The Alliance Working in Portland

Portland, Oregon is a renowned hub for sustainable and equity-based innovation where leaders in trade, marketing, design, and clean technology are working to solve the pressing challenges of our time, including climate change, resource scarcity, and preserving free trade and investment in an increasingly complex international geopolitical landscape. Home to numerous iconic multinational brands which are driving intelligent product design and marketing, the city offers fertile ground for cultivating creative partnerships on a local and global scale.

Oregon also benefits from strong economic, cultural, and people-to-people ties with Japan. In 2021, Japan’s exports to Oregon were valued at $2.1 billion while Oregon’s export value to Japan amounted to $1.5 billion, and there are over 150 Japanese companies operating in the region.[1] Portland maintains an over 60-year-old sister city relationship with Sapporo, one of the oldest sister city partnerships in the country, and is home to the Portland Japanese Garden, one of the most highly acclaimed Japanese gardens found outside of Japan as well as one of the foremost Japanese cultural organizations in North America.

With this context in mind, Sasakawa USA partnered with the Portland Japanese Garden’s newly launched Japan Institute to host the latest installment of its TAWA series, “The Alliance Working in America: Forum for Reimagining the Oregon-Japan Alliance (TAWA PDX 2022).” The program was convened on the Garden’s grounds on July 19, 2022 and featured two panel discussions on opportunities for increased U.S.-Japan cooperation in trade, innovation, and creative enterprises in Portland and the Pacific Northwest.



July 19, 2022 | Portland, OR | Forum for Reimagining the Oregon-Japan Alliance

On the evening before the TAWA PDX program took place, program panelists, speakers, and honored guests gathered at the home of Mr. Robert Zagunis, immediate past Board President of the Portland Japanese Garden (2019-2022), for dinner and discussion on the themes of the upcoming program. Attendees included Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (Oregon State Senator, NW Portland/Beaverton), Consul-General Masaki Shiga of the Consular Office of Japan in Portland, and representatives from the Japan-America Society of Oregon, the City of Portland Mayor’s Office, Business Oregon, Prosper Portland, Port of Portland, and other local businesses.

Plenary Session

The event began with opening remarks by Mr. Steve Bloom, CEO of the Portland Japanese Garden, who highlighted how organizations at the intersection of culture, art, and nature can facilitate more open and meaningful dialogue between Japan and the United States. Mr. Bloom’s introduction was followed by welcome remarks from Ms. Shanti Shoji, Director of Programs at Sasakawa USA, who emphasized the great potential for Japan and the United States to collaborate on shared challenges in our pursuit of a more peaceful, stable, and prosperous society for all.  Congratulatory remarks were also provided by the Honorable Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon, and Consul General Masaki Shiga of the Consular Office of Japan in Portland, who recognized Oregon’s deep and lasting ties with Japan and expressed enthusiasm for programs such as TAWA PDX which provide a venue for exploring how to further enrich U.S.-Japan relations.

A virtual keynote speech was provided by Ms. Katherine Monahan, East Asia Director at the National Security Council, who spoke to the state of the U.S.-Japan relationship following President Biden’s first trip to Japan as president. She reiterated that the U.S.-Japan alliance remains critical to ensuring global peace, security, and prosperity. The alliance is built on a foundation of shared values, including the preservation of a rules-based order as laid out by Japan’s Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. Ms. Monahan affirmed that we must continue seeking opportunities to deepen and expand cooperation on all fronts, including innovating clean energy solutions, seeking partnerships in trade and investment, and exploring creative partnerships and grassroots people-to-people exchanges.

Session 1: Agricultural Innovation and Trade in the Age of Climate Disruption

The first session was moderated by Ms. Marianna Grossman, Founder and Managing Partner of Minerva Ventures, whose company provides business development support to start-ups in the clean tech sector and works with established companies to help them better identify opportunities for innovation in addressing the realities of climate change. Ms. Grossman set the stage by pointing to the exponential global temperature rise in recent years, which threatens human lives and livelihoods with drought, severe weather events, and unpredictable weather patterns and seasons. In addition to the physical ravages of climate change, there will also be economic and social challenges such as mass migration, market instability, and capital being redirected to recovery rather than being put toward innovation.

Next, Mr. Ron Pernick, Managing Director of Clean Edge, Inc., spoke on the necessity of shifting to clean energy options and how to minimize negative economic and social impacts while navigating this transition. He identified some of the key drivers of the shift to clean energy, which include declining costs of clean tech, low carbon policies that encourage clean energy use and innovation, shifts in investment away from fossil fuels, trends towards smart grids and electrification, and increased public support for clean energy. He noted that many Japanese companies are investing in clean technology development in the United States, and there are opportunities for more bidirectional investment and exchange of ideas. He closed by identifying seven recommendations for smoothly transitioning to clean energy:

  1. Focus on improving efficiency first.
  2. Significantly scale up wind and solar energy.
  3. Pair renewables with storage at scale.
  4. Prioritize electrification of heating and vehicles.
  5. Modernize transmission and distribution grids.
  6. Develop green hydrogen, ammonia, and fuels.
  7. Secure sustainably mined and recycled materials.

Mr. Pernick’s presentation was followed by remarks from Mr. Darren Padget, recent former Chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates. In conversation with Ms. Grossman, Mr. Padget explained the strong wheat export relationship Oregon shares with Japan, which has benefited from a long history of people-to-people exchange facilitated by trade organizations such as U.S. Wheat Associates. He emphasized that these grassroots exchanges help cultivate a more nuanced and meaningful relationship between wheat suppliers and consumers, which is more important than ever considering the scale of the United States’ global wheat exports and the potential for supply chain disruptions brought about by global events like Russia’s invasion of Ukraine this past year.

Session 2: Weaving the Common Threads: New Creative Dynamics in U.S.-Japan Partnership

The second panel was moderated Ms. Zeljka Carol Kekez, Founder and Principal of the innovative design studio PLACE. She began by introducing Japan as a world leader in education, commerce, and technology, as well as an international hub for arts and culture. Similarly, Portland is permeated by an ethos of individualism which embraces creative, unconventional entrepreneurship. PLACE embodies the synergies between the creative cultures of Portland and Japan with its multinational team of designers working to make environmentally and socially conscious installations, structures, and landscapes. PLACE also models how Japan and Portland can concretely engage with one another on creative ventures; for example, PLACE will be bringing Japanese talent to Portland through an upcoming installation at their headquarters featuring the intricate salt designs of artist Motoi Yamamoto.

Continuing the theme of creative partnerships between the U.S. and Japan, Mr. Takeshi “Ted” Homma, Founder & CEO of Homma Group Inc., presented on how Japan’s model of home design and construction can be applied in the United States to make the process more efficient, intuitive, and environmentally conscious. He noted that in Japan, homes are frequently assembled from prefabricated sets (such as for bathrooms and kitchens), as opposed to in the U.S. where homes are commonly built on-site. As a result, custom-built homes in Japan can be assembled more quickly (in less than 12 months, compared to an average of 2-3 years in the U.S.), and are much more commonplace compared to in the United States (53% of homes in Japan are custom, versus a mere 2% in the U.S.). Because the demand for new homes in the United States is on the rise, there is an opportunity here to introduce Japanese innovation into American home construction. Furthermore, increased customization in home design means increased opportunities to transition towards smart home technologies that not only improve the homeowner’s living experience, but also improve energy efficiency. Homma Group’s latest project located in Mount Tabor, Oregon (dubbed the “Homma Haus”) exemplifies how smart technologies can be integrated seamlessly into home design and construction.

Next came remarks from Mr. John C. Jay, President and Executive Creative Director of GX and President of Global Creative, UNIQLO. Mr. Jay began by highlighting the creative talent present in both Portland and Japan. He referenced Ace Hotel’s collaboration with renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma on the hotel’s Kyoto location as an example of a successful partnership that tapped into the talents of American and Japanese creatives. The concept of collaboration is a powerful tool in advertising as well; surprisingly, many competing brands in Japan have achieved mutually beneficial outcomes by collaborating on the creation of new products and brands. Mr. Jay also drew from his experience working on brand imaging for UNIQLO and Nike to demonstrate how intuitive and intelligent advertising can create opportunities for brands to expand their audience, challenge consumer expectations, and generate new demand for products.


Mr. Bloom concluded the event by thanking the panelists and speakers, as well as the Portland Japanese Garden staff members and Sasakawa USA staff who supported the event preparations. He reiterated the importance of continuing collaboration between the innovators, creatives, investors, and leaders in Portland and Japan who are united by their shared interest in building a more peaceful, prosperous, equitable, and sustainable world for future generations.


*All times indicated in Pacific Time.

2:00 pm – 2:40 pm | Plenary Remarks

2:45 pm – 4:00 pm |Session 1 “Agricultural Innovation and Trade in the Age of Climate Disruption”

4:15 pm – 5:30 pm | Session 2 “Weaving the Common Threads: New Creative Dynamics in U.S.-Japan Partnership”

5:30 pm – 6:30 pm | Networking Opportunity


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