Japan-America Grassroots Summit

John Manjiro-Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange (U.S.)

Connecting Americans and Japanese Through Grassroots Exchange

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A Message from Jamie Kelly
President of CIE-US

Dear Friends and Family of CIE-US,

Well - we did it!!  Obuse Grassroots Summit and historic Chichi-Jima Forum were absolutely fantastic as you'll figure out from this newsletter!!  So many great inputs we'll even hold some for our next "send" to everyone!  The superb efforts by all in Japan who hosted us - led by Ambassador Kazu Ishikawa and his CIE Team (attached photo of he and I at a celebration reception in Tokyo); and especially our Obuse Hosts and Program including homestays by the incredible Obuse City Mayor and City Council were incredible!

Obuse proved to be an open garden town - wonderful nature, chestnuts, nihonshu, Hokusai Museum, local foods and farms, beautiful mountains and hiking, nearby Shibu Onsen and Jigokudani "Snow-Monkey" Heritage Park among other wonderful things, made for the best week of my year!  Hope you enjoy the articles and the pictures of both the Summit and the Forum! 

Meantime we are clearly thinking ahead to Grasroots Summit 2023 in Columbus Ohio next October hosted by the JASCO, September 19-25th - see link to Director Ben Pachter's video for ALL our Japanese friends below
.  Please share it widely and encourage your friends and alumni from Japan to put Ohio on their schedules - AND invite them to do an "extra homestay" with you as they are coming early or leaving late in 2023!

Please enjoy the stories from our Grassroots efforts this past November, and this very special time of the year in both countries!! 

Stay safe, all the best and Happy Holidays and New Year! 
Jamie Kelly
John Manjiro-Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange (U.S.)

Ambassador Kazu Ishikawa and Jamie Kelly
Join us in Ohio in September 2023 for the next Japan-America Grassroots Summit!
Click Here to Learn More about the 2023 Grassroots Summit in Ohio
Letters from Tokyo, November 2022
Visiting Chestnutville in Nagano
by Roland Kelts

Courtesy of the Japan Society of Boston

At the start of November we found ourselves on a bus bound for Obuse, a tiny village spanning seven square miles with a population of roughly 11,000, tucked between a river and a mountain in Nagano Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo.

There are plenty of stories about the hollowing out of Japan’s countryside. With a population declining and aging, Japan’s big cities alone hold the allure of opportunity (jobs and a social life) for the young. You don't have to travel far past Tokyo’s urban edges to find the vacant homes and shuttered schools of rural Japan, where many dilapidated towns host mostly the aged, and fewer of them each year.

But Obuse is not one of those towns. Each year Obuse welcomes over a million tourists and is well prepared to greet them, boasting a storybook elegance right down to its manicured floral gardens and sidewalks made from the wood of chestnut trees. No kidding. Chestnuts are a big deal in Obuse, served up in just about every manner imaginable except the one I'm used to in New York: shoveled into paper sacks from smoky street carts.

Chestnuts go especially well with rice—good rice—like the kamameshi bento we were served for lunch on the bus north.

It wasn’t just any old bus. We were there at the behest of dear friend Peter Grilli, who connected us to the John Manjiro Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange. I realize that’s a mouthful, but it helps explain the nature of the venture.

Since 1991, the Manjiro-Whitfield Center has held an annual Grassroots Summit for Japanese and American citizens, alternating between locations in Japan and the US to celebrate a historic encounter.

In 1841, a shipwrecked 14 year-old Nakahama (John) Manjiro was rescued by American captain William Whitfield and taken to Massachusetts, where he studied for ten years. Manjiro is widely considered the first Japanese immigrant to the US. After he returned to Japan via the California Gold Rush in 1851, Manjiro helped pry open the Tokugawa shogunate’s isolationist policy ahead of US Commodore Matthew Perry’s arrival in 1853.

Among the Americans on our bus to Nagano were descendants of Captain Whitfield and Commodore Perry. In Obuse, we met one of Nakahama Manjiro’s lineage.

