The Japanese American Storytelling Program

Overview

JASP is a group of USJC members including English-speaking Nikkei Sansei, Yonsei and Gosei (multi-generational Japanese Americans), “Shin Issei,” “Shin Nisei” (Japanese American generations emigrated after WWII), and Bi-Racial/Multi-Ethnic Nikkei. They are native English, native Japanese or proficient bi-lingual speakers residing in Japan, Hawaii, California, and other parts of the U.S. Mainland. JASP delivers presentations to students at universities throughout Japan in English and Japanese, based upon Host Professor requests. 

JASP presentations utilize the art of storytelling woven with many opportunities for students to engage in discussions throughout each presentation. The stories are personal histories, making each one of them unique. JASP seeks to strengthen the relationship between Japan and the United States by connecting the past with the present to create a better future. JASP believes it is crucial to nurture university students in Japan towards a global perspective through inspiring personal stories.

Our Purpose and Mission

JASP Purpose:  To collaborate with educators at universities in Japan to nurture students towards an inclusive global mindset.  

JASP Mission: To share inspiring “Japanese American” personal and family experiences with university students in Japan through real-time storytelling and active discussions.

Our Story

JASP was inspired by the initial vision of professor Takashi Ohde of Gakushuin Women’s College in Tokyo to educate his students on the Japanese American experience and the very positive response of professor Ohde’s students to the stories of family history and professional journey told by USJC member and Japanese American Stan Koyanagi

It was realized that many young Japanese nationals are not exposing themselves to personally experiencing the world or nurturing a global mindset, and this could have a negative impact on Japan’s future. 

To foster a global perspective and stronger relationship, JASP launched a pilot storytelling program in the Autumn of 2020.  During the 2021-2022 academic year, JASP was privileged to give 50 storytelling presentations to students at 35 unique schools in various regions of Japan. It aims to expand the program to include even more presentations to students in other parts of Japan.

JA Storytelling Themes

Reflecting the diversity of our JASP Speakers, our storytelling presentation themes include:

  • Redefining the Meaning of Being “Japanese” in the 21st Century
  • Tolerance, Empathy and Appreciating Differences
  • The Japanese Diaspora and Migration
  • Resilience (Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8)
  • Building Bridges between the U.S. and Japan
  • Expanding Your Horizons and Comfort Zones
  • Entrepreneurship and Pursuing Passions
  • Discovery of One’s Cultural Identity
  • Women’s Empowerment
  • The Hawai’i Japanese American Experience
  • Our Heritage Gives Us Roots and Wings
  • My Journey of Not Belonging and Self-Acceptance
  • The Movie of Your Life
  • Coming Out
  • Wartime Experiences of JA’s
  • The Advantages of DE&I in Business

As our program continues to grow, JASP plans to add new presentation titles to our list of storytelling themes.

Featured Presenters

Reflecting the diversity of our presentation themes, JASP Speakers range from next generation young leaders to senior executives, and Nikkei Sansei and Yonsei, Shin Issei, Shin Nisei, Bi-Racial/Multi-Ethnic Nikkei, from both the private and non-profit sectors, based in Tokyo, Okinawa, Hawai’i, and the Mainland U.S. 

These are just a few of our featured speakers. 

Roy Tomizawa

“Honored by the Emperor, Hired by the U.S. Navy:
How a Japanese Issei Navigated the Turbulent Waves of Early 20th Century America”

This is not a story about internment or racial discrimination. It is a story of an extraordinary immigrant from Fukushima that highlights the great trends of the time at the turn of the century and through World War II. Nikkei Sansei Roy Tomizawa’s grandfather Kiyoshi immigrated to the U.S. and achieved many things: Pre-war establishment of San Francisco’s Japanese YMCA, serving for America as a Japanese teacher, and post-war work helping Japanese immigrants naturalize to be American citizens. Tune in to hear about the life of a man who ventured from one world to another and lived a quiet life of conviction that impacted the lives of hundreds, if not tens of thousands over the decades after his passing. 

