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Americans, Japanese rely on group for more than just business

Japan-America Society of Mississippi turns two years old

What started as a way for Japanese and American people to learn each other’s cultures has developed into a pipeline through which information and help is constantly flowing.

The Japan-America Society of Mississippi has been a clearinghouse for people of both countries who would not know where to start to bring in a cultural program, make business connections or just meet other families experiencing the same adjustments.

Mississippi’s chapter was founded May 2, 2002, with the mission of promoting greater understanding and cooperation between Japan and Mississippi The society has so far proved to be a valuable tool for Japanese people who come to work in the state and for the Mississippi companies that employ them. It can also be a starting point for Mississippi companies who want to do business in Japan.

From the start, the society has stressed that there is more to the group than business. The society has hosted a number of cultural events to introduce Americans to Japanese culture and organized trips and get-togethers for Japanese families.

Members are very excited about a kimono show coming in October to Millsaps College in Jackson. The show tours worldwide with actors who model the antique kimonos and tell their history spanning 600 years. Last fall, the society helped bring the renowned traveling exhibit, “Japanese Pottery: The Rising Generation from Traditional Japanese Kilns,” to the Mississippi College (MC) campus.

Dr. Deborah Trott-Pierce, an advisor to the society’s board and MC’s director of foreign language and international trade, has been instrumental in bringing the Japanese culture to Mississippi. One example is Junko Tokuda, a Japanese woman who came to MC one year ago through the Japan Foundation. Tokuda is a Japanese Outreach Initiative (JOI) coordinator whose mission is to help Mississippians learn more about her culture, work ethic and language. Some of the companies she has already worked with include Johnson Controls, Nissan and Yorozu. At Yorozu, she taught a Japanese language class to American employees. She is frequently asked to translate and interpret at Mississippi State University’s Center for Advanced Vehicular Systems. Tokuda visits schools around the state to share her culture, and she also teaches a Japanese language class at MC.

Tokuda will be here for one more year, and she is not looking forward to leaving Mississippi. People here are very friendly, she said, and very interested in learning about Japan. Even though her MC class is a non-credit course, students still come because they want to learn the language. She’s also seen lots of enthusiasm from the grade school children she visits.

Tokuda is available to speak to business and civic groups, schools and any other group that is interested in learning about her culture. For more information, call (601) 925-3270.

The Japan-America Society’s focus this year has been on education, said Phillip Pierce, who has been involved with the society since its start. MC hosted a teacher’s Japanese workshop that was attended by teachers as far away as the Coast, who took the Japanese culture back with them to share with their students.

The society helped publicize a national scholarship program through the Keizai Koho Center in cooperation with the National Association of Japan-America Societies. Just 10 teachers from the U.S. and Canada were selected to go to Japan this summer, and two of the winners are from Mississippi. Sherry Otis is a geography teacher at Clinton High School, and Terry Hunt is a gifted program teacher at Isable Elementary School in Jackson. Hunt had previously told Phillip Pierce she wanted to teach her students about Japan, and with the society’s help, she brought them to eat at Little Tokyo in Jackson.

Lots of adjustments

Most of the Japanese families who come to Mississippi are here for only a few years, and as can be imagined, their adjustment to the Mississippi way of life is huge and not always easy.

An outgrowth of the society was a Ladies Auxiliary that meets regularly in Brandon. Jennie McIntosh started the auxiliary at the urging of her friend Kay Lee, a Japanese woman who has lived in Jackson for 20 years and is the owner of Finishing Touch Alterations in Jackson. The women felt that the auxiliary would give Japanese women a chance to meet others in the same situation and get to know Americans who could tell them about the local schools, doctors, etc. — things people like to know when they move somewhere new.

The auxiliary has not met in the last few months because many members of the original group have returned to Japan. McIntosh knows the interest is there, and she plans to start the meetings again for a new group of women.

Several churches in the Jackson area have started language classes and other programs for Japanese families. With the help of member Lee, Christ United Methodist Church in Jackson is sponsoring a Japanese speaking church that meets on Friday nights for Bible study and on Sundays for worship. The pastor is Paul Tashiro, a longtime resident of Mississippi who has been very involved in acclimating Japanese families to the American culture.

Christ United recently hosted a cooking class for Japanese women to teach them how to cook American dishes, and it was very popular, said mission director Martha Walton. The church is also starting a host family program to match up church members with Japanese individuals or families. Local families could invite them over for supper, take them to see the sights of Mississippi or just keep in touch with them and lend support when they have questions.

Mississippi families are sure to learn a lot themselves in the process. For example, it is considered polite by the Japanese to decline food on the first offer, said Walton, even though the offer will gladly be accepted on perhaps the second and most definitely the third offer.

“The Japanese are very, very polite,” said Walton. “You can imagine the culture shock. I think a lot about what they must think of us.”

The Japan-America Society is planning a family night at Smith-Wills Stadium in Jackson July 3 to watch the Jackson Senators play the San Angelo Colts. Phillip Pierce is also working with Gov. Haley Barbour and Nissan to have a cherry tree planted on the grounds of the New Capitol. The tree will signify the goodwill between the two countries, he said.

The society’s office is moving to the Mississippi State University (MSU) School of Architecture’s Jackson location, which is an attractive, modern downtown building. MSU has offered to let the society use its space to host meetings and receptions, such as when Honorable Masamichi Ishikawa, Consul General of Japan in New Orleans, visits.

For more information on the Japan-America Society and upcoming meetings and events, call Pierce at (601) 331-1326 or 948-6253.

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

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