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'Mutual understanding is critical': Japanese business leaders highlight strong relationship with U.S.

Allies now for the better part of seven decades, the United States and Japan continue to learn from one another and grow in friendship and mutual respect.

And Americans and Japanese continue to believe their countries, their continents, and the entire world benefits when these friends enjoy strong bonds. Friday morning, May 4, a delegation representing Japan’s wider business community arrived at Creighton University to talk about the relationship between the two countries and how recent shifts in politics and economic policy could bring about new opportunities for mutual progress and benefit.

“Mutual understanding is critical,” said Shigeru Hayakawa, vice chair of Keidanren and a longtime executive at Toyota. “Respect for each other when doing business overseas is key. It’s been 30 years since Toyota first started production in the United States and we wondered if the system could be accommodated in the U.S. But right now, I’m happy to say that it’s worked and we find most people working for Toyota, Japan or the U.S., share the Toyota way and our convictions to respect people, respect employment, and serve the community.”

The Keidanren (Japanese Business Federation) Mission has sent eight delegations to the U.S. in the past three years. On a nearly two-week visit this time, the 14 delegates from Keidanren, the Japanese Business Federation, along with leaders from high-profile Japanese brands like Kawasaki, Mitsubishi and Toyota, will tour Japanese-linked businesses in the state.

Keidanren, comprising 1,358 companies in Japan, also attended the Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting this past weekend and, after a successful appearance in March at Creighton by a renowned Japanese economist, Keidanren and Japan’s government reached out to Maorong Jiang, PhD, director of the Asian World Center, and asked if it might be possible for the business leaders to visit.

Jiang was able to organize a one-day visit as Keidanren officials, including some from Japan’s most noteworthy businesses, took meetings with Nebraska’s business and government leaders. Friday’s visit included a breakfast at which the delegation was welcomed by Creighton President the Rev. Daniel S. Hendrickson, SJ, a luncheon and a panel conversation with Heider College of Business professors Kristie Briggs, PhD, and Trent Wachner, PhD, and Ed Morse, JD, professor of law and holder of the McGrath North Chair in Business Law at the School of Law.

“We were delighted to host the Keidanren delegation,” Jiang said. “It was an enlightening conversation all the way around, and the delegation was grateful and impressed by the level of interest and high-level interaction they enjoyed with our Creighton faculty, students and administration.”

During the panel discussion, Briggs, Wachner and Morse were joined by Hayakawa and his fellow Keidanren delegates, Haruo Murase of Canon and Reiji Arita of Tokyo Maritime Insurance. The panel discussed several current economic, marketing and political situations that continue to unfold, including the fate of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, from which the U.S. withdrew shortly after the Trump Administration assumed office.

Posed the question by Briggs, Murase, who recently retired at the rank of Canon’s executive director after a 55-year career with the company, paused for a moment and reflected on how much the Keidanren missions over the past three years have increased understanding on all sides of the Pacific.

“The president says he intends to stay away from TPP,” he said. “But the U.S. and Japan have learned more about its benefits since then. I think we all can have a misunderstanding and perhaps that is where the president is. There have been many one-sided views of this deal between countries but today, you cannot have just a one-sided deal. You have to have something for everyone. The TPP cannot be abandoned. This is our mission. The TPP must be promoted, the way NAFTA must be promoted. NAFTA is not just a three-country deal, it’s much wider than that. The U.S. cannot go backwards.”

Murase’s words were met with applause, as was his case-in-point in talking about how both Japan and Nebraska stand to benefit from the TPP.

“We were just talking to the Nebraska governor the other day and I remarked on how tasty Nebraska beef is,” Murase said. “Now, wagyu beef is very popular. But I like that red American meat.”

The panel also discussed intellectual property, the rise of China and South Korea, the challenges of aging and shrinking populations and the role academia and business stand to play for the next generation.

All agreed that a combination of American approaches and Japanese approaches have benefited both nations greatly for many years. Japanese precision and the focus on the group, along with American creativity and the promotion of the individual, seem to have yielded massive dividends for both nations.

“Understanding our differences, acknowledging those differences, then convincing each other to narrow the gap has been key for our two countries,” Murase said.

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