On Tuesday, the Center for Japanese Studies hosted a discussion with Shuji Shimokoji, the former Japanese ambassador to Venezuela and Panama. The event, “Walk in the U.S., Talk on Japan,” was part of a national discussion series sponsored by the Office of the Prime Minister of Japan that aims to increase awareness about the relationship between the U.S. and Japan.

The panel, attended by about 30 people, focused on the close economic ties between the United States and Japan as well as the importance of continued cooperation in the development of security policies.

Shimokoji was joined by a panel that included public sector officials such as Dr. Toshiyuki Miyawaki, a former Major General in the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force, as well as individuals from the private sector, such as Hirokichi Nadachi, a prominent businessman in the Japanese automotive industry and Takaki Minamoto, a former investment banker for Morgan Stanley and current CEO of a Tokyo-based tourism agency. Saho Miyashita, a Japanese college student who has studied in the United States, also participated in the panel.

In their opening addresses, each panelist spoke about their areas of expertise and how their experiences could help promote greater understanding of relations between Japan and the United States.

Shimokoji highlighted the Japanese government’s economic policies, which he said are aimed at encouraging collaboration between the United States and Japan, citing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The TPP is an international trade agreement which aims to reduce trade obstacles between countries on the Pacific Rim and increase economic growth passed in February 2016. The ambassador also focused his talk on the close ties between the two countries in the development of mutually beneficial security policies that address concerns over China and North Korea.

“To further boost the economy of Japan and the United States, international trade is paramount,” he said. “The Trans-Pacific Partnership, so called TPP, will help open up Japanese markets to more goods — that will benefit the participating economies and newly emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere. A strong Japanese economy is one way that we can both benefit.”

Nadachi spoke about his experiences in international business, saying American business ethics are the best in the world and encouraging further cooperation between the United States and Japan.

Dr. Miyawaki’s remarks centered on the long history of cooperation between the U.S. military and the Japanese self-defense force.  

“America has many commitments all over the world, with tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere,” Miyawaki said. “But I would also argue not to forget the importance of the Asian Pacific region.”

Dr. Miyawaki cited North Korea’s growing nuclear ambitions and growing tensions in countries around the South China Sea as examples of potential conflicts that require U.S. attention.

Beyond foreign policy, the discussion also pivoted to cultural issues. Miyashita spoke about the similar agricultural focus of the two nations, noting concerns about the large aging population of Fukui and the relatively small youth population in her region, a problem that is common throughout Japan.

The theme of cultural similarities was also reflected in Minamoto’s introduction. In his address, he spoke to the importance of bowing in Japanese culture. He noted the similarity between the American handshake and the Japanese bow as both being symbolic of mutual respect.

Following the panelists’ introductions, the group took questions from the audience, which mainly focused on economic and security issues. One audience member asked about relations between China and Japan in particular. In response, Shimokoji said there needs to be increased cooperation between Japan and China.

“China and Japan must cooperate together,” said Shimokoji. “China is not an enemy of Japan’s, but rather competitors.”

In an interview after the event, Shimokoji emphasized that cooperation with China was important to counter North Korean nuclear ambitions.  

“Even now, China is against North Korean nuclear facilities,” he said. “So we have to encourage China to help curtail the operation of these North Korean nuclear facilities.”

Shimokoji also noted that he thought Japan should strengthen ties with Latin America.

“I think that Japan should strengthen their work with Venezuela, especially in energy markets and with other resources,” Shimokoji said. “Not only in Venezuela however; Brazil and Peru are very important countries to Japan.”

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