Nine senior congressional staff members and a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives had the opportunity to deepen their political, economic, historical, and cultural knowledge of Japan in early June while participating in a week-long trip to Okinawa and Tokyo. The tour, conducted through the Congressional Study Group on Japan with support from Sasakawa USA, included meetings with government officials, military officers, professors, business leaders, journalists, and cultural experts who provided a well-rounded view of Japan, the most important ally and partner of the United States in Asia.
The delegation began with two days in Okinawa, where local experts described their first-hand experiences with deteriorating relations between the local community and the large presence of American military bases following two recent crimes: the April 28 rape and murder of a 20-year old local woman, for which a former U.S. Marine who worked on base has been charged; and the March 13 rape of a woman in a hotel, for which a U.S. Navy sailor has been charged. Local experts described anti-U.S. base sentiment on the island as being at an all-time high.
Topics covered throughout the week included Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to promote “womenomics,” President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima the previous week, views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the G7 summit, Japan’s demographic challenges, and the nation’s view of presumptive U.S. presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—a topic which was raised in virtually every meeting.
While on the island, delegation members had the opportunity to tour two military facilities: the U.S. Air Force’s Kadena Air Base, where a lunch discussion with officers focused on the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific; and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s Naha Air Base, where officers described an increasing number of scrambles against Chinese aircraft that approach Japanese air space.
The Okinawa tour also included a primer on local identity and history as the delegation visited the Okinawa Prefectural Peace Memorial Museum, which details the Battle of Okinawa. Finally, the delegates looked to the future with a visit to the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology, one of the leading research institutes in the world, which recruits students and faculty from around the globe.
The second half of the tour brought delegates to Tokyo, where the focus of discussions shifted to politics, foreign policy, and upcoming elections in both nations. This portion of the trip kicked off with a breakfast conversation on Japanese perspectives of American politics with distinguished Keio University professors Toshihiro Nakayama and Yasushi Watanabe. Following that, the group heard an overview of the Japanese political landscape and campaign system from Mr. Mitsunari Okamoto, a member of the House of Representatives with the Komeito party, and toured the Kantei—the Prime Minister’s offices—while meeting Tomohiko Taniguchi, a distinguished non-resident fellow at Sasakawa USA who also is a special advisor to Abe’s cabinet and a professor at Keio University. The group also had the opportunity to network with counterparts who work as senior staff to members of the Japanese Diet.
Other topics covered throughout the week included Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts to promote “womenomics,” President Barack Obama’s visit to Hiroshima the previous week, views on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the G7 summit, Japan’s demographic challenges, and the nation’s view of presumptive U.S. presidential nominees Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—a topic which was raised in virtually every meeting.
Despite a packed schedule, delegates also had a chance to explore life and culture within Japan. While in Tokyo, the group learned about disaster preparedness in a country known for its major natural disasters including earthquakes and tsunami; explored the influence of Buddhism and Shintoism on Japanese society during a visit to Meiji Jingu Shrine; and learned about life as a foreigner in Japan from Patrick “Pakkun” Harlan, a native of Colorado who has lived in the country for 20 years and is now a popular comedian and commentator.
The trip concluded with a roundtable discussion with students studying international relations at Waseda University – an experience that participants agreed was a positive way to wrap up many of the themes that had been discussed throughout the week while also interacting with next-generation leaders.
Sasakawa USA is proud to have sponsored this trip in which delegates gained a much deeper understanding of U.S.-Japan relations within a short amount of time. Sasakawa USA is looking forward to continuing its fruitful relationship with the Congressional Study Group on Japan.