There was more history to be had: Tours of miso and sake breweries, both over 200 years old, a tea ceremony and a visit to the Hokusai museum, commemorating the years Japan’s most famous woodblock print (ukiyo-e) artist spent visiting a patron and working in Obuse in the 19th century. A night at a local hot springs inn and a foliage-viewing pit stop at Mirror Pond (Kagami ike) in the Togakushi Mountains capped things off. Everywhere we ate excellent soba, a personal favorite and regional specialty.

But Tokyo was calling. My smartphone buzzed with editorial queries throughout.
by Matthew C. Perry

I was very lucky on my Obuse Summit experience in November 2022 to not just be in a host family home of one or two persons, but with SIX!!!!  Rina and Kazunobu Asahina were the main hosts, but in the family home were Kazunobu’s parents, Norito and Satoko, and their children Ayuma (4) and Shuri (7).  I soon learned that Norito-san was the head priest of a Buddhist temple that adjoined their house with a long-covered passageway.  Norito-san’s son, Kazunobu, was the deputy priest, and Temple services were held each morning.  I was honored to be asked to attend and participated enthusiastically.

Asahina Family and M. Perry following Temple Morning Prayers

All meals were informal family style with all seven of us, and I quickly learned that Ayuma was very affectionate and friendly with me.  He liked getting close to me and hugging, which I loved and provided good merriment for the whole family. At the first meal he seemed very interested in my lack of hair and commented on it in Japanese.  I don’t know what he said but based on laughter and everyone’s eyes I knew it was the same family characteristic that intrigued my own grandchildren.  I immediately grabbed the top of my head and acted surprised at the lack of hair.  I searched the floor for the missing hair, but my silliness did not fool Ayuma.  He immediately ran in another room and returned with a colorful wig.

Ayuma and M. Petty after finding replacement for Perry-san 's hair loss

I rested comfortably all nights with a futon on a tatami covered floor, and after temple service and breakfast we were ready for several days of adventures.  Being a wildlife biologist, I told them I was very interested in seeing the snow monkeys or Japanese macaques.  After a 20-minute ride we arrived at the
Jigokudani Monkey Park, but immediately saw the sign indicating no monkeys today.  Kazunobu suggested another area, but when I learned it was a 40-minute drive, I suggested we just enjoy a nice hike in the woods.  We made the 30-minute walk up the mountain trail while I was on the lookout for the Japanese serows (goat-antelope endemic to Japan).  None were seen but them we came to a steam geyser near the trail.  I thought it was the highlight of the hike and was surprised when going a little higher on the trail we came to the hot springs (Shibu Onsen).  This is the winter destination of the snow monkeys, but none were in sight or had been seen in several days.  I enjoyed a translated discussion with the park ranger standing guard at the pool and took many photographs of the hot bath pool.  We said goodbye and started down just when a large group of British tourists were arriving.  But then the unexpected happened when our own 7-year-old Shuri excitedly exclaimed, “there is a monkey.”  We turned around and there on the hill about 40 feet away sat a large lone monkey staring at us.

We took many pictures and were preparing to leave again when the monkey came down to greet us.  It was a female and walked amongst us with no fear noticeable with the monkey or humans.  She was after food and meticulously found wheat grain that had been left for her by the ranger among the gravel stones in the area.  The monkey climbed up on a structure and we took more pictures at eye level about 3 feet away.  But then totally unexpected the monkey leaped on one of the British men.  It was extremely scary, but the ranger, ever alert, rushed in and chased the monkey away.  Then we learned that the attacked man had a banana in his pocket that the monkey saw.  I was unsure if he had brought the banana for himself or the monkeys, but in any case, it was a mistake and against regulations.  Fortunately, the encounter resulted in just minor scratches to his arms.  Once our adrenalin had subsided, we headed back down realizing we had been successful and had had enough excitement with the monkey adventure.

