Essay by Mr. Darren Nakata (Participant of the 2016 Japanese American Leadership Delegation to Japan, March 6-12, 2016)

The Japanese-American Leadership Delegation allows Japanese leaders to gain a greater understanding of multi-cultural America through the experiences of a diverse group of Japanese Americans. Upon their return, delegates collaborate with program alumni, the local consulates, the U.S.-Japan Council and local and national community organizations to continue strengthening ties between the U.S. and Japan.

JALD 2016 personal reflection
Darren Nakata

It was truly an honor for me to be part of this 2016 JALD delegation, in large part because of the opportunity to share this experience with the other JALD delegates, present and past. Each of my co-delegates brought strengths and perspectives on being Japanese American and on U.S.-Japan relations that made a lasting impression on me. Additionally, it is a humbling honor to now be a part of the powerful JALD alumni network that has paved the way for new Japanese American leaders – I look forward to continuing to learn both personally and professionally from my JALD co-delegates and other alumni and also to contributing to this network in the years to come. As a Japanese American who has long been involved in my local Japanese American community, it is exciting for me to be better connected to the national landscape of Japanese American leaders, as I’ve to date largely been connected mostly to Japanese American leaders in Portland, Oregon and the Pacific Northwest. The opportunity to contribute to the Japanese American community on a larger scale in the U.S. and to help strengthen and deepen the Japan-U.S. relationship is very exciting.

Upon reflection of the many meetings we had with top government officials and business executives, including Prime Minister Abe, current and former members of the Diet, CEOs and members of the boards of directors of some of the largest corporations in the world, Princess Takamado of the Imperial family and numerous top ministry officials, it was striking to me how much respect we were accorded, not only during our meetings but all around – it was obvious that many of these individuals had studied our bios beforehand, as evidenced by the fact that repeatedly upon meeting someone (and before I had a chance to say my name or where I live), they mentioned visiting Portland or the Oregon coast, or asked for my thoughts on the importance of independent directors on a board for good corporate governance, or the like.

Something I found particularly interesting to experience with my 2016 delegation, because of my co-delegates: as a delegation, we represented the changing face of Japanese Americans, as only four of our members had two parents of Japanese ancestry. Undoubtedly each delegation has its own unique characteristics, and there are many other things I could note about this particular delegation, but the diversity of our delegation to me aptly embodied the dynamic nature of the Japanese American community and evoked interesting considerations about how we as Japanese American leaders can best represent and contribute to our evolving community and to U.S.-Japan relations. I think I will take as much out of this experience from my interactions with my co-delegates as I will from my new friends in Japan.

My mother’s family experienced the atrocities of World War II from the Japan side, and my father’s family experienced the hardships of World War II from the inside of a U.S. prison/internment camp, so my family is inextricably intertwined in the cultures and histories of both Japan and the U.S. I am energized by the knowledge that I have many friends and co-leaders in Japan and the U.S. who are committed to strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship.