Rei Tsuchiya

Reflection from Rei Tsuchiya (ELP 2015)

After returning from the USJC Annual Conference in Japan, the entire TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) experience felt surreal. The short time spent together with my ELP class felt like weeks, and what happened only a few days prior felt like years. Our ELP class bonded and shared stories that only those of us with similar heritage could understand. With a common identity tied to both the United States and Japan, our ELP class became a close-knit family of friends. Since the Conference, I have already had the pleasure of seeing my ELP 2015 classmates Steve Sakanashi and Evelyn Tokuyama in Tokyo, and Ellen Kamei in San Jose.

(Left) With Ellen Kamei in San Jose; (Right) With Evelyn Tokuyama and Steve Sakanashi in Toyko

Most recently, I saw David Kenji Chang and Sonya Kuki, who volunteered at the Japanese New Year Festival here in Washington, DC. Organized by the Japan Commerce Association of Washington, DC (JCAW), the festival featured various performances from taiko drums to ryuku daiko, cultural activities and games such as Japanese calligraphy (kakizome), Japanese badminton (hanetsuki) and origami. The event served traditional Japanese food and sweets, and even featured a Shinto ceremony.

Every October, the JCAW committee begins meeting once a month to plan for the event. Twenty high-level representatives of the Japanese corporate world sit in a conference room for hours, having an intense and serious discussion about . . . a festival. This effort reflects the grassroots nature of putting this event together.

The festival helps preserve Japanese cultural ties over generations for those living in the United States. One parent told me that, after attending the festival, her fifth grade son was now going to represent Japan as part of his international day school assignment. As a hockey player, his initial choice had been Canada. I think we can claim this as a small win for Japan.

Author with David Kenji Chang and Sonya Kuki

The event would not have been possible without volunteers like David and Sonya. One of the most gratifying moments was seeing them enjoy being a part of the event. Among the other 80 volunteers were local high school students, JET alumni (including Nicole Uehara) and Japanese college students who are currently studying in the United States. I would also like to acknowledge current and former USJC staff members (Shiori Okazaki, Sonoko Plummer, Georgette Furukawa-Martinez, Yuri Maruyama, Emi Kamemoto, Nora Scullin) who have graciously helped at the festival.

(Left) David helping at the target hitting game
(Right) Sonya taking a break and enjoying the festival food

Organizing and participating in the festival reminded me of the importance of grassroots efforts in the community. Similar events and festivals are held across the United States in New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, often with the support of USJC members. The Emerging Leaders Program connected me with these dedicated leaders from diverse backgrounds and regions. We developed ties with like-minded individuals who are not only successful professionals, but also devoted to building U.S.-Japan relations and contributing to the Japanese American community.

USJC staff Shiori Okazaki volunteering at the festival

I hope current leaders in the USJC community continue to support us and guide us on our journey as we pursue our dreams and develop as leaders. We will continue to build upon the legacy of past generations while we create new paths for the future.

I want to thank the Council, USJC members and all the sponsors for making the ELP experience possible. Thank you also to the ELP alumni who have welcomed us with open arms, including Georgette, Yuuki Shinomiya and Ginger Vaughn. Here’s to my ELP 2015 classmates!

USJC ELP Class 2015 (“Kinseki no majiwari”)