‘Personal Reflections of a Japanese American Army Brat,’ my speech at NJAHS gala

March 22, 2008

Glen S. Fukushima
President and CEO, Airbus Japan
Former President, American Chamber of Commerce in Japan
Former Deputy Assistant United States Trade Representative for Japan and China

Thank you very much you for your kind introductions, in both English and Japanese.


Consul-General and Mrs. Nagamine, Senator Yee, Assemblyman Nakanishi, distinguished honorees and guests, ladies and gentlemen. I am pleased to be here in San Francisco tonight, and I am honored to be invited as the keynote speaker at the 2008 Annual Awards Dinner of the National Japanese American Historical Society.

The theme of this year’s dinner is “Leading in the Asian Pacific Era: Past, Present, and Future.” I would like to spend the next 30 minutes addressing this subject by (1) drawing on my own personal history (the past); (2) examining the recent emergence of Asia Pacific and its implications for Asian Americans (the present); and (3) discussing the leadership challenges facing Americans of Japanese ancestry (the future). I have titled my talk, “Personal Reflections of a Japanese American Army Brat.”


My ties to San Francisco reach back to June 1956, when my father brought my mother and me, then age six, to the United States for the first time. My father was born in Taft, California, near Bakersfield, in 1924 as the youngest of three sons to Naokichi and Toki Fukushima. My father’s family moved to Los Angeles several years later. My father was a senior at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.

The following year, my father’s family was incarcerated in Amache, an internment camp located in Colorado. My father’s two older brothers volunteered in 1943 to join the U.S. Army and were sent to Europe as part of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team to fight the Nazis in France and Italy.

My father, on the other hand, was sent to the Pacific theater. The reason is that when he was a child, his parents had sent him to study in Japan, so his Japanese language ability was better than that of his brothers and of many of his Nisei compatriots. My father spent his second year of elementary school in a Japanese “shogakko” in Kumamoto, from which his parents had emigrated to California, and he spent his first year of junior high school in the Nichi-Bei Gakuin, a bilingual school located in Nakano in Tokyo, where Issei parents sent their Nisei children to study so that they would not forget their Japanese language and Japanese heritage.
Upon leaving Amache and enlisting in the U.S. Army in 1943, my father was assigned to the MIS (Military Intelligence Service) Language School at Camp Savage in Minnesota to study the Japanese language, especially military terminology. Upon graduating six months later, he was sent to infantry basic training at Camp Blanding, Florida for two months. He then returned to Minnesota, this time to Fort Snelling, to await orders to be shipped overseas. After two months in Hawaii for further training and preparation to go into the combat zone in the Pacific, he was sent to the Philippines and later to Okinawa. His main duties were to intercept Japanese codes, translate documents, interrogate Japanese prisoners of war, and, in Okinawa, to persuade Japanese soldiers to come out of their caves so that they would not be incinerated by the flamethrowers being used against them by the U.S. Marines.

For his valor and service to his country, the U.S. Army awarded my father the Bronze Star. However, working in the Philippines and Okinawa was in many ways a deeply traumatic experience for my father, since at times he needed to be guarded by his fellow American soldiers so that he would not be shot at by other American soldiers who might mistake my father for being the enemy. My mother tells me that, even to this day, my father during his sleep still suffers from nightmares about his harrowing experiences in Okinawa 63 years ago.

This reminds me of an encounter I had with a Japanese journalist in early 1985, soon after it was announced that I would be leaving my law firm in Los Angeles to join USTR (Office of the United States Trade Representative) in Washington, D.C. A Japanese journalist in Los Angeles wanted to interview me about my future role as a U.S. government trade negotiator. In answer to his questions, I described to him my family background. At the end of the interview, his parting words to me were, “Just as your father fought Japanese soldiers in World War Two, now, you must go battle Japanese trade negotiators.” It was then that I realized that not a few Japanese viewed economic relations with the United States in explicitly military terms.

After the end of the war, my father was assigned in Tokyo in 1946 to work at SCAP (Supreme Commander Allied Powers) as in interpreter and translator. There, in 1947, he met a Japanese woman whom he married, and I was born in Tokyo in 1949 in a U.S. military hospital. I am pleased to report that my parents are still alive and well, living in Torrance, California.

When the Korean War broke out in 1950, my father was sent to Korea, again as part of the MIS, to help the U.S. war effort against North Korea and China. In 1951, he was reassigned to Japan, this time to Camp Sendai, in the northern Tohoku District. I therefore attended kindergarten and first grade at the U.S. Army dependents school located on the base at Camp Sendai.

