U.S.-Japan Council Newsletter (May 9th, 2019)

Welcoming the New Era

Message from USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye


Japan is now in its second week of the new era of “Reiwa.” The ascension of Emperor Naruhito to the Chrysanthemum Throne, following the abdication by Emperor Emeritus Akihito, was truly a historic event. The simplicity and grace of Their Majesties as they entrusted the Imperial Family’s responsibilities to the next generation were moving and inspiring.

During the 30 years of the Heisei era, U.S.-Japan relations were greatly strengthened, and Japanese Americans built strong ties with the people of Japan. I believe that, in many ways, this was reflected in the personal commitment of the Imperial Family.

I had the honor of meeting Emperor Emeritus Akihito and Empress Emerita Michiko on several occasions. In 1994, their Majesties visited the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles, where I served as President & CEO. The Emperor and Empress saw the Museum’s inaugural exhibition, Issei Pioneers: Hawaii and the Mainland, 1885-1924. They seemed moved by how the Japanese immigrants built their lives in the United States, overcoming numerous obstacles, and how they had persevered and sacrificed so much to make a life for their families. Most Issei had passed away by then, but for the Nisei and Sansei, who had less ties with Japan following World War II, witnessing the Emperor and Empress visit the U.S. and demonstrate a genuine interest in the Nikkei community seemed all the more meaningful.

In 2012, I had the honor to visit their Majesties at their residence with my late husband, U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye, upon receiving a prestigious award from the Japan Foundation. They had met the Senator on other occasions and were pleased to welcome us both. They knew we had visited the Tohoku region in May 2011 shortly after the Great East Japan Earthquake to meet with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and our American military troops working together on Operation Tomodachi. They thanked us for USJC’s partnership with the U.S. Embassy to follow-on by establishing the TOMODACHI Initiative in support of young people in Tohoku.

During that visit to their residence, the Senator was especially moved by how the Emperor and Empress had turned off the heat after the March 11 disasters. They were dressed in layers to keep warm, and commented that they kept the heat off in order to conserve energy, for as long as people in Japan were suffering they too should sacrifice.

Princess Takamado, the wife of the late Prince Takamado, first cousin of Emperor Emeritus Akihito, has also been very engaged with Japanese American leaders. She has met all 19 of the Japanese American Leadership Delegations. Princess Takamado always conveys best wishes from Their Majesties and shares that they have a deep regard for the Nikkei throughout the world. Many delegates have shared that their conversations with Her Imperial Highness were among the most memorable parts of their trip to Japan.

In 2008, when now Emperor Naruhito was Crown Prince, he also visited the Japanese American National Museum and met with Japanese American leaders in Southern California. Empress Masako spent her childhood and youth in the United States, and previously served as a diplomat with MOFA’s North American Affairs Bureau. I believe Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and members of the Imperial Family will continue to build strong people-to-people ties with Japanese Americans, recognizing the unique role we play in strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.

On behalf of the U.S.-Japan Council, I extend our sincere appreciation to Emeritus Emperor Akihito and Emeritus Empress Michiko for their many contributions to build a stronger foundation between the people of Japan and the United States. Our best wishes in their days ahead. As we continue our work in bringing Japanese and American leaders together in this new era, I hope we can build upon and expand the many ties that they created.

Irene Hirano Inouye
President, U.S.-Japan Council

For related articles in Japanese, please see Irene’s recent interviews with Yomiuri Shimbun here (for subscribers only, but excerpts can be read on Facebook and Twitter) and Sankei Shimbun here.

Recent Events

New York Region Discusses Startups and Venture Capitalists

Many thanks to Iynna Halilou from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA) and Member of the Legacy Council Susan Onuma for the photos!

Council Leader Murat Aktihanoglu discusses the startup ecosystem

On March 13, USJC members and supporters gathered in New York for a panel discussion on startups and venture capitalists.

The evening program kicked off with welcome remarks from Council Leader Susan McCormac, followed by a discussion on the startup climate in Japan. Council Leader Murat Aktihanoglu from Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA); Catalina Daniels, a venture partner at ERA; Council Leader Eiko Ooka, Director of the Corporate Advisory Division at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation; and USJC Board Member David Kenji Chang, Portfolio Manager at Tyvor Capital, spoke on a mini panel about angel investing and venture capitalists, as well as the difference in the startup climate in Japan and the U.S.

Eri Tagahara (left), founder of CAN EAT, demonstrates how to use her app, which suggests meals based on food restrictions

After the panel, five startups from Japan, including ASTEM Co., Ltd.CAN EATCreators NEXTGoiku BatteryYUKAI Engineering Inc and USJC Associate Kay Makishi (ELP ’13 and founder of Makishi Apparel) had the unique opportunity to share their pitches with the audience.

