USJC 2022: Closing Plenary

The emcee, Mr. Sato, began the closing plenary session by welcoming Mr. Kamezawa to give his keynote address.

Mr. Kamezawa remarked that today, peoples’ values and needs have become decentralized and diversified through new various technologies, giving power to individual voices. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated social change and global trends. MUFG is undertaking initiatives in both green and digital, to help analyze and challenge the status quo. Mr. Kamezawa introduced MUFG’s phrase, “committed to empowering a brighter future,” which defines their purpose. He highlighted the importance of changing corporate culture to be open-minded, speed-oriented, creative, and innovative. Regarding the climate, MUFG has pledged to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, and recently published its own transition whitepaper on the journey to carbon neutral, which has sparked productive discussion with overseas regulators. MUFG is engaging with its customers to support their journeys to decarbonization. The company is also participating in the G7-supported Just Energy Transition Partnership, where it is in conversations with governments to support national-level initiatives.

Mr. Kamezawa then explained that, in the finance sector, digital is evolving dramatically and MUFG is adapting accordingly. In Japan, the company plans to launch a new digital account service with the NTT Group. In the U.S., MUFG participates in the Silicon Valley Japan Platform to form bridges between bright technology entrepreneurs in both geographies. Mr. Kamezawa then recounted MUFG’s history in the U.S. dating back to 1880, and he explained how the support of the Japanese American community was integral to its early success. Since then, MUFG has expanded its presence in the U.S. and continued to support the Japanese American community.

Mr. Kamezawa next described his own experience of going to the U.S. for his first overseas assignment, which left a lasting impression on him both professionally and personally. Even with the 2021 sale of Union Bank to U.S. Bancorp, MUFG maintains its commitment to the U.S., and the company seeks to continue expanding its base. Mr. Kamezawa emphasized that he plans to continue strengthening ties with the Japanese American community and is considering co-hosting a customer appreciation reception with U.S. Bancorp next year including the Japanese American Community. The U.S.-Japan relationship is now more important than ever, and MUFG is committed to that relationship.

One avenue of strengthening the relationship is by developing young leaders, which has been facilitated by the 2012 launch of the TOMODACHI-MUFG International Exchange Program. Mr. Kamezawa shared the experience of a young Japanese woman who was given a strong support system and renewed positivity through the TOMODACHI Initiative. Finally, he shared that MUFG’s brand ambassador, baseball star Shohei Otani, has said that his hope is to give others courage, and MUFG wishes to do the same. Mr. Kamezawa pledged as CEO of MUFG to meet this goal.

Next, Mr. Sawada began his keynote address by sharing his experience at the 59th Annual U.S.-Japan Business Conference in Washington DC, where participants discussed a wealth of topics including health technology, future infrastructure, and macroeconomics. With regards to global challenges including global warming, Mr. Sawada emphasized that humanity is a part of nature, should form a connection through ethics, and realize altruistic coexistence. These three elements are essential to improve the well-being and prosperity of all. On the conference theme of “the great reconnect,” he shared the work being done by NTT to connect people through ICT and Digital Twin Computing, as well as efforts to greatly improve energy efficiency. He introduced a U.S.-based project called Innovative Optical and Wireless Network (IOWN), which promotes development with more than 100 partners. However, ICT also has led to polarization of opinions through echo chambers and filter bubbles, and therefore must advance to overcome these. A new philosophical approach to technology infrastructure should also be developed, encompassing contradictions between A and B. Mr. Sawada shared that people-to-people connections between the U.S. and Japan are of utmost importance. President Biden’s statement in May highlighted the important role of Japanese Americans, and the U.S.-Japan Council stands at the center of this theme.

Following that, Mr. Yonamine gave his Chairman Remarks. He shared his passion for working to develop the next generation of Japanese American leaders and enhance the U.S.-Japan relationship. Diversity makes the U.S. great, and looking out for the interests of ethnic communities can have wonderful results. Mr. Yonamine explained that he has put in extra effort towards honoring the founders, Senator Inouye and Irene, and that despite the pandemic, the Council is on solid footing, both financially and in terms of working towards its goals. Finally, Mr. Yonamine shared that he would be stepping down as Chair of the Board of Directors at the end of the year and would be succeeded by two accomplished and committed Co-Chairs, Ms. Kathy Matsui and Ms. Susan Morita.

Then, Mr. Sato introduced Ms. Nuzum, who announced that the 2023 Annual Conference will be held in Washington DC.

Next, the co-emcees, Ms. Shibutani and Mr. Shibutani, introduced the speakers under the theme of “Realizing our Founders’ Vision: Elevating the Next Generation,” starting with Mr. Sakanashi.

Mr. Sakanashi shared about the Emerging Leaders Program (ELP), noting that earlier the same week, 50 young Japanese American ELP alumni joined in a special “ELP 50” two-day program. New ELP cohorts are selected each year to attend the Annual Conference, become USJC Associates, and join alumni in bridging the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship. There have been 156 ELP delegates over 13 years, and these individuals also serve in key USJC leadership positions. ELP was a vital part of Irene’s vision for the future of USJC and she worked tirelessly for its success. Mr. Sakanashi then shared his personal experience with the program. Following the Great East Japan Earthquake, he moved to Japan to support young entrepreneurs, but he struggled as a Japanese American without Japanese language ability and connections in Japan. Joining ELP in 2015 allowed him to gain mentoring, peer support, and a strong network in Japan. Now, he leads a Japanese startup called Matchbox, which helps companies and local governments eliminate labor shortages, and he serves as a USJC board member. He also explained how Mr. Yonamine has been integral in supporting ELP and making this year’s ELP 50 program possible.