Then, in 1956, my father was assigned to Fort Ord, and it was on our way to our new home in Seaside and Monterey that we came to San Francisco. I recall that we flew on a MATS (Military Air Transport) Lockheed Super Constellation four-engine propeller airplane from Tokyo to Wake Island, then to Hickham Air Force Base in Honolulu, and to Travis Air Force Base near Oakland before arriving in San Francisco on June 6,1956.

After attending my second, third, and fourth grades of elementary school in Seaside, Monterey, and North Bayview Park at Fort Ord, we moved in 1959 to San Francisco, where my father was assigned to the Presidio. I attended part of fifth grade at the Hawthorne School (since re-named the Cesar Chavez Elementary School) on Shotwell Street in the Mission District and part of fifth grade and part of sixth grade at the Sutro School, on Funston Avenue in the Richmond District.

In November 1960, just as the announcer Douglas Edwards on NBC-TV news was reporting the voting results from the U.S. presidential election race between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon, my parents and I left from Travis Air Force Base to go again to Tokyo, where my mother and I lived for two years, and I attended Yoyogi Elementary School in Washington Heights (subsequently torn down for the Tokyo Olympics in 1964) while my father worked in Korea on an MIS mission that did not allow him to take his family with him.

In 1962, my father was assigned to the Camp Zama Army base in Kanagawa Prefecture, so I attended eighth, ninth, and tenth grades at Camp Zama High School. In 1965, my father was assigned to Fort MacArthur in Los Angeles, and I finished my last two years of high school at Gardena High School.

I wanted to share with you my personal background, especially my father’s involvement with the U.S. Army and the MIS, for several reasons. First, I wanted to pay tribute to the MIS honorees at tonight’s Awards Dinner. Second, it is worth noting that it is thanks to their dedication and efforts that World War Two ended without more bloodshed and that the post-war Occupation of Japan went as smoothly as it did. Third, the work of the MIS paved the way for future generations of Japanese Americans such as myself to engage in the relationship between the United States and Japan.

In addition, the National Japanese American Historical Society is in the process of launching its capital fundraising campaign for the Military Intelligence Service Historic Learning Center. As you know, the planned Center pays tribute to the MIS linguists’ contribution to peaceful U.S.-Japan relations after World War Two.


It was during my undergraduate days at Stanford in the late 1960s that I became involved in three sets of activities that provided the foundation for my future career path and my involvement with U.S.-Japan relations.

The first was my involvement in the Asian American Student Movement. This provided solidarity for Japanese Americans with Chinese Americans, Korean Americans, and other Asian American students to work with African American, Native American, and Hispanic students in a quest for racial and social justice and for an end to the war in Vietnam.

The second set of activities was my involvement in the Stanford-Keio exchange program. I spent two months in the summer of 1969 in Tokyo with 11 other Stanford students on a host family program, and subsequently served at Stanford as chairman of the Stanford-Keio Student Exchange Program. Then, from 1971 to 1972, I spent one academic year in Tokyo studying at Keio University, where a seminar on U.S.-Japan relations taught by Professor Gerald Curtis, visiting from Columbia University, piqued my interest in pursuing a career in U.S.-Japan affairs.

The third set of activities was my participation in the 22nd Annual Japan-America Student Conference (“Nichi-Bei Gakusei Kaigi”) in the summer of 1970, which was held that year at Stanford University. I was a member of the American student delegation attending the conference, and it was there that I first met Sakie Tachibana, a member of the Japanese student delegation. We got married two years later, and we will be celebrating our 36th wedding anniversary later this year.

After graduating from Stanford in 1972, I have had the good fortune to benefit from several programs aimed at strengthening U.S.-Japan ties. Among them are the Fulbright Fellowship, on which I did my Harvard doctoral dissertation research at the University of Tokyo; the Japan Foundation, which allowed me to continue my dissertation research; and the U.S.-Japan Business Fellows Program sponsored by the Japan Society in New York and the International House of Japan, which made it possible for me to spend the summer between my first and second year of Harvard Business School as an intern at Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency.

In my professional life, I have had the opportunity to work in journalism, academia, law, government, and business. In each case, my work has focused on U.S.-Japan or U.S.-Asian relations. At USTR from 1985 to 1988, I was Director for Japanese Affairs, but from 1988 to 1990, my responsibilities expanded to include China as Deputy Assistant USTR for Japan and China. My work at AT&T also encompassed Asian regional responsibilities. Although my work as the Japan president of Arthur D. Little, Cadence Design Systems, and NCR all focused on the Japanese market, I did have many occasions to work with my colleagues in the Asia-Pacific region.