Presentation Outline and Highlights

  1. A Sansei raised in New York: visiting the Tomizawa family sites
  • His father was a journalist as well

2. Historical background of the Japan-U.S. immigration in early 20th century

  • Primogeniture and second sons’ ambitions of becoming the “men of the world”
  • Family background of Issei grandfather Kiyoshi Tomizawa, also a second son
  • Impact of globalization, technology and social and health trends on increased international exchange

3. Kiyoshi’s immigration to the U.S.

  • Kiyoshi’s seminal encounter with John R. Mott, leader of YMCA, after being baptized in Japan
  • Kiyoshi’s arrival in the United States in 1903
  • Kiyoshi and Fumi Tomizawa’s lives in San Francisco’s JapanTown

4. Kiyoshi’s US activities before, during, and after World War II

  • Pre-war establishment of San Francisco’s Japanese YMCA during Great Depression and despite anti-Asian/Japanese movement
  • Served for America as a Japanese teacher for the U.S. Naval officers in Boulder, CO
  • Post-war work to naturalize other Japanese immigrants to be American citizens

Speaker Biography

Roy Tomizawa is originally from New York with over 30 years experience working in Asia.  A head of leadership and talent development for MetLife Japan, Roy also co-chairs the Human Resource Management Committee and the Olympic and Sports Business Committee of the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan.  As a former print journalist for a local Gannett paper outside Philadelphia, Roy was the lead reporter on a team awarded second prize in investigative journalism by the Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers Association for coverage on a maximum-security prison in Eastern Pennsylvania. He is the author of: 1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes (Lioncrest Publishing, 2019), Start Up and Stay Up in Thailand (Alpha Research, 1997), and Working with the Thais (co-author, White Lotus Books, 1997).

Yumi Clark

“Courageous Journeys, Resilience, and the Joys of Life”

A family immigrated to California from Japan, only to soon be sent to an internment camp in Wyoming. The family disperses as the grandmother dies from cancer in camp and the father joins the US Military Intelligence Service after camp. The grandchild of that couple is Yumi Clark. 

Tune in to Sansei/Nisei Yumi’s story to discover her upbringing of having two identities and her questioning of “Who am I?

Presentation Outline and Highlights

  1. Family Background: Three Generations of Moving Back and Forth between Japan and the US
  • The tale of grandparents who immigrated to California
  • Grandparents and father sent to an internment camp in Heart Mountain, Wyoming
  • The family disperses: ​​grandmother dies from cancer in camp and father joins the US Military Intelligence Service after camp
  1. The Tale of My Life
  • Having two identities: growing up in a traditional Japanese family in LA
  • The question of “Who am I?” and not knowing what the identity “label” is
  • The discovery of “My Voice” while going to school in the two countries
  1. Message: Do Not Worry About Being the First one – Make Your Own Success
  • My journey has not been a straight road – it has involved a lot of curves
  • My experiences of being the “first one”
  • Take a leap, it’s the experience that gives you perspective
  • Learn from your experience and have it help you shape the future
  • You can find joy even in the most challenging situations

Speaker Biography

Yumi’s family is originally from Nagasaki and Fukuoka and many of Yumi’s summers were spent in Sasebo, Nagasaki with her extended family. Yumi has a B.A., from the University of California, Berkeley and majored in Rhetoric and East Asian Studies. She also attended Kyushu University where she studied Law and Political Science as a Fukuoka Prefecture Research Fellow. Yumi Clark is currently the Vice President of Integrated Financial Services for Quicken, Inc., a fintech specializing in personal financial management which is akin to a 電子手帳 and 会計ソフトfor consumers.  Yumi has built successful technology and financial services ventures in Silicon Valley and Japan, including at Capital One, Adobe, Intuit, eBay, PayPal, Visa, and a number of start-ups. She is currently on the board of freee, Japan’s premier cloud-based accounting software for small and medium-sized businesses. 

For her work, Yumi was recognized as one of Fortune Magazine’s 2019 “100 Self-Made Women” in Japan and in 2018, “Most Influential Women in Business” by the San Francisco Business Times. 

Yuhka Mera

“Diversity & Inclusion and Omotenashi for All”

Shin-Nisei” Yuhka Mera illustrates the importance of why Japanese society should embrace diversity through his own anecdotes of challenges he had faced as a returnee to Japan during his childhood. He explains how Japan’s appreciation of peace and stability can at times negatively work against the promotion of diversity. 

