TOMODACHI Amway Japan Foundation Tohoku Future Leader Program Completes Trip to the United States

From March 24 to April 3, the second TOMODACHI Amway Japan Foundation Tohoku Future Leader Program was successfully held in the United States. 16 high school students from Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture learned about tourism, hospitality, community revitalization and leadership by visiting various organizations and schools in New York City and Washington, DC. The program is a part of the Amway Japan Foundation’s Tohoku reconstruction project, “Remember HOPE.”

The students began their trip in New York City, where they visited the National 9/11 Memorial & Museum and the High Line to learn how Manhattan has overcome devastating challenges and how the dynamic city is moving forward while simultaneously preserving its history. Students also had the opportunity to visit the Red Hook area of western Brooklyn, which was affected by Hurricane Sandy; they interacted with professionals from the nonprofit organization Red Hook Initiative to learn about community resilience and leadership. 

The program then took students to Washington, DC, which included a four-day homestay; this opportunity allowed students to gain a firsthand experience of American culture and interact with impactful leaders. The students had the privilege of visiting the Embassy of Japan and heard from Minister SATO about the role of the Embassy, the importance of U.S.-Japan relations, cultural exchange, tourism and hospitality. Participants also had the opportunity to interact with high school students who are learning about Japanese language and culture in an extracurricular activity called Japanese Plus, led by Sally Schwartz and Chihiro Takahashi, both of whom actively promote the U.S.-Japan relationship, thus fostering meaningful connections between the students.

The group also had the opportunity to listen to a panel of successful communications professionals during their time with the Japanese Plus students. Panelists included Nishant Annu, Assistant Correspondent of Nikkei; USJC Council Leader Yuka Hayashi (The Wall Street Journal) and USJC Associate Yumi Araki (America’s Test Kitchen, ELP ‘23). During the Q&A session, panelists shared their backgrounds and personal stories with the students; the discussion also touched on the way stories about the Great East Japan Earthquake were shared through American media with a focus on resilience. This led to an even deeper discussion about how Japan is currently perceived by both the United States and the world at large, which inspired the students to think of ways to promote their hometown on an international scale.

At Columbia Heights High School, program participants had the opportunity to interact with students studying tourism and hospitality, which allowed them to learn about the charm of Washington, DC and gave them the opportunity to discuss how to promote the charm and appeal of Rikuzentakata on a global scale. On the final day of their stay in Washington, DC, they presented what they had learned through their program in the United States and how they wanted to apply it to benefit Rikuzentakata. The DC portion of the program wrapped with a reception at the Amway Townhouse, which was attended by many USJC members in the DC area. 

Chiasa Nakawatari, a program participant, expressed her gratitude and commitment to revitalizing Rikuzentakata and emphasized the importance of unity and cross-cultural understanding in her speech. As the students return to Japan, they will work together on the final projects to implement their newly gained knowledge. Their presentation day is scheduled for July.