I wish you all the joy of the New Year! I am very grateful to everyone for the kindness and understanding you showed us last year and I am looking forward to a wonderful 2016.
In my New Year’s message last year, I wrote about the developing economic relationship between Japan and Oregon and the Northwest. Now I would like to tell you about how it has grown over the year 2015. First, the number of Japanese companies in Oregon increased to about 140 firms. These companies employed nearly 7,000 Oregonians and the number of workers from Japan in this area increased by over 200. I’m certainly sure that we owe these positive results to great efforts on the part of the Oregon Department of Economic Development (Business Oregon) and the Oregon-Japan Representative office in Tokyo.
As relates to the Asia Pacific economy, in October 2015, an initial framework for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was agreed between the twelve related countries to introduce high-level economic cooperation. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expects that the TPP will promote the renewal of the Japanese economy as a whole, as well as stimulating local area economies.
In Oregon and Idaho, it is estimated that business profits are likely to increase through the elimination of Tariff and Non-Tariff Barriers prescribed by the TPP. At this stage, we cannot make any predictions as to the ratification by participating countries, but the Japanese government has made this issue its top priority. Although debate in the United States Congress will begin with the new year, there are already influential lawmakers opposed to the progression of the trade pact. Therefore we would like to work to help the TPP succeed with your cooperation.
I would also like to mention two big events which were held in Portland in 2015.
The first was a significant Japan, China and South Korea cultural exchange event celebrating the music of the three countries. It took the whole year for a three-member committee, with persons related to Korea, China, Japan and local universities, to bring the event to fruition. At the concert, musicians from Japan, Korea, and China played traditional stringed-instruments of each country: the “Koto”, “Guqin” and “Gayageum”. At the end of this event, they played a piece together that was specially written for the day. The curtain fell amid the applause of about 450 audience members. It was a traditional and beautiful concert which had the flavor of each country. As a sponsor, there were some difficulties in arranging the event but we thought it important that this concert symbolize cooperation and that we all live and work together in harmony in the Pacific Northwest. We were fortunate that NHK’s Los Angeles branch reported on this event in both their domestic and international broadcasts. We are grateful for this exposure and we have started to make a plan for a new event in the coming year which will focus on the traditional dances of Japan, Korea and China.
The second event was a play entitled: “Nihon-machi: the Place to Be” by a theatrical company from Los Angeles. The story is based on 100 years of history of Japanese Americans in L.A.’s Japan-town. The successful production of the play is owed to widespread support by many Nikkei organizations throughout the area, as well as that of individuals and cultural organizations. Without their generosity this event could not have taken place and we cannot thank them enough.
This play describes the history of a grandfather, father and son who are Japanese Americans and run a Japanese mocha, or sweet shop in Los Angeles. It has many traditional Japanese songs and is rich in entertainment. Moreover, it a poignant reminder of the history of Japanese Americans and of their close ties to the culture of Japan while also highlighting the American ideal of fairness for all and prejudice toward none.
The play was performed twice at a great theater in Portland: Portland Center Stage. About 550 students watched a matinee and 400 adults attended the evening performance. We received a great deal of positive feedback with many Japanese Americans saying that it was a faithful and very well drawn drama, and also that the acting was great. People were very impressed.
At the Emperor's Birthday Reception on December 11th, 2015, our office awarded the Consul General’s Commendation to those towns and organizations who contribute to the Sister State and Sister City relationships between Japan , Oregon, Idaho and southwest Washington. As President Obama and Prime Minister Abe confirmed at last year's summit meeting, the importance of “grass-roots communication” and “people-to-people exchanges” between Japan and the U.S. cannot be overestimated. The Oregon-Toyama Sister-State relationship and the many sister-city relationships around this area are strong and it seemed important to me to highlight and recognize the important work they do in building friendships between our two countries. Governor Kate Brown accepted the commendation on behalf of the sister-state relationship and Mayor and First Lady of Portland, Charlie and Nancy Hales, represented the twenty-five sister-city organizations throughout the region.
Unfortunately, at this point there are only two established Sister Cities between Japan and Idaho. However, our office is making efforts to promote more relationships and greater connection through the work of Honorary Consul of Japan in Boise, Mr. Robert Hirai.
Lastly, I hope the cooperation and friendship between Japan and Oregon as well as Idaho will grow even stronger and more fruitful in 2016.
New Year's Greeting from Consul General Furusawa
January 3, 2016