U.S.-Japan Council U40 Summit 2024: Weaving Stories, Shaping Futures

On April 26-27, the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC) and the 2024 U40 Summit Planning Committee invited young professionals from regions including Honolulu, Seattle, the Bay Area, Southern California, Colorado, Florida, New York and Washington, DC to the U40 Summit in Seattle. This year’s theme, “Weaving Stories, Shaping Futures,” was inspired by the unique narrative of Seattle in the context of U.S.-Japan relations and Japanese America. 

“When the U40 Summit Planning Committee started […] answering questions of what makes Seattle unique in the story of U.S.-Japan relations […], storytelling came up often in our conversations for several reasons,” USJC Associate and Summit Chair Aki Shibuya (Casey Family Programs, ELP ‘21) shared. “We saw the strength […] in the diversity stories and experiences, all of which can be woven into a beautiful and strong tapestry.”

USJC President & CEO Audrey Yamamoto (JALD ‘23), Commander of the Nisei Veterans Committee (NVC) Dale Watanabe and Ms. Shibuya officially opened the event with a breakfast at the historic Nisei Veterans Committee Memorial Hall in Seattle’s vibrant Chinatown-International District. The opening networking activities provided a warm welcome, allowing attendees to reconnect with old friends and meet new ones, fostering a sense of community that set the tone for the summit.

The opening session featured a discussion on Japanese American history in Seattle, led by Caitlin Oiye Coon, Archives Director at Densho, and USJC Council Leader Naomi Otswald Kawamura (JALD ‘24), Executive Director of Densho, with moderation by USJC Associate Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong (Japanese American Museum of Oregon). Personal childhood memories shared by Lilly Kodama, a Minidoka survivor, and Clarence Moriwaki, past president of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Community and current Bainbridge Island City Council member, enriched the narrative and emphasized the importance of historical awareness in shaping future actions.

A keynote conversation between USJC Council Leader Lori Matsukawa (KING TV, JALD ’05), Emmy-award winning journalist, and Shota Nakajima, Top Chef fan favorite and serial entrepreneur, delved into the intersection of personal heritage and innovation. They explored how cultural expression through cuisine can reflect personal growth and societal impacts, offering insights into the creative process that drive their work and compelling stories.

The technology panel, featuring USJC Associate Yuri Hamamura (EDEN) and Ryan Kosai, Founder and CTO of Potato, moderated by Council Leader Kristine Kawai (Amazon), addressed the balance between innovation and risk. They discussed how their personal identities influence their professional paths and decision-making in the tech industry.

Vice President of the Seattle Japanese American Citizens League and member of Tsuru for Solidarity Stan Shikuma and Washington State Representative Sharon Tomiko Santos led a community discussion moderated by Kendall Kosai (Anti-Defamation League, ELP ‘22). In a discussion on Seattle’s pivotal activist role in Japanese American history, they focused on the importance of community engagement and coalition-building in advocating for change and the ways these efforts can harness collective power for significant action.

The day concluded with a reception at the residence of Consul General Makoto Iyori, where summit attendees, members of USJC’s Advanced Leadership Collective and other invited guests mingled over fine food and drinks, enjoying sweeping sunset views of the Seattle skyline and Puget Sound. The evening concluded with a hosted nijikai in downtown Seattle, providing a relaxed setting for continued conversations.

The second day began with an Ikigai Workshop by Council Leader Sam Ushio (Connect3x), which explored personal values and reasons for being, linking it to professional and personal aspirations. This was complemented by the ‘I Carry’ poem activity led by Ms. Wakatsuki-Chong, where participants were challenged to express their identities through poetry. This session not only allowed for self-reflection but also fostered a shared sense of community as participants listened to and even crafted a group community poem.

An afternoon historical tour of Seattle’s Nihonmachi, led by the Wing Luke Museum, vividly recounted the impact of Executive Order 9066 on local Japanese Americans and showcased the resilience and enduring spirit of the community. The tour also offered a unique opportunity to shop, dine and access some historically preserved sites, such as the East Kong Yick Building’s Freeman Hotel.

The summit concluded with a closing reception at the NVC Memorial Hall, featuring a performance by Seattle Kokon Taiko. This final gathering celebrated the rich narratives and connections formed over the two days, highlighting the power of storytelling in building community ties and personal growth.

Special thanks to the 2024 U40 Seattle Planning Committee led by Ms. Shibuya, with outstanding support from USJC Associates Yuri Hamamura, Danielle Higa (NPAG, ELP ’17), Kelsi Ida (AssuredPartners MCM), Kendall Kosai, Shohei Narron (Monte Carlo), Robert Roche (University of California, Berkeley) and Hanako Wakatsuki-Chong. Held biennially, anticipation for the next U40 summit in 2026 continues to build, promising another enriching experience—stay tuned!

Thank you to USJC Associate Darien Moriguchi (Fusion Equities, ELP ’23) for the written content.

To see more photos from the event, click here.