George Arbanas - one of the students in the first group of American students to travel to Ishinomaki back in 2014 - recently revisited Japan and returned with some wonderful news about the ongoing benefits of the TOMODACHI Program.
On Japan, George reconnected and spent a weekend with the Hayashi family, who hosted him at the end of the TOMODACHI trip four years ago. Unfortunately, due to a snowstorm that hit a large part of Japan that weekend, he was unable to travel to Ishinomaki and visit everyone there. However, George also learned that he has been awarded a summer internship at a company called Education First in Tokyo. He will return to Japan at the beginning of the summer 2018 and intends to take a personal trip to Ishinomaki following the end of his internship..
This report from one of the TOMODACHI alumni is a welcome affirmation of the exchange program as a fulfillment of the mission of both JAS and the TOMODACHI Initiative. Way to go, George!
JAS presented its spring Japan Update program featuring three expert speakers on urban agriculture. Professor Eiji Goto of Chiba University spoke about trends and technology in factory farming in Japan, highlighting the efficiencies and financial aspects of the industry. St. Louis's own Mary Ostafi of Urban Harvet STL focused on the specific efforts and adaptations required for urban farming in St. Louis and the broader social impact of this trend. And, Kevin Erickson of Loyola University in Chicago presented an overview of the challenges and opportunities of urban agriculture, from small-scale community gardens to the latest advances in aqua- and aeroponics. About 70 people braved the wind and rain to hear our speakers and enjoy our signature sushi and sake receptions afterward in the gorgeous lobby of Novus Internationl, Inc., one of JAS's corporate members who generously hosted the event.
JAS and UMSL's office of International Studies & Programs, the Department of Language and Cultural Studies, and the Japan-America Student Association hosted Dr. Steven Gan for a free talk and book signing chronicling his amazing experience. Mr. Gan ran a highly successful debt collection business in Japan for 12 years - the first foreign-owned business of its kind in Japan. He told the riveting story of starting his business organically and growing it to employ 30 people. His business was so successful, he drew the attention of the media, but also the ire of his competition, which used an obscure and ambiguous clause in the law to shutter his company. He now has a consulting business in Chicago, Stellar Risk Management. Following his talk, he took questions from the audience and offered auto graphed copies of his book, "Making it and Breaking it in Japan" for sale to about 30 audience members.
Noriko McLeer, the president of the St. Louis Japanese Language School, wrote a letter of thanks to the Japan America Society St. Louis for our continuing support of the school through our annual fundraising golf tournament in September. Ms. McLeer invites all to attend the upcoming Shinnenkai (New Year celebration) at the language school on Feb 3, please see the 2018 New Year Celebrarion for Friends .pdf and Map 新年会マップ 2017.pdf
The Japan America Society of St. Louis began the new year with a wonderful Shinnenkai at Sushi Sen in Lake Saint Louis on January 21. This year's Shinnenkai was well-attended, including Deputy Consul General of Japan from Chicago, Kenji Tanaka, and three full tables of our corporate members Nidec, Novus, and CSI. Once again, our attendees had the pleasure of hearing the insights of guest speaker Dave Lowry, an expert on Japanese culture. This year, Dave spoke of the concepts of omote, or "surface-level meaning," and ura, or "deep meaning." He explained this in the context of some interesting unpublicized (ura) Shinto practices concerning the emperor, as well as practices concerning the coming and unprecedented abdication, as Emperor Akihito will "retire" on April 30 and Crown Prince Naruhito will become the new emperor.
Deputy Consul General of Japan Tanaka spoke in glowing terms of JASSTL's commitment to strengthening relations between St. Louis and Japan, and in particular outgoing JAS President Dr. Chikako Usui's tremendous efforts and successes in strengthening the JAS in St. Louis. Dr. Usui retired at the end of 2017 and now serves as Chairman of the Board. So this year's event was also the first in 10 years to feature a new president, Mr. Greg Gorman of Nidec Motor Corporation.
Of course, no JAS Shinnenkai would be complete without the kagami-biraki (sake barrel opening ceremony), a raffle of fukubukuro bags, and Chef Ken's osechi ryori - special New Year's meal (and sake!). This is always a treat, and a good time was had by all!
To view more photo's from this event please click here.
At the request of the St. Louis Public Library, JAS arranged a presentation at the Schlafly branch in January about Seijin-shiki, the Japanese Coming of Age celebration. Seijin-shiki is the second Monday of January, a national holiday in Japan to honor and celebrate 20-year-olds as adults. They gain the right to vote and are of legal age to drink alcohol. Our speaker modeled the elegant, long-sleeved furisode kimono worn by young women and showed a video and slides of family photos from her special day. After the presentation, several women in the audience enjoyed trying on kimono and yukata. JAS was pleased to partner with the library to share Japanese culture.
With the New Year, a new leadership team is assuming responsibility for the Japan America Society of St. Louis as Dr. Chikako Usui steps down after 10 years leading a period of tremendous growth of the JAS. Dr. Usui was the longest-serving president in the society's history and her tenure saw greatly increased activity in programs and services rendered to the people of St. Louis, as well as membership.
