We Are Tomodachi

In the spirit of diversity, cultural enrichment, and leveraging an increasingly global economy, the Japanese government started the “Walk in US, Talk on Japan: We Are Tomodachi (friend)” program in 2014. Participation in the program is independent of the Japanese government, and Shinzo Abe, the country’s prime minister, encourages participants to speak their mind as they travel to various cities in the US to establish mutually beneficial relationships with local businesses and governments.

SINCE THE PROGRAM’S LAUNCH, four teams have visited our shores. The ages range from 18- to 82-years-old, and participants come from a variety of different backgrounds, including business, military, education and more. While sharing their own views with people in our country, the Japanese participants are encouraged to present explanations and opinions on foreign policy, economic policies and culture. These exchanges and the dialogue that stems from them take place on the grassroots level to foster international understanding and commerce. Program members have visited places like Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, Richmond and more. One team visited Pensacola on Nov. 6 and 7 and included Ken Shimanouchi, a former member of the Japanese Foreign Ministry; Takao Kawasaki, an international businessman; Keijiro Hata, a retired Air Force general; Yoko Chivers, a specialist in environment and energy at a large Japanese bank; and Yohei Komatsuzaki, a law student at the most prestigious private university in Japan. Their activities included panel discussions at the UWF Conference Center, Pensacola North Rotary luncheon meeting, and visits to UWF Japan House and NAS Pensacola. Each member of the delegation came with stories about their homeland that they wished to share with the gathered Pensacolans, who included Rep. Clay Ingram; Pensacola State College President Ed Meadows; Senior Vice President of the Pensacola Chamber’s economic development arm Scott Luth; and Sacred Heart Foundation President Carol Carlan, among others.

Japan is responsible for $7.3 billion in trade with Florida every year and more than 21,000 jobs in our area.

“Our partnership with Japan extends beyond just tourism and economic development, though,” said Ingram.

Pensacola also has a sister city relationship with Gero, Gifu, Japan. These sister cities are established to partner with one another through human contact and cultural links.

“When you plan to do something, you need the cooperation of others, regardless of whether the job is big or small, easy or complicated,” said Kawasaki. “You must have good people to rely on. Relationships between two nations are not an exception. I believe this understanding of cooperation is fundamental. If you do not know people, how can you establish firm relationship?” Japanese culture places emphasis, Kawasaki explained, on three distinct characteristics—first, cooperation, which was epitomized following the Japanese earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. The tragedy took the lives of thousands of people, yet through foreign aid and a feeling of community among the Japanese, help was delivered quickly and the lost infrastructure was rebuilt. Second, Kawasaki said that the Japanese people long for coexistence and co-prosperity,
both at home and abroad.

“Perhaps not many people know, but Japan as a nation has been one of the largest contributors to United Nations,” said Kawasaki. “In fact, Japan is the second largest after the US. Japanese people are very conscious of the importance of peacekeeping, because of our own experiences
during the war. Aside from financial contributions, many young Japanese people join programs to travel to developing countries to participate [in] activities. In addition, there is now also a trend for baby-boomer retirees like me to join such activities.” Finally, Kawasaki stressed that his people are reliable and hard-working, with emphasis placed on innovation.

A pervasive theme of Japan’s current national economic discussion and these international visits is the role of women in society. “Womenomics” is currently a popular expression in Japan and involves the fact that a growing number of young women in Japan are active, positive, and willing to work outside the home. This, in conjunction with a decreasing working population, lends a unique opportunity for the nation’s women.

“Diversity is crucial to our economy and I welcome women to join us at all levels of business,” said Shimanouchi.

Prime Minister Abe has often said that advancement of women’s roles in the workforce is indispensable to his economic growth strategy, and he encourages other countries to take similarly proactive approaches. As part of this continuing progress, the US Embassy Tokyo and the Tomodachi Initiative launched the Tomodachi MetLife Women’s Leadership Program, a 10-month mentorship that pairs highly motivated Japanese female university students with Japanese midcareer professionals.

Another emphasized theme of Japan’s continued proactive relations with the US, Florida, and Pensacola in particular is tourism. Many older Japanese citizens have the means and desire to visit far-off places that also offer a dose of cultural differences.

“Pensacola is a beautiful place with beautiful people,” said Shimanouchi. “Pensacola should do more to reach out to our people who would love to visit. We will be coming back as soon as possible.”

The delegation traveled to Austin next as part of their journey through America, but they assured the gathered business leaders that they would take the tales of their experiences back to their friends and family in Japan.

“I believe it is important that both sides recognize that there are differences in terms of our cultural backgrounds, but that we respect such  differences,” said Kawasaki in conclusion. “Cultural difference aside, I would like to reiterate that the characteristics of Japanese people are not so different from those of Americans, especially from the view point of one’s own integrity. In conclusion, I would like to stress that Japan, having such wonderful people, is a trustworthy partner to the US.”