Attendees enjoyed the lively discussions and networked well past closing time.


(L to R): Ryoichi Fujimoto from Nippon Venture Capital Co.,Ltd, Ms. Halilou, Ms. Makishi, Council Leader Julie Azuma, Mr. Akithanoglu and Ms. Daniels
A special thanks to the New York Region Planning Committee for organizing this event!


The following article is part of a year-long series by participants of the 2018 TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program (ELP).

Reflection from Sonia Sugimachi Livdahl (ELP ’18)

Half a year after the USJC Annual Conference in November 2018, I feel like I’m still pinching myself. I’m so thankful to have been chosen for the TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and to have gained a network of outstanding peers, alumni and program sponsors. Being able to gather with such an incredible group of people in Tokyo, where I spent many of my childhood and post-college years, was a dream come true. Through ELP, I was able to meet business leaders who have already inspired me for years – including Kathy Matsui (Vice Chair of the USJC (Japan) Board of Councilors), whose Goldman research on Japan’s gender inequality I quoted in my business school application essay! – and form new heroes, among them Secretary Norman Mineta (Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors), whose kind and humble in-person presence blew me away in light of his accomplishments.

Some highlights of the week included small group sessions with our program sponsors. It was wonderful getting to know them in an intimate, informal setting and engaging in heartfelt discussions around everything from their background and career, to their advice for us moving forward and why they’re passionate about supporting the program. A leadership session, led by Council Leader Britt Yamamoto, helped us delve into what it means to be Japanese American, and how that has affected each of our business ‘personas’ and attitudes on leadership. Listening to the discussion in “The Future of Innovation and Design Thinking,” I was impressed by how John Maeda walked the walk when it came to diversity, bringing in a female teammate, Lena Morita, to speak firsthand to her own experiences. And in “Dare to be Different: Leading a More Diverse Future,” ELP alumni Mana Nakagawa, Nicole Velasco and David Kenji Chang led an eye-opening and vulnerable session that showcased the importance of diverse viewpoints in a corporate and social setting, making me prouder than ever to be an ELP member. Topped off with multiple days of 5:00am ramen after the day’s programming and evening’s socializing, the week was unforgettable.

Counter-clockwise from top: ELP ’18 participants with Kathy Matsui, Vice Chair of the USJC (Japan) Board of Councilors and Vice Chair of Goldman Sachs Japan Co., Ltd.; Peter Fitzgerald, Vice President, Google Japan with Ms. Matsui; ELP alumni Mana Nakagawa, David Kenji Chang and Nicole Velasco; aforementioned 5:00am ramen.

I returned from the Conference to Palo Alto, where until recently I worked for Facebook’s Global Marketing Solutions team, helping to manage global Facebook marketing partnerships by providing strategic advisory on brand and performance marketing campaigns. While my role was based in Facebook’s Menlo Park headquarters, I stayed connected to Japan by providing pro bono Facebook marketing advisory to initiatives like Japan-based startup Tonari, charity Hands On Tokyo, and nonprofit Princeton in Asia (through which I previously spent a year working in Japan).

I’m excited to embark on a new adventure soon – staying within the tech industry, but taking on a global Product Marketing role that I hope will lend itself, in the much longer term, to a career closely intertwined with Japan. I’ll still be based in Palo Alto for the next few years so please come say hello when you are in the area!

Blurry yet memorable: Toshiki Nakashige (ELP ‘18), the author, and David Kenji Chang (ELP ‘15) in New York

I am overwhelmingly thankful to have been given the chance to participate in ELP, and want to thank the program’s generous sponsors who continue to support this initiative and thoughtfully meet ELP members in person each year (I am sipping on ITO EN’s amazing gift of Marigold Blood Orange Sencha as I write this!); USJC President Irene Hirano Inouye and USJC leadership for enabling ELP’s continued success and growth, particularly Kaz Maniwa and Allison Murata, for leading this program with such care and commitment; and my fellow ELP participants, for their inspiration and friendship. For me, this program has redefined what it means to be Japanese and American both personally and professionally, and I’m honored to have been included in a program that nurtures the next generation of Japanese American leadership. I look forward to helping cultivate and contribute to the U.S.-Japan relationship for years to come.

ELP classes from all years at the 2018 USJC Annual Conference in Tokyo

Member News

Secretary Mineta’s Film, Produced by Dianne Fukami and Debra Nakatomi, to Air on May 20

Don’t forget to tune in to your local PBS station to watch Norman Mineta and His Legacy: An American Story on Monday, May 20 at 9pm Eastern time! This film about the life and career of Secretary Mineta (Vice Chair of the USJC Board of Councilors) is co-produced by Council Leaders Dianne Fukami (who also directed the film) and Debra Nakatomi. Its Japan premiere last November was part of the 2018 USJC Annual Conference.