Join Yuhka to discover how Japan can incorporate more diversity in the modern global context in order to make advancements to once again become a better industrial leader. 

Presentation Outline and Highlights

  1. Introduction and Background
  • Family history 
  • Attending elementary and middle school in the U.S. and Japan 
  • Corporate career in the U.S. and Japan 
  1. Why is it difficult to fit in and be accepted in Japan?
  • Personal difficulties with acceptance in Japan 
    • Early schooling – his experience of being seen as the “outlier” in Japan
    • Problems in corporate culture
  • Unique Japanese customs and traditions
    • Japanese weddings
    • Japanese ‘Hanko’ system 
  1. Achieving greater diversity and inclusion in Japan – and why it matters
  • The Japanese National Rugby Team 
  • “Omotenashi” for All
  • Re-interpreting what it means to be Japanese
  • The benefits of increased diversity and inclusion

Speaker Biography 

Yuhka Mera was born in the U.S. to Issei parents. He attended public schools in the U.S. & Japan and attended university in Massachusetts. After graduating with a Masters in Microwave filter design he continued to spend time in the US and Japan as a business professional. Yuhka has over 25 years of experience in worldwide business and technology development. His success as the Site Technical Director and Global Technical Film Specialist at 3M Optical Systems Division led to his next role as the Global Design Center Senior Director at Synaptics. During his time at Synaptics, he was instrumental in the development of large size touch screens along with the release of the first touch integrated display driver IC which revolutionized the touch IC market. 

Building off of his extensive experience in the United States, Korea, Taiwan and China, he is now working as a consultant and helping companies outside Japan develop and expand their business in Japan and Asia.

Lynn Lethin

“My Shifting Identities”

Born and raised in Alaska and Okinawa to an Okinawan mother and a white American father, Lynn Lethin explores their journey through multiple intersecting identities. From being treated differently as a child due to their racially ambiguous appearance to facing challenges receiving support due to sexuality and gender, Lynn’s illustration of growing up in-between identities evokes important topics surrounding uniqueness and discovering oneself. Lynn shares various personal anecdotes and explores intriguing questions such as “Why are there more transgender female entertainers than male transgender entertainers on TV?” Join Lynn to hear about their experiences surrounding queerness in the context of Japan versus the US, and creating a safe space for everyone that come from diverse backgrounds and identities.

Presentation Outline and Highlights

  1. Being “Different”
  • Growing up with a label – the “Japanese kid” in Alaska and the “haafu kid” in Okinawa
  • Coming out and the reactions of others
  1. Importance of Finding a “Community”
  • Finding community and comfort on and off-campus during college in Alaska
  • Adjusting expectations and searching for community studying abroad in Hokkaido, Japan
  1. Being Queer in Japan
  • Experiencing a different, more conservative and hidden queer culture while working in rural Japan
  • Looking beyond local communities to find connections
  • Coming out in local communities
  • Gatekeeping in the medical community for gender-affirming surgeries 
  1. Being Different is a Strength – What Can You Do?
  • What does it mean to “be out”?  How to support queer individuals when they come out? What are the key differences between Japan and the US in terms of LGBT lives and experiences?

Speaker Biography

Lynn was born in Anchorage, Alaska to an American father and Okinawan mother and was a dual citizen of the United States and Japan until the age of 22. Lynn is a Japanese Language Teacher at Niu Valley Middle School based in Hawaii where they currently teach Japanese to secondary school students. After completing 5 years on the JET Program from 2011 to 2016, they attended the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa and graduated with a Master of Arts in Japanese Linguistics with a focus on sociolinguistics. Lynn enjoys teaching students not only the Japanese language, but about the cultures of Japan and Okinawa. Some of Lynn’s hobbies include snowboarding, kyudo and spending time with Otto, the miniature schnauzer. 

Jim Minamoto

“Resilience:  七転び八起き” (Fall Down 7 Times, Get Up 8)

Jim Minamoto tells the inspirational story of a Nisei Japanese-American from a small town in California, who endured more death and tragedy in her life as a teenager than most people experience in two lifetimes.  A Hiroshima hibakusha (atomic bomb survivor), she did not let the past determine her future.  Rather, she went on to live an ordinary and simple, yet heroic life.  A life of quiet resilience.  She might have fallen down seven times, but got up eight. 

