Reflections on State Visit from USJC Board Co-Chair Susan Morita

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, with (from right) USJC Board of Councilors member Ken Inouye, Deputy Assistant to the President Erika Moritsugu, USJC Honorary Board of Councilors Senator Mazie Hirono and Representative Jill Tokuda, USJC Board Co-Chair Susan Morita (JALD ’11). Second row: USJC Associate Kekoa Erber, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF) Board member Carolyn Hoover, Japanese American Citizens League Executive Director and USJC Council Leader David Inoue (JALD ’18), Japanese American Veterans Association Vice President Danielle Ngo, NJAMF Board Co-Chair and USJC Associate Dana Heatherton (ELP ’11) and USJC Associate Ben Ohno.

Prime Minister Kishida’s State Visit was at once a stately and joyful celebration of what President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida called a “new era of U.S.-Japan cooperation.”  With the U.S.-Japan Alliance increasingly important as a cornerstone of a free and open world order, Prime Minister Kishida pledged Japan’s readiness to address the most pressing issues as a global partner of the United States.

As Board co-chair, I was thrilled the important work of the U.S.-Japan Council and the role of Japanese Americans in supporting the U.S.-Japan relationship was recognized throughout the State Visit. It was also wonderful to see so many USJC members, including our new President and CEO Audrey Yamamoto, attend many State Visit events.  

In the Joint Leaders’ Statement, President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida stated, “we praise the efforts of Japanese American leaders to build a bridge between the two countries and to address common community issues, including through support to the U.S.-Japan Council’s newly launched TOMODACHI Kibou for Maui project.”  USJC was also mentioned in the Joint Statement for our TOMODACHI Initiative more broadly, and the new $11 million Mineta Ambassadors Program (MAP) education exchange endowment launched by the U.S. Embassy in Japan and entrusted to USJC.

The role of Japanese Americans was also recognized in remarks by President Biden and Prime Minister Kishida at a number of State Visit events, including the Arrival Ceremony and the State Dinner.  The Japanese American community was movingly honored at a ceremony at which Prime Minister Kishida planted a Yoshino cherry tree at the Japanese American National Memorial to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the birth of the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye, and laid a wreath to honor the incarceration and military service of Japanese Americans during World War II.  Senator Inouye’s son and USJC Board of Councilors member, Ken Inouye, attended and captured the significance of the ceremony, saying it showed “that countries formerly in conflict as mortal foes can become close allies.  The recognition of this ability to find common ground and shared humanity makes this a truly remarkable moment. I wish my father could be here to see this, since he always believed that there should be goodwill and understanding between our two nations, and it is my hope that future leaders and future generations will derive inspiration from what we do here today.”

Prime Minister Kishida planting a sakura tree in honor of Senator Daniel K. Inouye.  Looking on are (from right), Senator Inouye’s son and USJC Board of Councilors Member Ken Inouye, USJC Associate Kekoa Erber, National Japanese American Memorial Foundation (NJAMF) Board Co-Chair and USJC Associate Dana Heatherton (ELP ’11), NJAMF Board member Carolyn Hoover, and USJC Associate Ben Ohno.

I found myself imagining how gratified USJC’s founder Irene Hirano Inouye and Senator Inouye would be.  The State Visit seems to me a fitting tribute to their vision at the founding of USJC, rooted in a desire to strengthen the relationship between Japanese Americans and Japan, a relationship that through circumstances of history had become more attenuated.  Since its founding just 15 years ago, USJC has grown in size and stature and its membership has grown to include not only Japanese Americans but an invigorating diversity of individuals and organizations committed to strengthening U.S.-Japan relations through people-to-people connections. 

Pictured above (from left):  First Secretary, Coast Guard Attache, Embassy of Japan Toru Chochi, USJC Associate Kekoa Erber, USJC Honorary Board of Councilors Representative Jill Tokuda, USJC Co-Chair Susan Morita (JALD ’11), JACL Executive Director and USJC Council Leader David Inoue (JALD’ 18) and USJC Associate Ben Ohno

Like Audrey, I would like to acknowledge that the recognition of UJSC and the role of Japanese Americans during the State Visit are the result of the commitment and engagement of USJC’s members, sponsors, and stakeholders, the leadership of our founder Irene Hirano Inouye, immediate past President and CEO Suzanne Basalla, and our Boards of Directors and Councilors, and the dedicated efforts of USJC’s staff.  Thank you so much to each of you for all that you do.

I look forward to the new era of U.S.-Japan cooperation celebrated during the State Visit and welcome the opportunities it will afford USJC to continue to support the U.S.-Japan relationship.

~Susan Morita
Co-Chair, U.S.-Japan Council Board of Directors