April 17, 2024

In early March, I had the opportunity to be part of the 2024 Japanese American Leadership Delegation (JALD), a program jointly supported by the US-Japan Council and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ten selected delegates, representing different geographic areas and professions, travel to Japan to exchange ideas with leaders representing government, culture, industry, and nonprofit sectors to foster connections and deepen understanding between Japan and the United States. 

During our trip, our delegation participated in a myriad of experiences — from a symposium co-hosted by the Japan Foundation, meeting with organizers of the Osaka Expo 2025, discussions with Japanese American leaders living and working in Japan and a special moment to meet a member of the Imperial Family. I also had a special opportunity to make remarks about the importance of history education to Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. This particular experience further strengthened my desire to share the Japanese American story with Japanese audiences.

Naomi Ostwald Kawamura addressing Prime Minister Kishida.

Amidst all of the formal engagements and diplomatic exchanges, this was also a meaningful experience in that I was together, with nine other Japanese American leaders, in a space to connect with one another, with others in Japan, and with our shared cultural heritage. During my week, I also recognized how Japanese Americans receive a particular type of education when we travel to Japan. In many cases, we become more aware of our distinctly Japanese American identities. This heightened awareness extends beyond mere identification but rather an understanding of the richness and diverse expressions of identity within our communities. 

This camaraderie extended beyond the ten members of my delegation — I was also sent off and welcomed home by other esteemed alumni who proudly represented the Pacific Northwest, including Tom Ikeda, Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell, Judge Patrick Oishi, Lori Matsukawa, Calvin Terada, Harold Taniguchi, Denise Moriguchi, Lynn Hashimoto, and others. 

As Japanese Americans, we are frequently referred to as natural “bridges” between the United States and Japan. However, I recognize that this metaphor falls short of capturing the dynamic nature of our identities. Unlike bridges, which are fixed structures, my fellow delegates and I continued to be in evolution during our trip and even now, weeks later. Our identities are fluid and never static, shaped by our experiences and interactions. My time in Japan has reminded me that what we can share are core pillars that root all of us — pillars not necessarily rooted in similar backgrounds, upbringings, or histories but instead anchored in the shared commitment we have to being in community and connected with one another. My experience with the JALD program reaffirmed my commitment to community and connection, irrespective of backgrounds or histories, and strengthening bonds that transcend borders.

Ostwald Kawamura with other members of the 2024 Japanese American Leadership Delegation: Yoh Kawanami, Derek Kenmotsu, Darin Mano, Susan Miyagi McCormac, Tomoko Hosaka Mullaney, Anna Ninoyu, Rob Ohno, George Tanaka, and David Yoshimura.

I’ll be sharing more reflections from my JALD trip — and a sneak peek at some related Densho programming you can expect to see in 2024 and beyond — in a virtual town hall on May 2nd. I hope to see you there!

By Naomi Ostwald Kawamura, Densho Executive Director

For more information on the JALD program, please see: https://www.usjapancouncil.org/japanese-american-leadership-delegation/

[Header: Densho Executive Director Naomi Ostwald Kawamura and other members of the 2024 JALD program pose for a photo with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida; Cabinet Secretary Noriyuki Shikata; Suzanne Basalla, then CEO of the US-Japan Council; and Kathy Matsui, co-founder and General Partner of MPower Partners.]

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