Presentation Outline and Highlights

  1. Act 1:  Tragedy at Home – A Death in the Family
  • Growing up in the 1930’s during the US depression
  • Attending a segregated school for “non-whites”
  • The sudden, early death of a dear family member
  • Forced leaving from home and move to Japan, a foreign country
  1. Act 2: Tragedy Abroad – An American Killed by An American Bomb
  • Living in wartime Japan as a “foreign enemy”
  • Ordered by the Japanese government to work as a student
  • Witnessing the horrors of August 6, 1945
  • Death strikes again
  1. Act 3:  Home Again – Resilience
  • Farewell to Japan
  • Starting a new life alone in New York
  • A change of luck
  • “Feels like heaven”
  • How can I build resiliency in my life?

Speaker Biography 

Jim Minamoto is a third generation Japanese American, born and raised in New York.  His Japanese Issei grandparents emigrated to the U.S. in the early 1900ʻs.  With only a Japanese elementary school education and armed with a strong work ethic, they started a tenant farming business in Southern California, but lost everything when they were forced to relocate to the Rohwer, Arkansas internment camp during World War  II.   Following graduation from law school, Jim worked for several years in New York City before relocating to Japan to take a position as a corporate lawyer at a Japanese law firm based in Tokyo.  
He has lived in Japan for over 25 years and has been a member of the U.S. – Japan Council since 2012.

Lynn Miyahira

“Two Worlds: Cultural Exchange at Home and Abroad”

Yonsei Lynn Miyahira has always been immersed in communities where she is reminded of her cultural identity. In Hawaii, she is “Japanese Okinawan”, in the US Mainland, she is “Asian.” And in Japan, she is “Japanese American”. Yet through the depiction of the contrasting lifestyles of her two Japanese American parents, Lynn illustrates that even people of the same cultural identity can have distinct upbringings. Learn how Lynn’s experiences in Hawaii, Oregon, and Japan have shaped the way she grasps the fascinating concept of identity and the importance of understanding your own identity to better promote cultural exchange.

Presentation Outline and Highlights

  1. Same Japanese Americans, Completely Different Lives
  • Lynn’s father (descendant of Okinawan immigrants) was raised in Maui’s sugar plantations compared to mother (descendant of internment camp survivors) who grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in Chicago, Illinois
  • Mainland vs Hawaiian Japanese Americans – totally different cultures and histories
  • Grew up in Hawaii, a multicultural community, learning Japanese Okinawan culture with a Hawaiian twist
  1. Moving to the US Mainland – Oregon, a Predominantly White Community
  • Being “Asian”, not “Japanese”
  • The experience provides the motivation to become a master of her cultural heritage
  1. Working in Okinawa to Learn the Authentic Heritage
  • Different professional manners and cultures – the challenges of assimilating in a Japanese workforce
  • Embrace your unique identity and ways of thinking

Speaker Biography

Lynn Miyahira is a yonsei, born and raised in Hawaii with ancestral roots in Okinawa and Izu-Oshima. She is an account director at iQ 360, an integrated communications and marketing firm, where she manages client relationships and specializes in public affairs, business consulting services and integrated marketing campaigns. In 2020, Lynn was the president of the Hawaii United Okinawa Association, a 40,000 member organization whose mission is to promote, perpetuate, and preserve the Okinawan culture in Hawaii.  

Lynn received her BA in politics from Willamette University and her MBA from the Shidler College of Business at the University of Hawai’i at Manoa. She is a member of the U.S. Japan-Council’s ELP class of 2014 and also co-chaired the U40 Summit in Hawaii in 2019.

