Sakura Yagi

Reflection from Sakura Yagi (ELP ’16)

When I attended the 2015 USJC Annual Conference in Tokyo as an Associate, I was thrilled to meet all the open-hearted, highly accomplished individuals in the Emerging Leaders Program. I was honored, intimidated and excited to be chosen as an ELP delegate the following year. My experience at the 2016 Annual Conference in Silicon Valley made me fall even more in love with USJC’s mission, members, staff and programs, especially ELP.

ELP won my immediate trust by facilitating and nurturing one-of-a-kind connections. Among the many memories I have of the program, including captivating speeches, engaging breakout sessions, and fun nights out, it is the honest interactions with my classmates, ELP alumni and ELP sponsors that stick out to me the most.

The author (right) enjoys a night out in Silicon Valley with fellow 2016 Emerging Leaders

These interactions varied, ranging from inspiring conversations to small but significant moments of connection, such as the ELP sponsors’ encouragement to continue pushing the envelope and ourselves; Britt Yamamoto’s training session that questioned preconceived labels that we assign ourselves; discussions about the challenges of straddling two cultures that feel slightly foreign to us no matter where we are or how well we speak the languages; and laughter as we shared shortcutting tricks for writing Japanese business emails and commiserated about the added burden of having a ‘misleading’ Japanese name to sign them off.

Those conversations are continuing to this day, whether it’s at an informal dinner with ELP sponsors Honjo-san of ITO EN and Gotoh-san of Tokyu Group to talk about the intricacies of family businesses, or late night LINE conversations with my ELP roommate Sachi Siegelman reminding each other to find work/life equilibrium, not work/life balance, as Kathy Matsui suggested at the Annual Conference.

2016 Emerging Leaders have fun with ELP sponsors

The camaraderie among members across generations, industries and time zones is what makes USJC and ELP unique. I continue to be inspired by Council Leaders and Associates in the New York City region. Last Friday in Brooklyn, we held Collision, a benefit concert attended by over 220 guests that featured Tokyo, LA & NY artists to raise awareness of USJC.

By being involved in USJC and staying connected to the myriad of remarkable, young Japanese Americans that make up ELP, I feel like I’ve finally found somewhere I belong. To borrow a quote from Sky Country, a recently published book of poems written by my ELP classmate Christine Kitano:

“But wait. Just now a light 
approaches, its rich band draws 
you forward, out of the shadows.
It is here, the bus that will ferry
you home.”

The author (right) with her fiancé Kenshiro Uki (ELP ’14; left) and Kathy Matsui

Thanks to Irene Hirano Inouye, Kaz Maniwa, Allison Murata, ELP sponsors, NYC regional members, and ELP alumni for providing us a platform to continue contributing to society and strengthening US-Japan ties. Thank you for bringing me ‘home.’