Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies Double Feature with Daniel Okimoto, Ph.D. and James Higa

On March 3, the U.S.-Japan Council continued the “Japanese Americans & Japan: Legacies” series with a “Double Feature,” presenting interviews of Daniel Okimoto, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, Co-Chairman of the Silicon Valley Japan Platform, and member of the USJC Board of Councilors; and James Higa, Managing Partner at Offline Ventures, Executive Director of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, and USJC Board Member. Attendees tuned in for this virtual event, in which Dr. Okimoto and Mr. Higa shared stories about their childhoods, careers and experiences as Japanese Americans. 

Dr. Okimoto co-founded the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia/Pacific Research Center at Stanford University in 1978, a leading center for scholarly research, public policy analysis, and policy outreach, where he served as the Director for more than ten years. He has been Vice-Chairman of the Japan Committee of the National Research Council at the National Academy of Sciences, and a member of the Advisory Council of the Department of Politics at Princeton University. He has received many awards from both the U.S. and Japanese governments, including in 2013, when President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Okimoto as one of twenty-six distinguished scholars who have been selected to serve as members of the National Council of the Humanities. He is the author and editor of many books and articles, including “Between MITI and the Market: Japanese Industrial Policy for High Technology” (Stanford University Press); “The Political Economy of Japan” (Stanford University Press); and “Competitive Edge: The Semiconductor Industry in the U.S. and Japan” (Stanford University Press).

Dr. Okimoto discussed his childhood years in an internment camp and the impact this experience had on his life. He noted, “What I learned in camp was the humility, the modesty, the resilience, the strength of the Japanese Americans who were interned.”

He also detailed his interest in Japanese language and culture. When Dr. Okimoto studied abroad in Japan, he considered how Japanese people perceived Japanese Americans and wondered, “Why didn’t Japan reach out and seek to mobilize the descendants of Japanese immigrants in the United States?” Dr. Okimoto later discussed his nearly 50 year career at Stanford University and his views on U.S.-Japan relations. He said, “During my lifetime, the U.S. and Japan have gone from the lowest point of being bitter enemies in the Pacific War to being majestic partners in the creation of a prosperous and peaceful world.” However, he believes there is still room for more collaboration, especially in technology.

Following Dr. Okimoto’s interview, James Higa sat down to share his story with the USJC community. Mr. Higa grew up in Okinawa, was educated in Palo Alto, and has a long and storied career in Silicon Valley. He reported directly to Steve Jobs at Apple, working to change the face of technology and consumer industries. He was a member of the original Macintosh team, and his work negotiating and launching iTunes changed music forever. He is embedded in the fabric of Silicon Valley as Managing Partner of Offline Ventures, and as mentor, coach, advisor, and board member to startups and Fortune 500 companies alike. He is also the Executive Director of Philanthropic Ventures Foundation, a nonprofit community foundation in Oakland known for its bold new approaches to philanthropy and impact in the world. His deep connections to Japan include on-the-ground volunteer relief work during the 1995 Kobe earthquake and the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, leadership in the U.S.-Japan Council and Silicon Valley Japan Platform, and the openings of Apple Japan and NeXT Japan.

Mr. Higa discussed his bicultural childhood experiences, noting that he learned that “the world is a bigger place” and that “love triumphs over hate.” He detailed working at Apple with Steve Jobs and his consultant work. When asked how he decides who to consult for, Mr. Higa said, “I want to work on things that matter. I don’t want to waste my minutes. That means working with and for leaders and companies that I really do think can transform the world.” Throughout the discussion, he talked about his love for photography and haiku. He also shared his current ventures in philanthropy and his concerns about inequality of opportunity, noting that, “Inequality of opportunity is socially… the most defining issue of our generation and it behooves all of us to not ignore that, but to try to do something about it.”

The events were 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 Dr. Okimoto is available to watch online here. The interview with Mr. Higa is available to watch online here

-Kazuma Parkinson
USJC Intern