University List

JASP is privileged to have been given the opportunity to deliver JA Storytelling presentations to students at schools throughout Japan:

Akita International University

Aoyama Gakuin University

Asia University

Chuo University

Doshisha University

Gakushuin Women’s College

Gunma University

Hiroshima Jogakuin High School

Hiroshima Jogakuin University

Hitotsubashi University

International Christian University

Juntendo University

Kansai Gaidai University

Keiai University

Keio University

Kobe College

Kobe University

Kyoto University

Meiji University

Musashino University

Osaka Prefectural University

Rikkyo University

Ritsumeikan University

Seijo University

Shizuoka University

Showa Women’s University

Sophia University

Temple University Japan Campus

Tokyo Gakugei University

Tokyo Institute of Technology

Tokyo University of Foreign Studies

Toyo University

Tsuda University

University of the Ryukyus

University of Tokyo

Waseda University

JASP speakers meet live and in real time with Japanese university students attending a wide variety of classes, including:

  • Intercultural Communication
  • Gender and Human Rights
  • Conflict Resolution and Creative Discussion
  • Humanities and Social Sciences
  • Global Studies in English
  • Multicultural Social Work
  • International Immigration and the Japanese Diaspora
  • US-Japan Diplomatic Relations
  • History of Japanese Immigration
  • American Cultural History
  • Contemporary American Politics and Society
  • Minorities and the Law in the US
  • Special Events (open school-wide)

Class sizes range from small seminars with 10 students to large lecture audiences with more than 100 students.

Voices

JASP seeks to nurture students towards an inclusive global mindset and also provides Japanese Americans with an opportunity to reflect on their personal and ancestral histories and identities.  

Here are several voices from our program’s participants.

For students who grew up in Japan, I think Japanese Americans are close and distant. For example, even if you hear the story of concentration camps during World War II in class, you probably don’t have many chances to hear the personal story of the person whose grandparents were actually interned. Also, in Japan, research on the history of Japanese Americans in an older era has been produced in great amount, but I think there are surprisingly few opportunities to come into contact with Japanese Americans who are living right now. I think that the U.S.-Japan Council’s Japanese American Storytelling Program is a great opportunity to take advantage of the network of professional Japanese Americans living in Japan to learn about the history, society and current situation of these Japanese Americans on a personal level. Please join us in this program and learn what Japanese Americans are like.

Okiyoshi Takeda, Ph.D.
Professor
Aoyama Gakuin University
Department of International Politics

In the Global Studies in English course, and of course, being here in Hiroshima where issues of war and peace are so central, we often cover topics like identity, conflict, and discrimination. Yet, through the power of stories, and engaging with important, positive concepts like resilience, my students were able to link what we learn in the classroom to what they mean for the individuals living through them, leading to active and meaningful discussions that continued in the classroom and beyond.

Robert Dormer
Associate Professor
Department of International English
Hiroshima Jogakuin University

“Because JASP presentations are real life, personal stories, it was very meaningful to listen to the storytelling based on actual, rather than hypothetical or fictional experiences.”

~Host Professor

“It was a truly educational and meaningful lecture and interaction for students as well as myself.”

~Host Professor

“Last year, at least two of my students who heard the presenter who had Japanese American roots in Hawaii and came to me afterwards telling me that they became interested in pursuing their own roots (like they never really asked their grandparents about their experiences, and are now interested in doing so.)”

~Host Professor

“I will…contact my friends at several other universities in Japan. I’ll let you know if any of them are interested in hosting a speaker from your program.”

~Host Professor

Our main focus at JASP is to nurture the confidence and global mindsight of students attending Japanese universities.  My role on the team is to help prepare our JASP speakers to go into the classroom and share stories and create an interactive class together.  Storytelling is one of the most ancient arts in history.  We try to break up the class into “mini discussions” to help the students think about what is a global mindset, and how they can become a bridge between Japan and the rest of the world.

Patrick Newell
JASP Storytelling Coach
Professor, Shizenkan University
Co-Founder, TEDx Tokyo

One of the key purposes of the US-Japan Council is to strengthen the relationship between the United States and Japan through people-to-people connections.  Because of their heritage and citizenship, Japanese Americans can play an important role in this mission.  JA Storytelling Program speakers meet with Japanese university students and tell personal, Japanese American stories. I talked with students about my father, born in Hawai’i, and how he brought US Major League Baseball teams to Japan in the 1950’s as part of a goodwill, “baseball diplomacy” tour. As a member of the US-Japan Council Board of Councilors and a JA Storytelling Speaker, I really encourage US-Japan Council members to become a speaker in the JA Storytelling Program.

