The following article is part of a year-long series by participants of the 2019 Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD).
I know quite a few people in Denver who are past JALD delegates, and while they told me who we would meet and what type of activities we would do, they really didn’t tell me what it was like to take part in this trip. I was told about days filled with meetings and late-night ramen runs, but not about the intensity of the discussions and the seriousness of the issues being debated. When I was asked to participate in the Symposium and then we received a reading assignment on Asian security before Orientation, I got my first clues about the true nature of our trip.
I’m not very political, and in my work and everyday life I have no reason to give much thought to the relationship between the United States and Japan. This program has been a crash course in understanding the relationship of our two countries from political, economic, business and cultural points of view. It has given me the opportunity to interact with Japanese people in a way that I have never been able to do on my own as a tourist, and I am immensely grateful to have this opportunity.
While the access we had to political and business leaders was incredible, the special moments and most important experiences for me were with the other delegates. It is so rare to have an opportunity to step out of our busy lives and bond with such a range of accomplished people. I also believe that the diversity of our group added to my enjoyment of the experience. While we continuously mentioned that our group was geographically diverse and came from the academic, business and nonprofit worlds, I don’t think that does justice to the true range of our experiences. Because we came from such different backgrounds, we had to quickly understand one another’s strengths, agree to a division of responsibilities, and support one another. We shared a true desire to see each of us present ourselves and our group to our hosts in the most positive light.
I believe that the range of backgrounds of our group also helped present a true picture of the Japanese American community to our hosts. We repeatedly heard that connections are made people-to-people, and I believe that is true. But those connections can be made throughout the United States and Japan, and not just between Washington, DC or California and Tokyo. I think that there is as much to gain, if not more, by forging connections between our smaller Japanese American communities and Japan. I also think our group learned more about the diversity of the Japanese American experience from one another, and that we shed some of our own preconceptions about what it’s like to be from Idaho or Nebraska or Michigan.
On a personal level, I leave this trip inspired to do more for our local Japanese American community in Denver, and to look for other opportunities to make connections to Japan.
-Kelly Yamasaki (JALD ’19)
Click here to learn more about the Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD).