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Japan-America Society of Hawaii 39th Annual Dinner Speech

Posted on Oct 20, 2015 in Main

Remarks of Governor David Ige as prepared

September 24, 2015 at the Hilton Hawaiian Village Coral Ballroom


Former Governor Ariyoshi, Consuls General Misawa, Paik, Robinson, Director General Chow, and distinguished guests, it’s an honor for me to be here today to celebrate Japan’s relationship with the United States – and in particular the special relationship the state of Hawaii shares with Japan. I am also honored to recognize the recipients of the Japan-America Society of Hawaii Bridge Awards:  Mr. Kenneth Saiki and the United Japanese Society of Hawaii.  The hundreds of leaders gathered tonight illustrate the positive impacts they have made in our community and in Japan.

Main Remarks

Tonight’s honorees exemplify the deep and abiding relationship the United States shares with Japan – a unique and significant relationship that has been on prominent display this year.

At a formal White House welcoming ceremony for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe earlier this year, President Obama publically recognized the enduring relationship.  He said the two nations are “global partners that stand together for security and human dignity around the world” and characterized the relationship as one of mutual respect and shared obligation. He said the two nations are “true partners and friends.”

Dawn and I were honored to be at that welcoming ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House where we met the Prime Minster and his wife, Akie.  And for us, it was more personal than for many of the guests.  We were pleased to see that Hawaii was highlighted in various ways throughout the Prime Minister’s state dinner.

Foods from Hawaii were scattered throughout the dinner menu, Wailea hearts of palm and bamboo shoots, Maui onion soup, and fresh poha berries, all served on Mrs. Obama’s Kailua Blue china.

But it’s even more personal than simply seeing our state represented on the menu and eating with hashi.  When I took my first international trip as Governor to Tokyo, I shared during a reception with government and business leaders that our relationship with Japan – is more than business, more than friendship, it is about family.

Because, from the very early days, more than 160 years ago, immigrants from throughout Asia came to Hawaii to work on the plantations.  Those deep roots have taught us to embrace diversity.

And today, in fact in just the past two weeks, I have seen our community celebrate diversity in so many ways:

  • Hawaii Pacific University, named by USA Today as the number 1 ranked college with the most diverse student body – ahead of Stanford, Harvard, Columbia, and Yale, celebrated its 50th anniversary.
  • And the East West Center recognized Nainoa Thompson for playing a leading role in building understanding across the Pacific and around the world.

Not only does this kind of diversity define us, it also guides us.  So much so that today we have strong bilateral relationships with Japan and other countries in Asia.  I am committed to further deepening these ties.

Recognizing that America’s future prosperity and security are intertwined with the Asia-Pacific region, President Obama made a strategic commitment to rebalance our nation’s resources and investments toward Asia.  This focus includes an emphasis on economic development, energy cooperation, people-to-people exchanges, youth, and education.

For Hawaii, four key areas will strengthen the state’s position as it relates to our nation’s commitment to this rebalance in the Asia-Pacific region.

First, economically, our partnership with Japan is vital.  This is reflected in the tourism industry where Japan is the state’s number one international market with up to 19 flights a day from six cities to the Hawaiian Islands bringing in an annual 1.5 million visitors who spend about $2.5 billion a year.  That results in $260 million in state tax revenue.

When we talk about such large numbers, it’s easy to forget about the most important aspect of our commerce – the person-to-person sharing of culture and tradition.

There are more Hula dancers and hula halau in Japan than Hawaii

Music from Hawaii thrives in Japan

We need to make it easier to share our culture and traditions.

To improve access for our visitors, particularly from Japan, I am working to expand U.S. Customs pre-clearance for visitors from foreign countries. This would allow travelers to clear U.S. customs at Narita Airport.

I am also working to open Kona as an international airport of entry.  This will allow travelers from Japan to go directly to our Neighbor Islands, increasing the number of visitors they receive and giving an economic boost to those communities.

Second, as we continue to strengthen the economic ties between Hawaii and Japan, we, as global partners, must look at energy security.  Hawaii’s goal of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045 can be accelerated through international partnerships and investments in renewable energy.

In 2010, the United States and Japan designated Hawaii and Okinawa as representatives for the Clean Energy and Development and Deployment partnership.

On July 10th of this year, at a forum on clean energy featuring experts and dignitaries from America and Japan, Governor Takeshi Onaga and I signed an extension of the Hawaii-Okinawa Memorandum of Cooperation for Clean and Efficient Energy Development and Deployment from July 2015 to June 2020.

I look forward to working on collaborative efforts in the area of energy efficiency.

The third area in which Hawaii continues to play a key role in the nation’s rebalance to Asia involves the military.  All branches of our nation’s military are headquartered in Hawaii, and America’s service men and women are helping to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

Their role goes far beyond joint military exercises with other nations.  They are also working with other nations to confront real world challenges, such as responding to natural disasters and other humanitarian crises.  These cooperative experiences build the relationships needed for a future in which the U.S. and its allies and partners help to maintain peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific.

The fourth key area is education.  The future lies in our young people, and we must continue to build the foundation for our emerging global citizens.  At their April 2014 Summit meeting, President Obama and Prime Minister Abe agreed to double student exchange between Japan and the United States by 2020.  This initiative, which I support, is one that is beneficial to Hawaii as it helps to build bonds among our young adults and enriches the educational experiences for all students at our universities and colleges.

Hawaii is ahead of the class curve on this one because of organizations like the Japan-America Society of Hawaii provide educational programs that reach students from elementary school to college.  The prestigious Crown Prince Akihito scholarships, the many sister school relationships, and the opportunity for students from Japan and Hawaii to experience exchange trips are just a few of those examples.  I had the opportunity to meet the JASH junior ambassadors before they departed for Asian Pacific Children’s Conference.

While we were in Japan, Dawn had the opportunity to visit Chowada Elementary in Chigasaki city.  The principal shared correspondence between Chowada and Aina Haina Elementary.  It’s quite a small world.  But more than that, it’s teaching our very young students to be global learners.

Finally, we can all work together to strengthen Hawaii’s contributions to and strategic value in the Pacific in these four areas – the economy, energy, military and education – by building relationships.

During my trip to Tokyo in June, I met with travel industry partners and government leaders, including Prime Minister Abe, to promote Hawaii and grow our existing relationships.

  • The Prime Minister shared his love of pineapple and said when he was a boy relatives who had visited Hawaii would bring back cans of pineapple.  He thought pineapples had holes in the center and didn’t know how to eat the fresh fruit.
  • I told him I’d worked at the cannery cutting the pineapples and making the holes in the center.
  • Because of this personal connection, he took far more time to talk with me than his staff had scheduled.

The relationships we formed on that trip will be further strengthened next month when Dawn and I will visit Okinawa and Guandong to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Hawaii’s sister state relationships which were established, with much vision in mind, by Governor Ariyoshi.  These relationships are vital to Hawaii economically, politically and culturally.

These relationships allow Hawaii and Japan to be more than business partners and more than friends.  We are family.  It’s these ties that will help both countries prosper in the next century.

Local organizations like JASH play a significant role in our global partnership – on the diplomatic and cultural front.  And this has a direct impact on Hawaii politically, economically and with our military.

So it important that tonight we celebrate the relationship with Japan by honoring those who have made significant contributions to the mission of furthering relationships between Japan and the United States.

We all remember the tragedy of the Ehime Maru.  Mr. Kenneth T. Saiki, Director of the Ehime Maru Memorial Association, has supported the bereaved families of the Ehime Maru.

Since 2001, he has ensured the maintenance of the Ehime Maru Memorial in Kakaako Waterfront Park.  The Memorial preserves the memory of the students, teachers, and crew members who lost their lives in the tragic accident.

Mr. Saiki and the Association members mobilized resources and support for bereaved families, visiting officials and youth programs.

The United Japanese Society of Hawaii has made invaluable contributions to further friendly relations between the United States and Japan.

I congratulate and thank you for your ongoing efforts to develop, promote and strengthen goodwill, friendships, and understanding between the people of Japan and Hawaii, particularly between the sister cities of Uwajima and Honolulu.


The Japan-America Society of Hawaii and its members are an integral part of Hawaii’s cultural and economic framework.  You play a significant role in deepening the bond between Japan and the United States.

Arigato gozaimasu.