Ernest M. Higa
Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and President
Higa Industries Co., Ltd.

The youth are our future and JASP is a fundamental program of the USJC to connect the Japanese American experience with Japan across borders, across languages and across cultures.  These JASP stories are brought to life in Japan specifically for the benefit of Japanese university students who are now embarking on their own independent lives into a much more global and complicated world.  The stories are real life, family, personal stories, of overcoming challenges and hardships. For myself as a JASP speaker, this has been a life changing experience of reflection, learning and personal growth.

Steve Sugino 
JASP Speaker/Program Co-Leader
President/Representative Director Amgen K.K.

“I’ve had some difficult experiences in the past. I’ve had regrets and made many mistakes. However, after listening to [the JA Speaker], I realize that it is important not to be afraid of these things, but to use them as sustenance.”

“Thank you very much for your very interesting speech. Your talk made me yearn for life abroad, where I can experience a variety of diversity and broaden my horizons. Unfortunately, I was not able to speak during the speech because the participants’ English skills were so high that I was embarrassed to show my poor English. However, this experience motivated me to work harder at learning English. In the future, I would like to be able to express my opinions in English with confidence.”

“I liked how [the JA speaker] told us about the story. The message of the story can be felt. I feel that some parts are related to my life. Which makes me very impressed. I know how it feels when other people treat us differently. When I felt like giving up on something, I remember that life isn’t always rainbows and butterflies, there must be rain someday. Just try to move on and always try my best. After this seminar I will be more motivated, I want to be strong as [the JA speaker’s] mother did …through all the trouble.”

“What I felt most when I heard the story was that [the Speaker’s] life is a tribute to his ability to act. I imagined that he was a great person different from me, but I was surprised to find out that [the Speaker] was suffering as much as I when he was a student and in Japan. At the same time, I was excited that such a thing might happen in my future, but I also realized that it could be overwhelmingly different from what I am now. It is the power to step forward and the power to act.”

“Your talk made me yearn for life abroad, where I can experience a variety of diversity and broaden my horizons…this experience motivated me to work harder at learning English. In the future, I would like to be able to express my opinions in English with confidence.”

“I frequently acted based on my concern about being judged by some other unrelated person. But as long as I don’t bother anyone, I want to be proactive and live life without regrets. I want to keep going. Certainly, it is scary when someone else is watching you, but I want to try hard enough so that the person accepts what I do, even if they don’t understand. Everyone is the main character of their life.  But there are probably many people who are not the main character they envisioned. When I think, ‘This is okay,’ I want to do it instead of denying myself, even though someone is likely to laugh at me. I want to live as I want, so that I can dream and achieve my ideal and hope. I’m sure that ideal will continue until death, so I’d like to keep the title of my life’s movie or novel as ‘I want to be the main character.'” 

“Even if you hear about a lot of people’s lives, you don’t really get anything out of it, but the story of [the Speaker’s] life was very intense and I had a lot of thoughts.  Although the background of the times was harsh, I could respect the way she lived her life without giving up because of many difficulties. So if I also fall down or something bad happens, I’ll think, fall down seven times, get up eight.”

“I thought that Nikkei people were a bit distant and had a completely different way of thinking from Japanese people, but I learned for the first time that there were actually people similar to Japanese who shared Japanese values.”

“I am studying sociology, and I have learned about the anguish and identity of so-called half people in my classes so far. At that time, I watched videos and read articles on the Internet, but this was my first experience to actually hear the story. I think you have had a lot of trouble, but in this class, it was good to know another aspect such as being able to build an identity by participating in various communities. Thank you for giving us a valuable experience.”

JASP NEWS

USJC Newsletter January 14, 2021

December 21, 2021

The US-Japan Council’s “Japanese American Storytelling Program” (JASP) received television news exposure on December 18, 2021, when JASP Speaker and Program Co-Leader Steve Sugino’s presentation at Gunma University was covered by local media.

