A group of Bay Area leaders, including members of the Japanese American community, is hard at work preparing for the 2010 Japan-America Grassroots Summit.
The annual meeting of ordinary citizens from both countries, which will bring 200 people from Japan to the Bay Area in August, is held alternately in the U.S. and Japan. Last year’s took place in Miyagi Prefecture.
The summit’s stated goal is “to strengthen the peaceful relationship between Japan and America by fostering grassroots friendships.” Including the hosts, more than 30,000 people have participated in this exchange over the past 19 years.
This year’s event coincides with the year-long celebration of the 150th anniversary of the arrival in San Francisco of the Kanrin Maru, the first Japanese ship to visit America.
The visitors will stay with local families and have cultural and educational experiences in all nine Bay Area counties. Highlights will include:
• Japanese Heritage Night with the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park on Aug. 24. As the Giants and the Cincinnati Reds face off, the special guest will be Masanori Murakami, the first Japanese player in Major League Baseball. He pitched for San Francisco in the mid-1960s.
• Reception and ceremonies on Aug. 25 at the Westin St. Francis in Union Square “honoring the friendships, history and pioneers that have bridged the many people of California and Japan.”
• Chochin Gyoretsu (Lantern Parade) in San Francisco Japantown on Aug. 29. Organized by the Japanese Benevolent Society, this event will recreate a celebration of the Kanrin Maru’s 75th anniversary held in 1936. Yosakoi Soran folk dancing will celebrate the 2011 summit in Kochi.
Speakers will include Jan Yanehiro, broadcast journalist and Academy of Arts University administrator, and Seiji Horibuchi, founder of VIZ Media, who has played a major role in bringing Japanese anime and manga to the U.S. Grammy-winning musician and composer Kitaro will also contribute his talents to the festivities.
The 2010 chair is Michael Armacost, former U.S. ambassador to Japan. The executive director is Megumi Inouye, who has been involved in such community organizations as the Japanese Bilingual Bicultural Program at Clarendon Elementary School in San Francisco.
Earlier this year, all of the host participants gathered at VIZ Cinema in San Francisco Japantown for a get-acquainted session and an overview of the program. Special guests included Santa Clara Mayor Patricia Mahan and two VIPs from Tokyo, Secretary General Nobu Mori and Deputy Secretary General Hiroko Todoroki of the John Manjiro-Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange (CIE), which manages the summit.
Labor of Love
“This is for our committee a labor of love,” Inouye said during the gathering. “Despite the different challenges that we face in mounting something as large as this, I think we always go back to … an appreciation and love that we have for Japan and the various hospitalities and kindnesses that we’ve experienced through our time in Japan, our experience in Miyagi … When it’s our turn to host, we’d like to extend the same kind of welcome …
“Everybody here in this room, through their professions, through their work, through their schools, through their children, have some connections to Japan and have stories to share about Japan. It’s our hope and vision for this summit in San Francisco that those stories come alive, that those stories come together, and that it continues to develop into further friendship and further exchanges among our two countries.”
The summit is using two stylized hearts based on the American and Japanese flags on its posters. They are the creation of artist Potenza, who is also the summit’s Sonoma County regional coordinator. She converted the flags of the world into hearts and displayed them at the United Nations during its 50th anniversary.
“She was very generous to allow us to use these images as a symbol of what we’re trying to establish … to bring the heart of Japan together with the heart of America,” Inouye said.
Consul General Yasumasa Nagamine recalled, “Mr. Mori and Ms. Todoroki came to my office with an idea of having a 2010 grassroots summit to be held in San Francisco Bay Area … I immediately agreed.”
He noted that aboard the Kanrin Maru, which accompanied Japan’s first diplomatic mission to the U.S., was interpreter Manjiro Nakahama, better known as John Manjiro, who was shipwrecked in the Pacific as a 14-year-old boy and rescued by an American whaler, Capt. William Whitfield, in 1841. Whitfield took Manjiro to his home in Massachusetts. A decade later, Manjiro returned to Japan and played an important role in its relations with the U.S.
The summit is following in the footsteps of Manjiro, who “had the first homestay in the United States more than 150 years ago,” said Nagamine, adding that the Kanrin Maru’s extended stay in San Francisco marked the first “grassroots meeting” between the two countries.
It was Nagamine who suggested that local sister-city organizations be contacted to help accommodate 200 guests from all over Japan. He pointed out that California has almost 100 sister-city relationships with Japan.
Mark Chandler, director of the Mayor’s Office of International Trade and Commerce, presented a letter from Mayor Gavin Newsom and commented, “All that governments can do doesn’t work if people don’t meet each other, don’t understand that we’re basically all the same … These kinds of things are really the bedrock and foundation of international affairs.”
He continued, “ I participated in a similar kind of exchange program in Japan as a kid from the Central Coast of California, and it changed my life and it opened my eyes. The reason I’m standing here is because I participated in an exchange like that at that age.”
While San Francisco is the host city, Chandler stressed the importance of participation by the entire Bay Area. “It’s going to make it a special, special visit for those from Japan who come here and see the vitality, the diversity, the economic vitality and innovation that takes place in this region, that really sets us apart from almost any other area.”
Bill Hinkle, Northern California president of Sister Cities International, spoke of his experiences as a delegate from Lodi: “Our sister city is Kofu, Yamanashi (Prefecture), Japan. I visited Kofu in 1979 with my family. At that time my daughter was 16 and my son was 10. When we arrived on a train ... we received a reception on the front steps of City Hall with a red carpet and about 200 city employees with American flags.”
