The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

Members of the “Career Panel and Mentorship” talk (from left): Atsuko Fish, Britt Yamamoto, Lata N. Reddy, and Jun Miura

Members of the “Career Panel and Mentorship” talk (from left): Atsuko Fish, Britt Yamamoto, Lata N. Reddy, and Jun Miura

On November 8, the first TOMODACHI Generation Summit kicked off at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Keynote speakers included former U.S. Ambassador to Japan John Roos, President of the U.S.–Japan Council Irene Hirano Inouye, and Professor Miki Sugimura, Sophia University’s vice president for academic exchange.

In addition, three alumni of the TOMODACHI Initiative gave presentations. A working lunch, several workshops, a closing plenary session, and a networking event rounded off the day’s activities.

Packed with over 150 Japanese and American alumni of the program, the summit aimed to strengthen the identity and network of the TOMODACHI Generation, help develop regional leadership groups, and build networking skills.

The TOMODACHI Initiative is a public–private partnership between the U.S.–Japan Council—a non-profit educational organization dedicated to promoting US–Japan relations via leadership and collaboration with government and business—and the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo.

Ambassador Roos initiated the program in 2011 when he was head of mission in Japan. It was designed to support Japan’s recovery efforts after the triple disasters of March 2011.

The main goal of the initiative is to nurture a generation of young American and Japanese leaders who are committed to, and engaged in, strengthening the friendship between the United States and Japan.

TOMODACHI Generation members Robin Lewis (left) and Josephine Mejia at the reception following the summit.

TOMODACHI Generation members Robin Lewis (left) and Josephine Mejia at the reception following the summit.

With Managing Director of Meltwater Japan K.K. Yuri Akahira as master of ceremonies, the summit began with opening addresses by U.S.–Japan Council President Inouye.

“As I look around me,” she said, “I see so many familiar faces who have come from across Japan and the United States.”

“Whether you have participated in a cultural, educational, or leadership program, I know that TOMODACHI has allowed you to learn more about the United States and Japan.”

The alumni, Inouye explained, have been able to experience what it is like to be surrounded by strangers and to be welcomed with open arms.

They have also developed new ways of viewing the world.

What’s more, she said, they have challenged themselves to go beyond their comfort zones, and made some friends along the way.

Most importantly, she added, they have become part of the TOMODACHI Generation.

Some 172 programs of the initiative have been implemented across Japan and the United States, Inouye said, with some 28,000 people having been touched by it in one way or another.

Sugimura echoed Inouye’s message, while underlining the international and egalitarian foundations and aspirations of Sophia University, which as of 2015, has agreements with over 250 universities in 50 countries.

Following the welcoming statements, Roos engaged attendees in a humorous, sometimes somber, but ultimately uplifting conversation with the moderator, Chief Legal Officer of Salesforce Burke Norton, a friend and former colleague of the ambassador.

Roos began by saying what an awesome responsibility it had been to be appointed to the mission in Tokyo, following a successful career as a lawyer in Silicon Valley.

Arriving in Japan in 2009, he and his wife Susan fell in love with the country in which they “spent four of the best years of [their lives],” and traveled across all of its prefectures.

With respect to the triple disasters of 2011, Burke asked the ambassador how he quickly determined a course of action and whether he was prepared for such a situation.

“I don’t think you’re ever totally prepared for a crisis like that,” Roos responded.

“But,” he continued, “as US ambassador, you are not only a representative of the US president, but you also have a duty to ensure the health and safety of Americans in the host country.”

Just as importantly, he said, was his relationship with Japan and the Japanese people, “and what we could do to help a friend and ally in what was its biggest crisis since World War II.”

Burke then asked, “Was there something in your career before that situation that, in a way, led you to be able to exercise such leadership?”

“There really wasn’t one particular thing, and this is one of the reasons I think that what [the TOMODACHI Initiative is] doing is so important in terms of leadership training and the life experiences [gained] through [the program] and elsewhere.”

A lifetime in leadership and non-leadership positions—including learning from other leaders and how they performed—had prepared Roos for challenges faced in his diplomatic career and in life.

The ambassador also outlined some of the elements he believes are necessary for success: good fortune; doing many things, and doing them well; hard work; respect for everyone; not worrying about failure; dreaming big and taking risks; and integrity.

By way of example, Roos made the point that in 2010 he had been the first US ambassador to Japan to attend the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony. “I thought that was the right thing to do,” he said.

Before the floor was opened to a robust question and answer session, both speakers mentioned the importance of empowering women and capitalizing on the talents of the next generation.

Building people-to-people relations between the United States and Japan is the most important part of the TOMODACHI Initiative, according to Kaoru Utada, a program manager and alumni manager of the program.

Speaking to The Journal, Utada said, “Our main focus is on leadership exchanges, in addition to providing scholarships.”

This is on top of enhancing bilateral cultural relations.

A second-generation Japanese–American and an alumnus of the program herself, Utada explained that one of the first creations of the initiative—the TOMODACHI SoftBank Leadership Program—took over 300 students from earthquake-affected areas in Tohoku to California for cross-cultural training.

Other programs of the initiative—of which there have been 52 in 2015 alone—include educational exchanges such as the TOMODACHI UNIQLO Fellowship (geared toward graduate students) and the TOMODACHI Suntory Music Scholarship Fund (for undergraduate students).

Music lovers Shun Kumagai and Takeru Saito, from the triple disaster-affected prefectures of Miyagi and Fukushima, respectively, are currently on a four-year program studying jazz at the Berkeley College of Music in Boston, courtesy of the Suntory fund.

Speaking about the summit, Kumagai said he was able to develop a number of techniques for communicating and creating networks with other alumni of the program.

Saito said: “Boston is wonderful. The city is surrounded by a wonderful environment in terms of music, art, and nature. I’m always inspired to create new music when I’m there.”

As for the summit at Sophia University, Saito added: “It blew my mind. It made me see how small I am. And it made me decide to improve myself in terms of English-speaking ability and having my own opinions. It taught me many things.”

Some 4,000 alumni of the TOMODACHI Initiative have benefited from the program.

Looking ahead, Utada said there were a number of exciting programs on the horizon, such as those solely geared to alumni along the themes of science, technology, engineering, and math education; women’s leadership; and disaster relief and resilience.

Similar views were shared by Lata Reddy, vice president, Corporate Social Responsibility, at The Prudential Foundation.

The organization provided a $1 million grant as summit sponsor—as well as sponsoring the TOMODACHI Alumni Leadership Program.

The Prudential Foundation is a nonprofit corporation supported by the Prudential Insurance Company of America.

Speaking to The Journal, Reddy said: “As a leader in global financial services, we know that it is important to have healthy, viable, and sustainable societies that we can operate in. And we know that, to have these communities, we need to invest in future generations.

“So investing in such talent as is evident in the TOMODACHI Initiative was an easy decision, and one that was important for us, Japan, the United States, and in terms of cultivating the next generation.”

Reflecting on the initiative, Utada added: “What started off as a program in Tohoku has spread out into the rest of Japan and the United States. And we are now in the position of providing next-stage opportunities . . . for leaders of the TOMODACHI Generation,” namely, Japanese and American millennials.