Entitled, “The Movie of  Your Life,” Steve’s presentation to an audience of international and Japanese university students recounted his own personal and professional journey as a Nikkei Sansei from Southern California, and the life changing decisions he made to study, and then work in Japan as the first US citizen “International Trainee” at the Bank of Tokyo.  After a career in finance in New York City, Steve focused his professional career in health care and currently leads the Japan operations of a major biotechnology company.  

Steve’s presentation provided insights on the new challenges facing students because of the globalization of Japanese companies amid the expanding environment of diversity. His presentation was one of the more than 50 live, real time presentations JASP speakers have given to university students in Japan since the program’s launch in the Autumn of 2020.

JASP is a program for USJC members to convey positive educational messages to Japanese youths. Through their personal and unique family history narratives, JASPers communicate positive messages including tolerance and empathy, overcoming discrimination and prejudice, strengthening diversity in society, and building bridges between the U.S. and Japan. 

February 28, 2022

During its first full year of operation in 2021 since its Fall 2020 launch, the US-Japan Council’s “Japanese American Storytelling Program” (JASP) successfully completed 50 presentations to universities in Japan, a significant increase over the nine presentations given in its inaugural year 2020.

As hoped, JASP expanded the program’s geographic reach, presenting to university student audiences in Okinawa, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Shizuoka and Gunma, as well as over 10 schools in the Tokyo region.

JASP also continued to diversify its speaker base, offering storytellings by not only “traditional” Sansei and Yonsei, but also Shin Issei, Shin Nisei and Multi-Ethnic Nikkei, based in Hawaii and the Mainland US, as well as Japan.  

Presentation themes included Resilience, Building Bridges, Expanding Horizons and Comfort Zones, Entrepreneurship and Pursuing Passions, Discovery of Cultural Identity, Women’s Empowerment, Reconnecting with a Biological Parent, Coming Out, and the Advantages of DE&I in Business.

Praising JASP’s intentional selection of storytelling as a vehicle to convey positive, lasting messages, one university student commented, “the message of the story can be felt…I know how it feels when other people treat us differently…When I felt like giving up something, I remember that life isn’t always rainbow and butterfly, there must be rain someday. Just try to move on and always try my best… After this seminar I will be more motivated.”

Active student engagement throughout all stages of the speaker presentation is a hallmark of the program.  Said one host professor, “through the power of stories, and engaging with important, positive concepts like resilience, my students were able to link what we learn in the classroom to what they mean for the individuals living through them, leading to active and meaningful discussions that continued in the classroom and beyond.”

JASP plans to continue its expansion in 2022, with presentations in new regions of Japan including Tohoku and Kumamoto.

JASP is a program for USJC members to convey positive educational messages to Japanese youths. Through their personal and unique family history narratives, JASPers communicate positive messages including tolerance and empathy, overcoming discrimination and prejudice, strengthening diversity in society, and building bridges between the U.S. and Japan. 

Program FAQs

The Japanese American Storytelling Program (JASP) is a non-profit, educational program of the U.S.-Japan Council.

JASP seeks to convey positive messages to university students in Japan – the future leaders of the country – through the art of storytelling.  Importantly, JASP presentations are not general lectures on Japanese American history.  Rather, the personal nature of the stories and the unique journey traveled by the speaker and ancestors is a key feature of the program.  That is what makes JASP’s presentations heartfelt, memorable and, hopefully, impactful. 

Our JASP Speakers have given personal, unique storytellings on the following topics:

  • Redefining the Meaning of Being “Japanese” in the 21st Century
  • Tolerance, Empathy and Appreciating Differences
  • The Japanese Diaspora and Migration
  • Resilience (Fall Down 7 Times, Get up 8)
  • Building Bridges between the US and Japan
  • Expanding Your Horizons and Comfort Zones
  • Entrepreneurship and Pursuing Passions
  • Discovery of One’s Cultural Identity
  • Women’s Empowerment
  • The Hawai’i Japanese American Experience
  • Our Heritage Gives Us Roots and Wings
  • My Journey of Not Belonging and Self-Acceptance
  • The Movie of Your Life
  • Coming Out
  • Wartime Experiences of JA’s
  • The Advantages of DE&I in Business

JASP Speakers come from a diverse group of USJC members who broadly identify as Japanese American, including Nikkei Sansei and Yonsei, Multi-Ethnic Nikkei, Shin Issei (post-war Japanese immigrants to the US), Shin Nisei (US-born children of Shin Issei), and Japanese returnees (Kikoku Shijo) from the US. They range from next generation young leaders to senior executives, in the private as well as non-profit sectors.