Four youngest members of the Asahina family near steam geyser, Jigokudani Monkey Park

Snow monkey watching visitors to the Shubu Onsen

Tea ceremony in gazebo by Satoko-san with Shuri assisting her grandmother

Mountain onsen for snow monkeys along bank of river (but none bathing)

My homestay also included a dinner in a very fine traditional Japanese restaurant with the whole family with more delicacies that were new to my palette.  Another welcome surprise was when it was announced that Satoko-san wanted to serve me tea with a traditional ceremony.  It was especially pleasurable when I learned that she was a Tea Ceremony Expert and had been selected nationally as a ceremony presenter for the foreign participants during the winter Olympics in Nagano in 1998.  Overall, it was an incredibly pleasant homestay with the Asahina family and one I will always cherish.  New friendly bonds were formed that will last for life.
by Matthew C. Perry

The idea of a Forum in Chichijima that occurred in November 2022 had a unique origin, of which even most attendees did not know.  It all began in 2020, with the original reporting by a Washington Post journalist stationed in Tokyo about the unique ethnicity on Chichijima.  See previous newsletter article for more information:

This Japanese news article was seen by a watch repairman, Mr. Akira Kondo, in Ehime Prefecture, on the island of Shikoku.  He felt sympathy when he learned that descendants of Nathaniel Savory had burned the 31-star US flag that Commodore Matthew Perry had given to Nathaniel in 1853.  They did this when the Japanese military occupied the island during World War II, thinking the flag might show allegiance to the United States.  Kondo-san had a replica of this flag made and sent it to a family on the island he did not know.  Takashi Savory accepted the flag for the Savory family and this random act of kindness established a friendly relationship between these two men.

When I learned about the flag exchange from a subsequent news article written by Ms. Yumi Nakayama in 2021, I wrote to Kondo-san and thanked him on behalf of the Perry family.  Knowing he was a watch repairman I told him I owned the 1802 pocket watch that Commodore Perry had in Japan, but that it no longer worked.  He said he would repair it and hoped to meet me in Japan.  Through several phone calls and email letters, translated by the former CIE Summit Coordinator, Ms. Hiroko Todoroki, Kondo-san and I developed a friendship with the desire to meet some day.  I also simultaneously was in contact with Mr. Takashi Savory in Chichijima, who had received the replica flag from Kondo-san, with similar friendship developments.

Kondo-san told Hiroko-san in a phone call that he had also made a 31-star flag for me.  He also began making plans with his personal funds to meet me in Japan when I came for the Grassroots Summit in Obuse.  I decided then to purchase two 50-star American flags that had flown over the US Capitol to give to Kondo-san and Savory-san as an act of kindness and friendship between our countries.  Plans developed rapidly with Hiroko-san and the present CIE Coordinator, Ms. Chika Aoki, to arrange flag exchanges at appropriate areas.  Although no one in my family desired to go to Chichijima, there were 20 Americans and Japanese willing to make the 600 mile 24-hour trip by ship to visit this unique island, which is in the Ogasawara Island Archipelago, designated as a World Natural Heritage site.

At night on our journey to Chichijima our ship passed Torishima, where Captain Whitfield had rescued Manjiro to begin a long family relationship between America and Japan.  Although we did not see Torishima, I pondered what it was like for Manjiro, his relatives, and friends, to be stranded on this remote island.  They had to survive on the natural resources on the island that persons from some countries were exploiting, while whaling in this area of the ocean.  In fact, Captain Whitfield’s men were searching for food in 1841 when they discovered Manjiro.  Their friendship developed in the United States where Whitfield treated Manjiro like a son.  This friendship was a key element when Manjiro returned to Japan in 1852 that helped convince the Japanese government that Americans were friendly and civilized, and not barbarians.  His comments most assuredly helped Commodore Perry with his successful negotiations.

Welcome banner in Chichijima with group from US and Japan with Savory family.  Photo by Carol Moore.

While on Chichijima, we learned about the natural resources of this World Natural Heritage site and took several tours to view them.  We walked the area that Commodore Perry purchased for coal storage and learned from Takashi-san that US coal piles still existed in this area when he was a young boy.  We also learned how Manjiro had visited Chichijima in 1862 aboard the Japanese steam-powered ship, Kanrin-maru.

Takashi-san turned out to be not only an expert on Chichijima history but had a special interest in Commodore Perry.  He told us about the 14 men in the Perry squadron who were lost at sea with no trace of them or their boat.  He suggested we have a memorial tribute with a moment of silence to the men.  We met on a beautiful Okumura overlook with a view of the potential disaster area on the horizon and with the 31-star flag that Kondo-san had sent to the Savory family.  We also vowed to work for a permanent monument to these American men lost at sea.