After showing a slideshow from ELP 50, Mr. Sakanashi explained that the ELP 50 Initiative is designed to strengthen the cultural, economic, political, and personal ties between young Japanese American and Japanese leaders, through three main goals: learning about Japan and Japanese culture, increasing visibility of young Japanese Americans amongst Japanese media, companies, and government, and strengthening people-to-people relationships between ELP alumni and Japanese leaders. The ELP 50 explored a variety of opportunities for bilateral collaboration and set the stage for a new generation of U.S.-Japan partnerships.

The next speaker, Ms. Utada, then shared about how USJC has allowed her to discover more of her Japanese identity, learn about the depth of community, and pay it forward. In 2010, she participated in ELP and could meet Senator Inouye and Irene. Their warmth and passion to support U.S.-Japan relations by uplifting Japanese Americans left a big impact on her, and she made many strong connections through the program. In 2011, Japan was rocked by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. Ms. Utada shared that she worked in the news industry in New York at the time, and three months later had an opportunity to visit some of the regions that were hit the hardest. The capacity to make an impact was limited in the news industry, so a year later she returned to Japan for a new journey, and rekindled her USJC connections to work together to build the TOMODACHI Initiative. The foundation laid by Irene and Senator Inouye made this possible. Ms. Utada shared that community is about creating genuine connections between people to build something amazing together. Therefore, TOMODACHI and Watanabe program participants who have the opportunity to go abroad and break out of their comfort zones are carrying out Irene’s legacy.

The following speaker was Mr. Takahashi, who shared how his experience of studying in the U.S. through TOMODACHI had a big impact on him since his participation in 2015. Now, he runs an educational project in Onagawa, Miyagi Prefecture, focusing on community building for the next generation. Then, Mr. Takahashi shared about his experience meeting Irene at the TOMODACHI Global Leadership Academy in 2016. She had told him that he was a future leader of Tohoku and Japan. This stuck with him, and he later understood that his mission was to lead Tohoku and Japan through education. He then shared about his further participation in the TOMODACHI initiative, and the connections he made through it. Finally, Mr. Takahashi shared about his ongoing work in Onagawa to create new opportunities for children through improving the educational environment.

Next, Mr. Katayama began his speech by recounting a story of hearing about how the USJC Toshizo Watanabe Study Abroad Scholarship changed the life of one of its benefactors, Daisuke Maruichi. Mr. Watanabe’s generous gifts have helped to make it possible for USJC to educate and support the next generation of Japanese American leaders and build connections. In 2016, Mr. Watanabe gave 10 million U.S. dollars to USJC to launch the Toshizo Watanabe Study Abroad Scholarship to fund undergraduate and graduate schooling for Japanese and American students. In 2022, Mr. Watanabe contributed an additional 10 million U.S. dollars, aimed to expose Japanese high school students to leadership styles. Mr. Katayama then introduced Mr. Watanabe’s personal background and explained the various ways in which he supports the next generation. Finally, he introduced Mr. Watanabe.

Mr. Watanabe began by explaining how his own experiences of receiving scholarships inspired him to pay it forward. He was able to study abroad at Brandeis University thanks to the Wien International Scholarship he received in 1971, and thanks to the generous contributions of Mr. Konosuke Matsushita, founder of Panasonic, he could cover the necessary travel and living expenses to go to the U.S.

Mr. Watanabe then shared about going to Brandeis and meeting with Mr. Wien, who was supporting about 20 international students per year to attend Brandeis and Columbia University. Years later, at a 30th anniversary event of the Wien International Scholarship Program, Mr. Wien shared that his greatest satisfaction in life came from his scholarship programs, not from his monetary success in business. Mr. Watanabe explained that these two role models inspired him to also give back, and he wishes to continue providing financial aid to those in need. He hopes that some Watanabe scholars will carry on paying it forward in the future.

The co-emcees then introduced the final speaker, Ms. Ueda, who shared her experience participating in the TOMODACHI Toshizo Watanabe Leadership Program in summer 2022 with 13 other Japanese high school students. First, she explained how it taught her about the importance of meeting people. Through the 10 days spent in the Los Angeles area, participants had opportunities to meet many students and researchers and hear their stories. Ms. Ueda shared that it has been her dream to become a medical researcher since her mother was diagnosed with cancer four years ago. Hearing the stories of others gave her renewed determination to pursue her dream. Secondly, she could change her perception of leadership through participating in the program, and now understood taking leadership to mean “doing what you can do for someone else, even if it’s a small thing.” Finally, Ms. Ueda shared how the program opened her eyes to the diversity of people and the need to tackle issues of discrimination and prejudice. She urged the audience to think about what they could do for society and take positive actions towards a bright and wonderful future.