Most JASP Speakers are based in Japan, but others are located in Hawaii, California and other parts of the US Mainland.  Most are native English speakers, and some are bilingual Japanese speakers.

Almost all JASP presentations use English as the primary presentation language, including the visual presentation slides.  However, some JASP Speakers can also provide occasional verbal explanation in Japanese when needed.  A few can also give verbal presentations mostly in Japanese.  We try to give special attention to pair a suitable JASP Speaker with each Host Professor’s class, and usually find that neither English level capability nor general academic level is a big issue for university students.  We also find that use of professional translators does not necessarily work especially well for JASP storytellings.

JASP offers presentations in the Spring academic term (April-July) and the Fall academic term (September-January).  A Host Professor can request a presentation in either or both terms, subject to JASP speaker availability.     

All JASP presentations are given live (real time). One of the hallmarks of the program is the opportunity for students and JASP speakers to interact directly during presentations in real time, using tools such as pop quizzes, student voting/polling and breakout rooms as well as traditional Q&A. Total presentation time including student discussion/Q&A time is usually 8090 minutes.

Yes! Currently, almost all JASP presentations are given virtually using an online conferencing system such as Zoom.  This allows JASP Speakers to present live to students in universities all across Japan.  For example, we have already given live JASP presentations via Zoom to students in Okinawa, Hiroshima, Yamaguchi, Kyoto, Kobe, Osaka, Shizuoka, Akita, as well as Tokyo.  JASP warmly welcomes requests from Host Professors in every Japan prefecture.

We generally inform Host Professors at least a couple of months before the start of an academic semester whether or not we can provide a JASP speaker.  Further, we generally notify Host Professors of the specific JASP Speaker assigned to their class about 1 month before the start of the academic semester; for example, in March before the start of the Spring semester in April, or in August before the start of the Fall semester in September.  

Please note that if we receive a request to host a JASP Speaker sometime during a Spring semester (April-July), the earliest we can provide a Speaker is usually the following Fall semester (September-January).

Yes, where a JASP presentation is given virtually such as via Zoom, we might ask for Host Professor permission to video record.  In that case, we edit out all student names and faces to protect their privacy.  We also ask in turn that the personal information of the JASP Speaker be respected by the students.

No.  There is no charge or fee for JASP presentations.  If a JASP Speaker travels some distance to a university campus to give a presentation, however, reimbursement of transportation expenses can be accepted at the discretion of the individual speaker.

If you are a professor/educator teaching a class at a university located in Japan, we welcome your inquiry to host a JASP Speaker.  Please kindly submit background details on you and your class, and we will be in touch with you after receiving your responses:

JOIN US!

For Professors at Japan-Based Universities

JASP warmly welcomes requests from professors at Japan-based universities to join our program and host a JASP speaker in their class.  Please provide some basic background details about you and your class here.

We will contact you after receiving your background details.  We try our best to accommodate as many requests as possible from professors at Japan-based universities, subject to demand for and availability of our speakers. 

For USJC Members

If you are a USJC member with a Japanese American story to tell, please consider joining us as a JASP Speaker (or “JASPer”) and tell us more about yourself here!

JASPers include not only “traditional” Sansei/Yonsei/Gosei, but also Shin Issei (post-war Japanese immigrants to the US), Shin Nisei (children of Shin Issei) and Bi-Racial/Multi-Ethnic Nikkei; in short USJC members with a personal Nikkei – JA story to tell.

We will contact you after receiving your background details. If you are not yet a USJC member, your membership application can be processed in parallel with your JASPer application. In addition to Japan-based and Hawaii-based USJC members, the program is open to Mainland US members. Presentations are all given live, during Japan Standard Time hours (e.g., 9am to 6pm JST), currently via Zoom or other similar on-line platform.  

For details on the USJC Privacy Policy, please see here.

Thank you for your interest in JASP!

This webpage of the Japanese American Storytelling Program was made possible by generous support from the Japan Foundation.