He said of his daughter, “To show you how much she was influenced by her visit, she majored in international studies with an emphasis in Japan, went to the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the summer, took Japanese, and then went to Japan upon graduation from Mills College … fell in love with a Japanese man in Tokyo. I now have two grandsons whose first language is Japanese. This all started as a result of sister cities, so it’s had a tremendous impact on my family.”
The Northern California branch of SCI has 58 member cities, and Hinkle pledged their support for the summit.
The date of the summit coordinators’ gathering, Jan. 27, marked the 169th anniversary of Manjiro’s rescue by Whitfield, Inouye said. “He stayed with the captain for about 10 years, learned English, learned about American culture, and also participated in the Gold Rush here in San Francisco, made $600, bought his passage back to Japan.”
When Commodore Matthew Perry visited Japan in 1853, “the presence of Manjiro and his understanding of American language and culture … really influenced the opening of Japan’s doors,” she said.
Jan. 27 thus marks “the beginning of an adventure and the beginning of U.S.-Japan relations, and the beginning now of a new adventure for all of us,” said Inouye, whose birthday also falls on that date.
Community historian Greg Marutani, who is active in the JACL’s educational programs, noted that while Manjiro’s story is common knowledge in Japan. “I wish it were a more significant date in American history because … that, to me, is a very significant part of U.S.-Japan relations. And the significance of having someone like Manjiro, who knew English enough to serve as the interpreter.
“Imagine what the relationship would have been like if the Kanrin Maru arrived and Manjiro was not on board. How they would have managed to sail that ship with U.S. Navy personnel and Japanese samurai? You have to remember the Japanese had closed off their country for over 200 years, so no one got to sail outside, across the ocean.”
The Japanese visitors would have seen “people walking around in boots, walking through the muddy streets, walking into the hotel onto the carpet, not taking off their shoes ... But there was someone like John Manjiro to try and explain,” Marutani said.
He added, “The U.S. folks tried to accommodate the Japanese, but they didn’t know anything about them. They knew they ate rice, so they served rice. But it wasn’t to the liking of the Japanese because they used butter. And they served another rice dish later on, but it had sugar because it was rice pudding ... The (good) intentions were there, but imagine if there was no way to dialogue.”
Marutani stressed that Whitfield’s story was also inspirational. “When he went to church and brought Manjiro, the church would not allow Manjiro in because he was ‘colored’ … Capt. Whitfield, who had reserved seats in that particular church, suspended attending that church and went to another church that welcomed Manjiro. So Whitfield played a very positive role.”
Any prejudice that Manjiro experienced was offset by the “warm and equal treatment” he received from his hosts, Marutani said, encouraging the Bay Area hosts to “look forward to your opportunities to present to folks from another country what the United States is all about.”
Inouye added, “The real touching story between these two families is that they’ve been friends for 170 years. Each family has taken the effort to visit each other’s countries and share the stories and pass down the stories ... The descendants participate in our summit every year. It’s now down to their sixth generation.”
Sports and History
Although many major-league teams have Japanese players today, there was a time when Murakami was the only one, and after his departure there wasn’t another until Hideo Nomo joined the Los Angeles Dodgers nearly 30 years later.
During the summit, Murakami will share “anecdotes, the history of that period, what it was like to be the first Japanese baseball player in the major leagues,” said Inouye. “The Giants have played a big role in keeping that relationship alive and together between Mr. Murakami and the Giants.”
Shana Daum, director of public affairs and community relations for the Giants, commented, “All of you can participate and celebrate Japanese American culture in our pre-game ceremonies … We hope we can make you proud and show all of our fans what not only our country but the city of San Francisco is doing with our relationship with Japan.”
The AT&T event will include taiko drumming, a Murakami T-shirt, and the donation of proceeds from every ticket to local community-based non-profits.
The summit will also feature tours of the Gold Country, Wine Country, Silicon Valley and Union Square.
Gail Mametsuka, who is coordinating the San Francisco tours with Shelley Iwamasa, said, “I want to be up front and honest. We are not going to Pier 39 or Fisherman’s Wharf because natives do not go there. We hope to inspire our visitors from Japan to come back to San Francisco because we hope to give them an experience that they’ll never forget.”
Attorney Kaz Maniwa, chair of the Japanese Cultural and Community Center of Northern California, said that when the CIE asked him to help with the summit, “I presented the idea of doing (a program on) the Japanese American experience. I think for all of us living in the Bay Area, we don’t tolerate diversity, we celebrate diversity. That’s really important ... All of the other programs are regionally based; this is ethnically based.”
The program may include a walking tour of Japantown, a panel of Nisei who were interned during World War II, and a community potluck.
“We’re like a test case,” Maniwa observed. “The regions, they can all do their regional areas, but Mr. Mori’s kind of taking a leap of faith with me. He’s saying, ‘Let’s give it a try, let’s see if it works, let’s see if there’s a response on the Japan side to learn more about Japanese Americans.’ We’ll see what happens.”
The closing ceremonies will be held in Japantown with the Hotel Kabuki as the base.
Seiko Fujimoto of the Japanese Benevolent Society did the research on the 1936 Lantern Parade, which went from City Hall to Japantown. She said this year’s Lantern Parade should be comparable to the 2006 celebration of the 75th anniversary of Obon odori in the continental U.S., which drew about 1,200 dancers to Japantown.
Todoroki of the CIE urged everyone to attend next year’s summit in Kochi, the birthplace of Manjiro.
For more information, call (415) 859-5113, e-mail
, or visit www.JASummitSF2010.org