After having worked for so long in U.S.-Japan and U.S.-Asian affairs, I decided three years ago to accept an offer to work for a European company, Airbus, to learn about and contribute to Japan’s relationship with Europe. The opportunity to work closely with, and frequently to visit, my Airbus colleagues in France, Germany, Britain, Spain, and other European countries has provided me a truly global perspective on doing business, and one that helps me to understand and appreciate better the relationship between the United States and Japan.


In the 1960s, Japan became the world’s first non-Western country to become an advanced industrialized nation, joining the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) in 1964. But by the 1970s, attention was also being given to the rapid economic development of the so-called four “Asian Tigers” of South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. By the 1990s, the rise of China, India, Vietnam, and other Asian countries showed conclusively that Asia was the world’s center of economic growth. Although the Asian financial crisis of 1997-99 caused a temporary pause in this growth, the 21st century is witnessing a historic shift of economic activity and wealth from the West to Asia.

The impact of such a historic shift is profound for the Asian countries that are the central actors in this drama. At the same time, there are significant implications for Americans whose ancestors immigrated to this country from Asia. Simply put, as the importance of Asia increases, the potential role of Asian Americans also increases.

For instance, as the economic and political role of India has risen, the role of Americans of Indian ancestry has also expanded. Indian Americans have increasingly played an important role in the high technology industry in Silicon Valley, the financial industry on Wall Street, and other industries as well. One can cite, for instance, the Americans of Indian ancestry who are currently serving as the CEO of Pepsi and of Citibank. In the political arena as well, last year we saw the election of a second-generation Indian American as the governor of Louisiana, the first time in more than a century that a non-white was elected as governor of that state.

Just as the growing importance of Asia has had a positive impact on Asian Americans, the enhanced status of Asian Americans has made it easier for Asian countries, people, and products to be accepted in the United States. Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony, was a Japanese business leader who publicly paid tribute to Japanese Americans by pointing out that it was thanks to their loyalty and commitment to the United States and their acceptance by their fellow Americans as good citizens that helped to pave the way for Sony and other Japanese companies to export their products to, and invest in, the United States in the 1950s and 1960s.


Japanese Americans—based on our long history in this country, our considerable accomplishments, and the prominence of Japan in world affairs—have the potential to play a much greater role than in the past in American society, as well as in U.S.-Japan relations and global affairs. However, to do so we need to consciously seek and take leadership roles, whether in business, government, politics, or community affairs.

In this, we are sometimes held back by what might be considered “traditional Japanese values” such as “enryo,” being polite, precise, and punctual; thinking about others over oneself; valuing group harmony; listening rather than talking; repaying debts; respecting elders; etc. Don’t misunderstand me; I do not deny that these are laudable values. However, if our behavior is based solely on a strict adherence to them, we will find ourselves severely limiting our chances to assume leadership positions.

For instance, when I was growing up, my parents taught me that when there are others in the room who are older or more experienced than me, I should listen and not speak. Imagine my surprise when, at my seminars as an undergraduate at Stanford, the professors gave higher grades to those undergraduate students who spoke up and debated, not only with their peers but also with graduate students or even with their professors. This was completely contrary to what I had been taught at home.

A Japanese friend of mine who spent one year as an AFS (American Field Service) exchange student in Leawood, Kansas told me that while she was in the United States, if she did not speak up in a meeting, her classmates and teachers considered her to be stupid. Upon returning to her high school in Tokyo, when she spoke up in meetings, her classmates and teachers considered her to be stupid. It is difficult to appear intelligent in both societies by acting similarly in both, since there are certain values and actions considered desirable in one society that are considered undesirable in the other.

One of the highest compliments I have received from a Japanese person was the following. At a cocktail party several years ago at the German Embassy in Tokyo, I was speaking with several guests, and one of them, a German businessman, asked me, “Mr. Fukushima, are you Japanese or are you American?”

Before I had a chance to respond, one of the other guests, a senior Japanese businessman I’ve known for over 20 years, said to him, “Mr. Fukushima is more American than Americans and more Japanese than Japanese.” He explained that I could be logical, analytical, legalistic, individualistic, assertive, articulate, vocal, and self-confident (as many Japanese view the typical American to be). But I could also be gentle, caring, sensitive to others, empathetic, polite, deferential, and team-oriented (as many Japanese view themselves to be).

I believe that my upbringing in both the United States and Japan has given me the flexibility to be able to tap those aspects of my culture and personality when appropriate. Given the real differences that exist between Japanese and American culture, it is often necessary to adjust one’s behavior in order to be effective.

