Ohio and Japan: Fostering Our Partnership

JASCO Anniversary, Columbus/March 13, 2014

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Thank you Mr. Kinzer (JASCO President) and Ms. Fukuzawa (JASCO Executive Director) for inviting me here tonight. We are honored to have a distinguished group of guests with us such as Mr. Fisher (Chairman of Columbus2020).  Thank you all for joining us tonight, and for your contributions toward promoting business and friendship between Ohio and Japan.

I’ve only been at my post as Consul General for less than six months, but Central Ohio has been a frequent destination.  My first time in Columbus was last October, and I accompanied Ambassador Sasae for a meeting with Governor Kasich.  In November, I came to meet with John Minor, President of JobsOhio in Columbus, then again for the JASCO economic development seminar in Dublin.  In January, I welcomed the New Year in Dublin with COJAC members.  Earlier this month, I came back again to be a judge for the Japanese speech contest, and just this afternoon I had an excellent visit at the Honda plant in Marysville.  It’s clear that Central Ohio plays an important role in US-Japan relations, and that’s why we come here so often. It’s always a pleasure to visit here.

If you would allow me to talk a little bit about my personal history, my graduate academic advisor at Harvard was Professor Ezra Vogel, who is a distinguished scholar on East Asian studies.  He was born in Delaware, and is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University.  It really is a small world!

As you all know, the U.S. and Japan are tightly bound by a strong relationship, an alliance that includes security, political, economic, cultural and people-to-people exchanges. The U.S. is one of Japan’s largest trade partners, and last year, Japan was the #1 foreign investor in Ohio, and provided 30% of all employment from foreign companies in this state.

Speaking of FDI, the Consulate has just finished its annual survey of Japanese businesses in our jurisdiction.  As of October 2013, there are over 425 facilities that employ 69,138 workers in Ohio.  That’s a 4.3% increase over the previous year.  Even more important, 98% of those jobs are held by local residents, and 60% of those workers are directly involved in manufacturing.   On a more local level, 31% of the jobs at Japanese firms are concentrated in the Central Ohio area. It continues to be the #1 location in the state for Japanese businesses. 

As you must have heard, Honda announced that it is now a net exporter of vehicles from the United States.  It’s a first for any Japanese auto company.  But I was really surprised to know that about 70,000 cars or 64% of the total Honda vehicles exported last year were made in Marysville or East Liberty. That’s the dynamism of the US-Japan economic alliance: it creates local jobs and brings American-made products to the world. Honda and other Japanese companies here demonstrate that manufacturing is coming back in the United States.

Culture is also an important part of our countries’ relationship.  As I mentioned, just a few weeks ago, I visited Dublin to attend another JASCO event, the 15th annual Japanese speech contest.  I was surprised to see such highly competitive levels of skills, and positive enthusiasm for the language and culture of Japan from young American people.  I was impressed by this, because as a Japanese diplomat, I am a language enthusiast myself. My language specialty in the Japanese Foreign Service, however, is Chinese, not English!  You can’t blame me for my poor English speech. I know that studying a foreign language or culture is one of the best ways to expand your perspective of the world, and I am glad to see JASCO providing such good opportunities for interested young people. 

In fact, I have heard many good things about Ohio’s interest in Japan.  There are 16 K-12 schools and 26 colleges and universities offering Japanese language classes to nearly 3,100 students.  I deeply appreciate the initiative of JASCO to encourage American students to learn Japanese studies by introducing Japanese courses in various colleges and universities in Ohio as well as match making opportunities between businesses and jobseekers.  I would like to extend my sincerest feelings of gratitude to JASCO for their excellent contributions to connecting the Japanese and American communities of Central Ohio.   

Central Ohio has the two biggest communities of Japanese residents in the state.  While Japanese populations in the entire Ohio are 12,320, now have slightly outnumbered Japanese in Michigan, there are 2,002 Japanese residents in Dublin, and 705 (Japanese residents) in Columbus.  On top of that, Ohio shares 15 sister-city relationships, including the sister-state relationship with Saitama Prefecture which has been active since 1990.

We are here tonight to celebrate the anniversary of JASCO, but we should also remember that just a few days ago there was another important commemoration.  Tuesday was the 3rd anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake.  People are still recovering since the earthquake and tsunami struck on March 11, 2011.  But reconstruction is well underway, and the Japanese government, together with local governments and citizens as well as the international community, is working toward the goal of complete revitalization.  We’ll never forget that Ohio was a true friend to Japan during our time of need.  I would like to express my renewed heartfelt gratitude to all of the people, and organizations like JASCO for their warm, generous support.

JASCO has taken a lead role in connecting the Japanese and American communities in the region, from supporting businesses to promoting cultural and educational exchange.  Through events such as their annual Japanese language speech contest, they give the youth of Ohio a chance to develop the skills that are key to making the Ohio-Japan relationship even stronger for years to come.  As Japan makes ever greater investments in the great state of Ohio, JASCO may take pride in its role in making it such an appealing home for Japanese businesses.

Before closing my remarks, I would like add two things to share with you.  First, I am glad to announce that Dr. Santa Ono, a Japanese American medical scholar and currently president of University of Cincinnati has been recently appointed by the Japanese government as Honorary Consul of Japan in Cincinnati, and is responsible for the promotion of relations between Japan and all of Ohio.  I believe that JASCO will have various occasions in the future to work with him.  Second, I regularly report my activities both in Japanese and English on facebook which you can access through the website of our office.  I would very much appreciate your reading and feedback.

Thank you.