Mariko Silver Named President & CEO of Luce Foundation

Congratulations to Council Leader (and JALD ’19) Mariko Silver, who has been named the next President & CEO of the Henry Luce Foundation! Established by Henry Luce, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Time Inc., the foundation conducts grantmaking and leadership programs in the fields of Asia, higher education, religion and theology, art, and public policy. Dr. Silver currently serves as the President of Bennington College in Vermont, a role she has held since 2013. She will end her tenure at the college on July 1, and take office at the Luce Foundation on August 1. To learn more, please see her accomplishments at Bennington here and the announcement by Luce Foundation here.

Jewelle Yamada Promoted to Vice President at SCOA

Congratulations to Council Leader Jewelle Yamada, who was recently promoted to Vice President and General Manager of the Sumitomo Corporation of America’s newly established Communication and Diversity Promotion Group! Expanding upon her previous role overseeing corporate communications, she now also provides managerial guidance and support to the new Diversity and Inclusion Promotion Department, which is part of the Communication and Diversity Promotion Group.

Upcoming Events

Kau Kau – A Food Fest Presented by the USJC U40


When: Friday, May 31, 2019 at 6:00pm
Where: SALT at Our Kaka’ako

No party in Hawaii is complete without amazing food! For one night only, USJC will bring together local chefs to showcase Hawaii’s distinct regional cuisine that celebrates diverse ethnic flavors with fresh local ingredients. Buy your tickets today and join us for this special event in the heart of vibrant Honolulu! “Kau Kau” is a Hawaiian pidgin phrase for “food” or “to eat” and is used among many different ethnicities in Hawaii. The word comes from the plantation-era when people from all over the world came to Hawaii to work in the sugar cane fields.

This event is open to the public. Visit this page to learn more and to register.


Chief Operating Officer (Washington, DC)

The COO will work with the President, Executive Vice President, CFO and key executives of USJC to implement an operational strategy that strengthens the organization’s effectiveness and managerial controls across several functions. This includes Human Resources and Professional Development, IT and Digital Platforms, Administration, Financial Analysis, and the development and implementation of an Annual Operating Plan. The COO will ensure operational support of programmatic areas including regional networking; initiatives both in the U.S. and Japan; partnership development with government, business and non-government partners at the international, national and regional level; and in the expansion and development of an array of cross-cultural leadership development and educational programs between the U.S. and Japan.

Click here for more information about the position.

Regional Manager, Southern California (Los Angeles, CA)

The Regional Manager, Southern California will support regional efforts in the areas of activities and events; outreach and engagement of local Council Leaders, sponsors, and supporters; membership cultivation; as well as cross-department work related to programs, communications and development. This position will focus on supporting the 10th Annual Conference, which will be held in Los Angeles in early November 2019. The broader goal of the position is to expand the organization’s external and internal connections and network in Southern California.

Click here for more information about the position.

TOMODACHI Alumni Coordinator (Tokyo, Japan)

The U.S.-Japan Council (Japan) is looking for a qualified individual to support the TOMODACHI Alumni Leadership Program. The TOMODACHI Alumni Leadership Program serves to connect and empower the TOMODACHI Generation, individuals who have participated in TOMODACHI programs. We seek an individual who can assist the Alumni Manager and participate in various stages of engagement to support the next generation of leaders dedicated to the U.S.-Japan relationship. The individual hired for this position will need strong organizational and analytical skills and excellent attention to detail in order to integrate into our vibrant and passionate team.

Click here for more information about the position.

Intern (Washington, DC)

The intern will provide support for Programs and Communications on a part-time or full-time basis. Duties will consist of program and event coordination and support, website/social media support, organization of and attendance at special events, outreach and communication, writing and translation (if able). This is an excellent internship for those hoping to gain experience in the programmatic, digital and strategic marketing and/or nonprofit fields. USJC’s internship program offers outstanding opportunities for college students, graduate students and graduates who are interested in U.S.-Japan relations.

Click here for more information about the position.

Intern (Tokyo, Japan)

The TOMODACHI Initiative is seeking qualified interns on a part-time or full-time basis. This internship program offers outstanding opportunities for college students, graduate students and graduates who are interested in U.S.-Japan relations. Duties generally consist of program and event coordination and support, website/social media support, organization and attendance at special events, student outreach and communication, writing and translation (as able). Duties may be tailored to the intern’s interests. Interns will work with individuals from the U.S.-Japan Council, the U.S. Embassy and other key TOMODACHI team members.

Click here for more information about the position.