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Business conferences, cultural events already in the works

Long-awaited Japan-America Society kicks off May 2

JACKSON — After several years of simmering on the back burner, the Japan-America Society of Mississippi is organized and ready to start recruiting members who are interested in doing business with Japan or learning the culture and etiquette.

The society’s inaugural reception will be held May 2 in Jackson. Attendees will have the opportunity to meet the Consul General of Japan (New Orleans), the Honorable Hideto Mitamura. Gov. Ronnie Musgrove is also expected to attend.

The Japan-America Society of Mississippi is a private, non-profit organization with the mission of promoting greater understanding and cooperation between Japan and Mississippi. Up to now, Mississippi has been the only Southern state without a society. There are 38 similar organization affiliated with the National Association of Japan-America Societies.

A few years ago, the Mississippi Development Authority (MDA) asked the Stennis Institute and Mississippi State University (MSU) to form a state chapter. Phillip Pierce, MSU development coordinator in the Office of Research, Sara Freedman, dean of MSU’s College of Business and Industry, and several others laid the groundwork for the society but ran into several roadblocks that stalled the project.

Their luck changed last year when Kazuko Kasai White moved to Mississippi from Houston. White’s uncle, Jiuji Kasai, was one of the founding members of the Japan-America Society back in the mid-1920s in Tokyo. He was also behind the formation of the Japan-America Cultural Society in 1947.

“My uncle believed our two countries should be friends,” said White, who was born and raised in Tokyo and moved to the U.S. in 1972.

White moved to the Mississippi after retiring from her job as a logistics manager for Mitsubishi Chemical. She had been a member of the Japan-America Society in Houston and immediately sought out a similar group in Mississippi. She found Japan-America Societies in New Orleans and Birmingham, but nothing in Mississippi.

White told Pierce she was willing to help form a Mississippi group, and the project was revived. Pierce had already assembled an interim board, and almost everyone was still able to serve on the board.

“We were able to hit the ground running,” said Pierce.

The interim board of directors are: Sara Freedman, Phil Hardwick, Jere Hess, Robert S. Lazarus, Debbie Pierce, Phil Pierce, Hal Sibley, Eiko Tashiro, Paul Tashiro and Kazuko White.

The society will meet quarterly and host monthly programs around the state. Already, the society is planning a lecture on Japanese culture for June, which will be presented by Vice Counsel Chiharu Kobayashi of New Orleans. A business conference is also planned in June. Dates and places are still tentative. The society plans to launch an extensive Web site on May 2 that will keep members connected and up to date on upcoming events.

Among the many events planned are sister-city programs, a Japan festival, a golf tournament, business conferences, Japanese language classes, concerts and presentations of Japanese performing arts, and tea ceremony lessons/demonstrations.

“Some societies are business-oriented, some are culture-oriented, but we’re going to be both,” said Pierce.

The society could be a valuable tool for Mississippians who want to do business with the Japanese but don’t know the culture or where to start.

“It creates a bridge to the state,” said Mitsu Yamazaki, a business developer with Yates Construction who has lived in the U.S. for almost seven years. “A lot of Japanese companies are looking at the Southeast because we have a great labor force and lower costs.”

White said the society encourages all kinds of people to take part — business people, individuals interested in Japanese culture, people leading state government, teachers and students.

“Our goal is to bring the two nations closer, not just in business but in all aspects of life,” she said. “There are a lot of similarities between the two cultures — both are proud people bound by traditions.”

Yates, the general contractor for the new Nissan plant, is a sponsor of the May 2 reception. The reception was timed to coincide with Children’s Day, a national holiday held each year on May 5 in Japan. The reception will be held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the University Club in Jackson.

For more information about the Japan-America Society, call White at (228) 872-1314 or Pierce at (601) 331-1326.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Russell Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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