Perhaps most important, though, Dr. Usui has implemented a transition plan to continue the success of the JAS and the new leadership team is a highly dedicated and well-qualified group. Greg Gorman takes over as president of the JAS. Greg is an executive at Nidec Motor Corporation who brings a great depth of knowledge about the financial aspects of the organization. He is both knowledgeable and well-respected in the Japanese community. Kenichi Kitajima steps in as 1st Vice President. Mr. Kitajima also brings a strong business acumen as an executive with Novus Corporation. He is likewise dedicated to the growth and activity of the JAS. Linda Austin continues as 2nd Vice President. Ms. Austin has served the JAS and JAS Women’s Asociation (JASWA) for many years. She is quite involved with cultural and social programming and brings a professional knowledge of marketing to bear on the efforts of the JAS. And, her long experience serves as an invaluable institutional memory of the society. Another Japanese executive, Toshio Kitamura of CIS Leasing, steps into a leadership role as 3rd Vice President. Mr. Kitamura arrived in St. Louis from Tokyo in 2015 and became a highly dedicated member of JAS. With this executive leadership team, the JAS should be well-positioned for strong transitions in the foreseeable future.
In addition to the president and succession of vice-presidents, the JAS also importantly strengthened its treasurer position with the addition of Ron Sakai, an accountant with Wells Fargo. Mr. Sakai brings the knowledge and experience of accounting matters that will be essential to demonstrating financial strength to our constituent, sponsors, and donors. Ron is also Japanese American with a history of involvement in the community. He will be crucial to the ongoing success of the JAS.
2018 will be a year of change and transition at the Japan America Society, but with the planning and hard work Dr. Usui has put into place to secure a strong leadership team, everyone at JAS is optimistic about our prospects for even more success this year. Happy New Year!
The collaboration between JAS and Urban Chestnut Brewing Company is making its way around the world! Simon Westermair, the Marketing & Facility Manager for UCBC's German brewery, presented Japan's Consul General for Bavaria and Baden Württemberg, Hon. Tetsuya Kimura, with two bottles ofKonomi - the beer Urban Chestnut brewed this year for the Japan America Society's 50th Anniversary. Consul General Kimura was reportedly very happy about the gift and collaboration and sends his wishes for a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to St. Louis!
Two former participants in the St. Louis-Ishinomaki Friendship Program are planning trips back to Japan in the coming year, continuing to fulfill the mission of the Program and the Japan America Society. Under the program, 11 American students in all traveled to Ishinomaki, Japan; visited areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami; participated in home-stays; experienced Japan and its culture; made many friends; and brought their experience back to St. Louis with them. Now, two of those students are deepening their Japan connection with their own trips back to Ishinomaki.
George Arbanas (left) was one of six participants in 2014 to travel to Japan. Since then, George has volunteered for the JAS, sustained his interest in Japan, and maintained contact with many of the people he met. He is now a sophomore at St. Olaf College and will be traveling back to Japan in January 2018. During his trip, he will visit his host family and several of the students in Ishinomaki with whom he has remained friends. "I’m very excited to return to Japan, and I’m very much looking forward to reconnecting with the people I met as a part of the TOMODACHI program."
Christian Ragain (right) was one of the five students who made the TOMODACHI trip in 2016. He is planning his return in June of 2018. During this trip, he will spend some time in Tokyo and then will travel to Ishinomaki to visit his host family. When asked about his upcoming trip, Christian said, “I’m super excited to go back! I remember how quickly I was learning Japanese while staying there, so I’m excited to learn more during my second visit! I cannot wait to see my old host family as well as my school’s old exchange student... I cannot wait to visit Tokyo for the first time, and I hope to immerse myself as much as possible in the Japanese culture even more than I was able to in the two weeks I spent there with the TOMODACHI program!”
This St. Louis Ishinomaki Friendship Program was created under the auspices of the TOMODACHI Initiative (http://usjapantomodachi.org/), which was created to support Japan’s recovery from the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 11, 2011. The Japan America Society of St. Louis created and organized the program with funding from TOMODACHI and the National Association of Japan America Societies (NAJAS). In addition to the trips to Japan in 2014 and 2016, the JAS also organized visits to St. Louis by Japanese students and adults in 2013 and 2015. They participated in the Japanese Festival at the Missouri Botanical garden, experienced American and St. Louis culture through baseball and other activities, and enjoyed homestays for the duration of their stays. The mission of the program was to invest in the next generation of Japanese and American people and deepen relations between the two countries through grassroots-level and people-to-people exchanges. In George and Christian, we see this mission being fully realized!
Our 50th anniversary Annual Dinner was our most successful fundraising dinner yet. We sold out our capacity quickly thanks to corporate table sponsorships by CSI Leasing, Nidec, and Novus and the tremendous support of our general members.
Seventy-four people gathered to enjoy a huge spread of Japanese dishes and sushi and to meet and enjoy one another’s company. The event was a great success filled with many surprises. Mayor Lyda Krewson proclaimed November 7th, 2017, as “Dr. Chikako Usui Day” in St. Louis in honor of her retirement as president of the Japan America Society of St. Louis for the past 10 years. Dr. Usui was also surprised by many wonderful gifts presented to her. She said she “will use her new vases at the ikebana demonstration at our festival next year.”
We also presented a $3000 donation to the St. Louis Japanese Language School, a Friendship Award to Ms. Hiromi Ishida for her dedication and support of the St. Louis Ishinomaki Friendship Program of the previous four years, and a Distinguished Service Award to retiring president Dr. Usui for her incredible achievements of the past 10 years..
"Japan America Society of St. Louis" is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
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