During our short stay on Chichijima we developed warm relationships with the residents of Chichijima, especially the several descendants of the man who had contact with my ancestor 169 years ago.  It was quite overwhelming to have descendants of Manjiro, Whitfield, Savory, and Perry together for the first time in one area.  The final leg of my 16-day trip to Japan took me to Ehime Prefecture where I was happy to meet Kondo-san and be reunited with Savory-san.  We had enjoyable meals together, talked to students and friends, and examined the Perry pocket watch in Kondo-san’s jewelry store.   Let us hope that the bonds between the American and Japanese people become stronger and our nations remain at peace forever.  It was an exciting trip filled with new experiences and lasting friendships.

Moment of silence for 14 men lost at sea during Perry Expedition in Chichijima.
Left to Right: Scott Whitfield, Kyo Nakahama. Takashi Savory, Matthew Perry.
American flag is 31-star replica that Kondo-san gave to Savory-san in 2021.
Photo by Hiroko Todoroki.

Mr. Akira Kondo displaying the original flag exchange news article that initiated the Forum in Chichijima and the meeting of Matthew Perry, Akira Kondo, and Takashi Savory at lunch in Ehime Prefecture, November 14, 2022.
Photo by John Manjiro Whitfield Center for International Exchange.


The CIE Grassroots Summit - A Rare Opportunity
By Tatyana Sisk

Dear Friends of CIE,
Sending warm wishes to you for the upcoming winter holidays and hope you will enjoy reading about my recent ADVENTURES in Japan and consider joining me in 2024!
For those who know me, I love traveling, making plans and researching the places that I would want to go and visit.  Unlike other times, this trip to Japan with CIE was VERY spontaneous for me and I am truly grateful to CIE and their amazing team that planned and organized all travel (flights, hotels, lunches & dinners, transportation) and fun activities (opening & closing summit ceremonies) for me and other group members.
One of the reasons to join the CIE Grassroots is a rare opportunity to learn more about US-Japan relations associated with historical voyages by Commodore Matthew C. Perry who opened trade with Japan. While I was researching historical facts before the trip took place, I was also looking forward to meeting the descendant of Commodore Perry in person and have an opportunity to learn some more about his family history.
The second reason for traveling with the CIE group is to live and experience a local life with a host family (about 2-3 days out of your entire trip). Honestly, I don’t know any other organizations that do a better job than CIE. They not only welcome you to travel to Japan as a tourist and make sure you discover new places every time you travel with them, they also offer a host family stay, so you could have a unique prospective of embracing Japanese culture from within. For example, my host family in Obuse made me feel as if I have been living in Japan for years! From waking up early and walking the town’s streets at 6 A.M. to a breathtaking 600-year-old temple, eating a variety of never seen or tried delicious foods for breakfast, making lunch and preparing bento boxes with my host for all my new American & Japanese friends, do apple picking in Japanese style and later enjoying a home-made mochi party would not be all that I had done in just ONE SINGLE DAY.

The final reason to join the group is to have an opportunity to see many touristy attractions without troubling yourself about inbound transportation, hotels arrangements and/or experience language barriers. The touristy highlights on this trip for me included: an unforgettable stay at a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan), experience a Japanese tea ceremony, walk-ins to Japanese gardens of the local residents and visit the Hokusai museum with art from the Edo-Period.
If you are like me, an EXPLORER at heart with an interest in Japanese history, art and culture or you are just someone who wants to have lasting memories for years to come, please join the next Grassroots Summit.
There are NO obstacles for you not to join the Grassroots CIE in 2024 if you have a valid passport.
Hope to see you in person on the next trip to Japan.

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The Manjiro-Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange-U.S. (CIE-US) is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization headquartered in Washington, DC. All donations are fully tax deductible to the extent allowed by law. 
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Articles appearing in the CIE-U.S. Newsletter are the personal opinion of writers and not official positions of the organization. 
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