The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


January 2014

Investing in the future
Initiative helps foster young leaders to strengthen US–Japan relations

By Megan Waters, ACCJ Journal editor-in-chief

InterviewPartnershipThe TOMODACHI Initiative is a public-private partnership that invests in the next generation of Japanese and American leaders through educational and cultural exchanges as well as entrepreneurship and leadership programs.

It is led by the United States Embassy in Tokyo and non-profit educational organization the U.S.–Japan Council (USJC). Further, it is supported by the government of Japan, corporations, organizations, and individuals from the United States and Japan.

The ACCJ Journal spoke to Irene Hirano Inouye, president of the U.S.–Japan Council, about her involvement in the program.

How did you become involved in the TOMODACHI Initiative?
In the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake, USJC immediately created the U.S.–Japan Council Earthquake Relief Fund, which received $350,000 within 24 hours of its establishment and raised a total amount of $2,623,034.

The fund supported the relief and recovery efforts of several NPOs and NGOs in Japan. Ambassador John V. Roos, who was serving in Japan at the time, approached USJC to work with the embassy to implement a public-private partnership. This then became the TOMODACHI Initiative.

What does the initiative mean to you?
The programs have a direct, clear, and positive impact on individuals. The initiative seeks to foster a TOMODACHI generation of young American and Japanese leaders who are committed to and engaged in strengthening US–Japan relations.

Some participants may not have had an opportunity to travel abroad, while others come from the Tohoku area and are overcoming setbacks to embark on an international career.

I am always inspired to see participants transformed through their visits to a new country and make lifelong friends with others.

On returning to their hometowns, participants write articles or become entrepreneurs, and inspire other young people to join TOMODACHI.

The TOMODACHI generation is expanding to people of different ages and towns, in both Japan and the United States. Participants are now not limited to Tohoku, but are united by a passion to make the world a better place.

What is your role in the initiative?
I have been involved with shaping the mission and vision, establishing an infrastructure, identifying program implementers, raising funds, and working with strategic-level donors to shape new programs.

As the president of USJC, I try to represent the TOMODACHI Initiative whenever I can.

For the past 13 years, I have brought Japanese American leaders to Japan as part of an annual Japanese American Leadership Delegation program.

Through this scheme I have seen the transformation of Japanese Americans who have connected, or reconnected, with the land of their ancestry and become inspired to contribute to US–Japan relations.

We work to bring together TOMODACHI participants with USJC members, friends, and supporters, whenever possible.

Why is the initiative important for US–Japan relations?
It seeks to foster a generation of young American and Japanese leaders who are committed to, and engaged in, strengthening US–Japan relations, appreciate each other’s countries and cultures, and have the global skills and mindsets needed to contribute to and thrive in a more cooperative, prosperous, and secure world.

It is a long-term program that invests in the future of young people, with the belief that they will eventually become leaders in their own community, and can contribute to deepening bilateral ties.

In addition, TOMODACHI is about educating young people about each other’s country, helping them develop lifelong friendships, and cultivating their interest in global affairs.

How has the ACCJ supported the TOMODACHI Initiative?
The chamber has helped in many significant ways.

For example, the Chubu Chapter contributed funds from their 2012 and 2013 walkathons. And in May, the ACCJ’s Women in Business Committee co-sponsored the very successful USJC-ACCJ Women in Business Summit. This was an important partnership.

The committee also met with young professionals participating in the TOMODACHI Mitsui & Co. Leadership Program.

US companies that are members of the ACCJ have also been strong supporters of the initiative, including GE Japan Corporation—the employer of former ACCJ President Laurence Bates—which was one of our first supporters.

What has the ACCJ brought to the initiative?
It has enabled several innovative programs to be funded.

Support by US and Japanese companies has given TOMODACHI participants the knowledge that a broad base of the business sector believes in and wants to invest in their future.

The active participation of the chamber and US companies shows that the US business world believes it is important to invest in the next generation leaders of the US–Japan relationship, and that Japan is crucial to the economic and strategic future of the United States.

I believe that ACCJ events show how the vibrant US corporate sector is committed to being a part of the Japanese economy and society.

How can the ACCJ and its members benefit from the initiative?
TOMODACHI program alumni in Japan are globally minded individuals who are often bilingual.

They are interested in American culture, understand the importance of US–Japan relations, and have the genuine desire to connect the two countries. ACCJ members will benefit from hiring such a workforce.

TOMODACHI alumni provide a new pool of talent for ACCJ member companies in the future.

How can ACCJ members become involved?
They can work with their companies to support the program. Individuals can serve as mentors and advisors to members of the TOMODACHI generation.

What do you hope to achieve over the next year?
We are very much looking forward to working with Ambassador Kennedy in developing new programs.

The initiative will continue to generate new and creative partnerships, create innovative programs to develop the next generation of leaders, cultivate a growing community of alumni, and inspire and empower fresh new voices for the US–Japan relationship.

Please visit the following link for more information on the initiative and for details of upcoming events: