different social periods as well as places.” 
Building on this success, JASP organizers plan to expand their geographic reach in the spring of 2021 to impact university students in Kobe, Kyoto, Yamaguchi and Okinawa, and ultimately aim to achieve nationwide coverage. Further, commencing Spring 2021, JASP will significantly expand its speaker bureau to include 10 newly-recruited Hawaii Region members under JASP Hawaii program leaders Emi Au, Mitch Noguchi and Yoh Kawanami. JASPers include Shin Issei, Shin Nisei and multi-racial “Hapa” Nikkei, thus enriching and diversifying the program’s storytelling perspectives and offerings. All told, JASP plans to deliver over 20 storytelling presentations to Japan-based universities in the Spring of 2021.
JASP is a program for USJC members to convey positive educational messages to Japanese youths. Through their personal and unique family history narratives, JASPers communicate positive messages including tolerance and empathy, overcoming discrimination and prejudice, strengthening diversity in society, and building bridges between the U.S. and Japan. 
JASP also records and preserves the ancestral histories of Japanese Americans. Due to COVID-19, all presentations to date have been given via a virtual conferencing platform. The program also hopes to deliver in-class, face-to-face storytelling going forward.

Many thanks to TOMODACHI Alumni Internship Program participant Reika Mihara for this article.