NCD Keynote Speech (by Mr. Wakao)

(May 12, 2007 at the Symposium gNikkei Community Dayh)


Thank you for your kind introduction.  I am Tatsuhiko Wakao. 

I came to the United States on April 19, 1981.  It has already been 26 years since then.  Time flies.


It was when Japanfs export to the US was at its peak, and the US trade deficits had become a political issue.  There was an intense trade conflict between Japan and the United States.  At that time, inflation was sweeping across the world, and overall interest rates were very high; the housing loan interest rate was 16 to 17%, and the credit card and car loan interest rates were 21%.  


The US, which suffered from the twin deficits in budget and trade, was threatened by the danger of economic crisis and proceeded to successive import restrictions.  The Super 301 trade provision was implemented and hefty tariffs were imposed on steel and automobiles. Due to the ban on military supply exports to communist countries, a trade practice of Toshiba affiliate was severely criticized.  The unemployment rate was high, and in Detroit, which was severely affected by Japanese imports, we had seen on TV people hammering a Japanese car by paying a dollar a whack. 


At that time I was assigned to an automobile-related company and spent 10 years there.  During that time, Japan shifted from a thriving import-based economy to a bubble economy.  In the company, I was working from dawn to dusk spending a lot of time communicating with our head-quarters and factories in Japan, Taiwan, China and Mexico.  On weekends, I spent my time playing golf and socializing.  Although I was in Los Angeles, I was merely looking at Nikkei Society as an outsider.   


I came to know Nikkei society after I joined the Japanese Chamber of Commerce in Southern California in 1995. Gradually I became more involved in the activities of JCC, and by socializing with various Nikkei groups and organizations, I came to realize there is a difference in the frame of mind and behavior among Japanese Americans, corporate assignees and those settling in the US after coming from Japan. 



Japan is a democratic society.  However, people in Japan think that as long as they pay taxes, their government will take care of everything.  Whenever they have complaints, they tend to just criticize government or society.


On the other hand, people attach importance to their community in the United States.  To make the society a better place to live, each resident participates in the community activities, works hard and makes donations for the betterment of society.  A community where residents are actively involved has sufficient public services.  The same thing is true for the Federal and State administration. 

This is truly a democratic country which is run by its citizens.  Even though they may complain, they first ask themselves gwhat can I do to make our community betterh and take the first step to do what they can do.  The society respects such people and they are rewarded through tax deduction and gaining social recognition from the communities. 


As I became deeply involved in Nikkei society, I came to see those who live humbly donate $100, $200, and sometimes $1,000 out of their pockets and devote themselves to volunteer activities. 


On the other hand, looking back the days when I was working as an expatriate from Japan, I was just thinking about how to allocate the corporate budget for sponsorship of charity events or contribution.  I never considered donating substantial money out of my own pocket, yet I did have money to spend for golf clubs and traveling.  Such a frame of mind is not peculiar to me, but is true to most of the assignees from Japan.  It is not whether the person is good or bad, but Japan does not have the social system or climate as seen in the US.


America is a multiracial country.  According to the November 6th edition of the Rafu Shimpo, in the sate of California, there are 105 different languages used for court interpreting and 224 different languages spoken among people.  Los Angeles is a typical multiracial city; in other words, it can be said that it is a future-minded city that is experimenting using a trial and error process on how people with different cultural backgrounds and languages will be able to live together in harmony.   Each ethnic group has created its own community and is putting forth effort in seeking a better living environment.  In a democratic society, public service is not provided equally; much better service is provided to the community with a stronger voice.


For example, Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited Japan, South Korea and China last October.  During his visit to Japan, he promoted LA tourism and made an appearance at an entertainerfs event, but that was about it.  And I believe by watching the media, speech-wise, he did not make a strong impression.  However, in Korea, he announced a redevelopment plan for Koreatown that included 300 million dollars from foreign investment.  In a democratic system, this is an example of how a community with a stronger voice has been offered a much enhanced public service.  This is also a result of the Korean communityfs increasing population and active movements.


We, the Southern California Nikkei society is made up of immigrants who came to the U.S. between the Meiji Restoration and WWII; Shin-isseifs, who immigrated after the war; and newcomers such as cooperate representatives (chu-zai-in), students, and long-term residents.  When observed closely, it can be said that it is divided broadly into an English-speaking community and a Japanese-speaking community.  Unfortunately, the people who form these two communities hardly have the opportunity to interact with each other because they have different lifestyles, and think differently because of differences in the environments they were raised, their social backgrounds and education.  However, we do have the possibility of interacting with each other through the fact that we share a common Japanese ancestry.


As all of you know, other Asian communities are becoming more active with an increasing number of members.  On the other hand, the Nikkei community, with its low population growth and dispersed residential areas, is losing its presence.  In order to break through this situation, we need to unite as a community.  Thanks to the efforts of the senior Nikkei, the community has formed networks throughout various industries.  The population size may not be affected, but through us uniting and utilizing these networks, isnft it possible to raise our presence to a much higher level?


Todayfs Nikkei Community Day event is the first step in that direction. The Japanese-speaking community and the English-speaking community both participating in various events and interacting with each other under the shared theme of gKodomo no Tame Ni: For the Children who are our Future,h is of great significance.  By fostering this kind of interaction and by encouraging tighter communication between children and youth - the bearers of the future Nikkei community - I expect that the Nikkei community will become more powerful and united.


All interaction starts from encounters with others.  I sincerely hope that with todayfs encounters, the two communities will be able to have tighter and closer interaction with each other, and the Nikkei society will be united.


Thank you very much for your attention.



May 12, 2007

Speech by Ted (Tatsuhiko) Wakao

Translated by Mayumi Usui and Saeko Dickinson