Opening Remarks

Atsushi Yamakoshi, Executive Director of Keidanren USA

(As Prepared, Nov. 4, 2015)

I am very honored and pleased to be here today, having so many distinguished people to celebrate the reopening of Keidanren USA.

This year has been a momentous year for U.S.-Japan relations.  In April, Prime Minister Abe visited the United States and made a historic speech to a joint session of Congress.  It signified the importance that both governments currently place in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

In late June, Keidanren Chairman Sakakibara led a delegation of over 100 Japanese business leaders, which was separated into three groups and visited ten states around the country.  It signified the importance that the Japanese business sector places in the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Building on these two earlier developments, it is my hope and ambition that tonight’s opening of Keidanren USA will come to be seen as a solid third step, or a third arrow, in this evolution of the U.S.-Japan economic relationship.

Speaking of third steps, this is my third time representing Keidanren in Washington DC.  I served as Keidanren’s U.S. representative and visiting economist at Japan Economic Institute in the mid-1990s.  In the mid-2000s, I served as Director of the previous Keidanren USA.  And now in the mid-2010s, I have come back here.  Anyway, in Japanese, we have an expression, “Sandomeno Shoujiki.”  I hope that the third time ends up a charm for me personally as well.

Keidanren USA’s core mission is to enhance the presence of the Japanese business sector in the U.S. policymaking community.    But “Presence” does not mean merely being physically present.  “Presence” means the kind of proactive engagement that makes an actual difference in the way people think of the U.S.-Japan relationship.

Unfortunately, we saw what happened six and a half years ago when engagement was not sufficient.  When it was my responsibility to close the previous Keidanren office, I remember how challenging it was. Many people asked me “Why does Keidanren close its U.S. office?”  I eventually noticed that those were people who strongly believed that U.S.-Japan relations are so important.

The reopening of the office became possible by Chairman Sakakibara’s decision and leadership.  Chairman Sakakibara has consistently emphasized the importance of the United States as Japan’s most important political and economic partner and a critical ally in ensuring peace and stability in the Asia Pacific region.

Keidanren USA has three major objectives.  First, collection and analysis of information on the U.S.-Japan relationship.  In today’s high technology era, I believe, not the quantity but the quality of information matters.  This is hard, but we will work to provide high-quality information which can impress Keidanren leaders.

Second, promotion of better understanding of the current political/economic/social situation in Japan.  I think we need tremendous efforts here.  Because there is not enough information about Japan in the U.S., one of our jobs is to grow that information and spread it throughout the country.

Third, the establishment and enhancement of policymaking networks both within Washington DC and at the state and local level.  I love visiting various states because I enjoy finding that each state has its own history, culture and warm-hearted people, and Japanese companies operating there have wonderful relations with each local community.

I accompanied Chairman Sakakibara to visit Annapolis, Richmond, Columbus and Charleston in the last mission.  I have also had chances to visit Seattle, Philadelphia, Chicago and Minneapolis on the occasions of Business Speaker Series carried out by National Association of Japan-America Societies (NAJAS) and Keizai Koho Center (KKC).

I am going to Birmingham, Alabama to participate in the Japan-U.S. Southeast Association Meeting to be held mid-November.  Japanese businesses’ investment in, and commitment to, the U.S. economy on the state level are worthy of recognition, and this is a story that needs to be told more.  I would like to bring back information, experiences and networks through these visits to our Washington DC operation.

In Washington DC, the Japan-U.S. Business Conference will be held in early December and many Japanese executives are flying in from Japan.   I hope this conference will become a very fruitful one to symbolize this special year for the U.S.-Japan relationship.

With the successful conclusion of the TPP negotiations and positive economic developments in Japan, there is a growing renewed interest in Japan.  It is important to adapt to, and capitalize on, this new reality.   We must be ready to respond to this interest with a coherent strategy and narrative for engagement.

This is not something that can be accomplished by our office alone.   It needs to be a broad effort with the active participation of all of you who know the value of the U.S.-Japan economic partnership.   Our office will strive to act as a facilitator and catalyst in this effort, but we need a continuing discussion among stakeholders if we are to achieve a model for sustainable engagement that goes beyond mere physical presence.

Needless to say, it is a strong advantage of Washington DC to have many specialists with various expertise, including you.  You are the key players and we can provide you with a stage for your performance and for strengthening U.S.-Japan relations.

In closing, let me thank you again for joining our reception.   With your help, I am confident that Keidanren USA can become a platform for the promotion of Japanese business accomplishments, contributions to the U.S. economy, and further prosperous U.S.-Japan relations.

We look forward to serving as a leading voice in that effort.
Thank you very much.