By John Sammon NikkeiWest Staff Writer
Very few people have had such a profound influence in developing economic opportunity and cultural understanding between Japan and the United States as has Yoshiro Tasaka.
San Francisco Japanese Consulate Aide and Advisor for Community Affairs, Tasaka ended his nearly eight-year term of office this month and returned to Japan on Dec. 21 with his wife Mitsuko and their two-year-old son. He said his future plans remain open. Before leaving Tasaka took time to thank the many friends and acquaintances he has made in his efforts to strengthen ties between Japan and the United States.
“I would like to thank everyone for your long support and friendship during my time at the Consulate,” Tasaka said. “I learned that our community was built by someone like you who tirelessly spent their time and passion to improve the quality of life and opportunity for future generations. Your values are my values now. Thank you for being my role model. I hope I can give back to you someday.”
It would be fair to say Tasaka has already given back much.
He has been an aide to current Consul General Jun Yamada and has served several past consuls. The basic definition of a consul is an official from the government of one country who serves in another country and represents his country’s commercial interests and assists its citizens there. But the job involves much more.
A kind of mini embassy, there are 20 Japanese Consulates located in major cities across the U.S.
Miki Chavez, dancer, author, model and former beauty queen (Miss Japan and Miss International in 1973), has served as the human face of the San Francisco Japan Consulate since 2011, as an interpreter, greeter and receptionist.
“The areas in which we work include politics, economics, government, education and culture,” she said.
The job of the Consulate can involve everything from setting up a meeting between a U.S. Senator and the Consul General to discuss Japanese American relations (sometimes held at the Consul’s residence), to answering frantic calls from Japanese Americans inquiring about relatives in Japan after disastrous earthquakes such as those in 1995 and 2011.
More often callers routinely ask banal questions such as, “What’s the weather like right now in Japan?”
The Consulate also does outreach to local communities. Chavez said this is where Tasaka made a big difference.
“He’s been with us for over seven years and the normal term for an aide (advisor) is two years,” she said. “He enjoyed working here. He’s a very easy- going person with a sense of humor and because he originally comes from Osaka, he speaks Japanese with a dialect. Mr. Tasaka served our local communities as a liaison.”
Tasaka’s involvement in community projects is long and varied. It includes meetings of the Kenjinkei (Japanese and Japanese American cultural groups), Japanese American Citizens’ League (JACL) events, the annual Cherry Blossom Festival in San Francisco and a host of others. The Japanese American Leadership Delegation Program Tasaka organized sent Japanese American professionals to confer with business and government leaders in Japan to develop shared knowledge and promotion of entrepreneurship, science, technology, academic, nonprofit, tourism, communications and social media pursuits.
Fred Kochi, a Sunnyvale resident and for 32 years Advertising Director with the San Jose Mercury News, said Tasaka was available to help whatever the need.
“He (Tasaka) was always helping people with projects and never said no,” Kochi said.
Kochi is retired and involves himself today as a volunteer with numerous nonprofit organizations. He said he first met Tasaka after an Obon Festival (honors the spirits of one’s ancestors) in Mountain View when Tasaka needed someone who spoke Japanese. Kochi’s son stepped forward.
“Later we met and he (Tasaka) asked if we were related and I told him his translator was my son,” Kochi said. “That started our connection. He never stopped asking questions because as a community affairs person, he needed to learn what Japanese Americans here in this country were doing. He always worked hard to better relations between Japanese and Japanese Americans.”
Kochi said Tasaka was instrumental in providing support for a project run through the American River Conservancy, a nonprofit, to restore what is left of the first Japanese Colony in North America at Coloma east of Sacramento. In 1869 a group of samurai warriors fleeing unrest in Japan settled in the Gold Hill region and founded what became the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Farm.
Plans include restoration of a house at the site once lived in by Japanese colonists, construction of an interpretive center and a small recreated agricultural village showing how the first Japanese in California farmed the land.
“Mr. Tasaka was a great supporter,” Kochi said. “I told him we needed help for the Wakamatsu Colony project and he relayed this to the San Francisco Consulate, which helped us.”
In 2010 Tasaka organized a visit by Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Ichiro Fujisaki to San Jose’s Japantown. The tour included a stop at the Japanese American Museum to see a recreation of the interior of a barracks building of the type that illegally housed 115,000 Japanese Americans interned during World War II.
In 2015 Tasaka organized a banquet for visiting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe that was attended by Gov. Jerry Brown.
He established over 100 networking connections between Japanese businesses and local communities. Tasaka also led fund-raising efforts to provide disaster relief for victims of the Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami of 2011, another earthquake in Nepal in 2015 and the Kumamoto Quake of 2016.
He supported local nonprofits by matching them with Japanese corporations which could provide assistance.
Tasaka founded Japan Plus, a nonprofit, to strengthen relationships between the U.S. and Japan and organize cultural events in California. He personally donated over 1,000 Japanese children’s books to Japanese mothers in the San Francisco area, Southern California and Nevada, and helped farmers locally by connecting them with restaurant owners. He conducted food and cultural tours and helped fund-raise the APA (Asian Pacific American) Heritage Month, the biggest Asian-themed event held in San Francisco. Tasaka is noted for helping people of many ethnic groupings including those of Chinese ancestry.
The list of his achievements goes on.
Before his Consulate posting Tasaka came from Japan to the U.S. and attended San Francisco State University (2004-2006) where he studied International Relations. He said his fondest experience includes establishing business and cultural ties between Japan and the U.S. that have corrected a past history of sorrow.
“Meeting people in communities has been super inspiring,” he said. “California was a hostile place for Japanese 100 years ago. They didn’t even allow them to go to public school. But today hundreds of relationships across the U.S. have been built with Japan. We have great opportunities for future generations because of Japanese American communities.”
The importance of building bridges of understanding between all people Tasaka said cannot be underestimated.
“Universal values and human rights are what we really need,” he added.
Tasaka said the friendship that now exists between the U.S. and Japan is a lasting bond.
“If you think 60 years ago (World War II) we were enemies, but now we are the strongest allies in the world.”
People wishing to find out about the Wakamatsu Colony project may go to the www.natureconservancy.org and click on Gold Hill Wakamatsu project.