For instance, in Japan, if one appears to be overconfident, one risks losing the support of others, since the attitude in Japan is often, “If you’re so self-confident, you certainly don’t need my support.” On the other hand, in the United States, one of the surest ways to lose the support of others is to appear to lack confidence, since the attitude in the United States is often, “How can we have confidence in you if you don’t have confidence in yourself?”

The prevailing Western conception of “leadership” is one that many Japanese Americans have struggled with, in part based on the cultural legacy from Japan as well as the tendency to be risk-averse and socially inconspicuous deriving from the internment experience of over 60 years ago. When I was graduating from Gardena High School in 1967, I still recall that most of my brightest Sansei classmates were being encouraged by their Nisei parents to become doctors, dentists, pharmacists, engineers, architects, or accountants—all professions with high social status, high salaries, low visibility, and low risks—in short, professions in which one could succeed by being good technicians, without being articulate, persuasive, risk-taking, political, or leading an organization.

Younger Sansei, Yonsei, and Gosei are probably not so limited as we were 40 years ago in the “preferred” career choices as seen by our parents. But there is still a dearth of Japanese Americans who have succeeded in corporate America (that is, big business), government, and politics.

One reason it is important for Japanese Americans to pursue such professions vigorously is the following. Very few Americans showed any concern when Henry Kissinger became National Security Advisor and Secretary of State in the Nixon Administration, when Zbigniew Brzezinski became National Security Advisor in the Carter Administration, or when Madeleine Albright became Secretary of State in the Clinton Administration, despite the fact that all three of these individuals were born outside the United States and were naturalized as U.S. citizens, and in the case of Kissinger and Brzezinski, have heavy German and Polish accents, respectively.

Although Norman Mineta and Elaine Chao have been pioneers as Asian American cabinet officers, it will be another significant step forward when we have a National Security Advisor or Secretary of State whose appearance is clearly “foreign.”


Having discussed my own personal background (the past), the rise of Asia (the present), and leadership challenges facing Japanese Americans (the future), I will now conclude with a few observations about the role Japanese Americans can play in the Asian Pacific Era in the future. Here are some of the areas in which I personally hope more Japanese will actively engage:

The first is for Japanese Americans to be more aggressive in pursuing senior positions in big business, government, and politics, not only because these can be inherently interesting, meaningful, and important positions, but also because they will give Japanese Americans leverage to play a more central role than in the past in American society and in world affairs.
The second is for Japanese Americans to forge stronger links with other Americans of color, especially with other Asian Americans, to understand better our areas of common interests and to collectively wield greater political, economic, social, and cultural power and influence.

The third is for Japanese Americans to establish stronger ties with Nikkei in other countries. About five years ago, I created a “Japanese American Study Group” (Nikkei Amerikajin Benkyokai) in Tokyo consisting of about 50 Japanese American professionals working in Japan. In recent years, the group has included Japanese Canadians, Japanese Brazilians, and a Japanese Venezuelan. This individual, who is a Nisei and the Venezuelan Ambassador to Japan, has informed me that there are two other Nikkei ambassadors to Japan (from Paraguay and Bolivia), so I plan to invite these two individuals to join our study group, which we should probably re-name as the “Nikkeijin Study Group.”

The fourth is to become more engaged in U.S.-Japan relations. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Japan Foundation have since 2000 sponsored a one-week orientation trip to Japan each year for about a dozen Japanese Americans under a program known as the “The Japanese American Leadership Delegation to Japan.” I have had the opportunity to address this group every year they have come to Japan, and I have found it to be an excellent way to foster greater Japanese American understanding of Japan and Japanese understanding of Japanese Americans. I should add that Israel, China, Taiwan, and Korea have similar programs for their respective ethnic groups in the United States, but on a much larger scale. Encouraging more exchange and interaction between Japanese Americans and Japan can only benefit both parties.

The fifth and last point is that, for those Japanese Americans who become involved with Japan and with U.S.-Japan relations, please heed my advice: “Don’t be a bridge, be a player!” As I said in my speech here in San Francisco on July 24, 2006 at a symposium to celebrate the 100th anniversary of Japantown, a bridge is a structure that is built to allow for others to walk over and benefit from. Japanese Americans should strive to be players, actors, and decision makers in the relationship. If by doing so we end up providing a bridge that others find useful, this is fine. But to aim from the beginning to be a bridge seems to me unnecessarily to relegate Japanese Americans to a limited and subordinate role.


In conclusion, I would like to thank the National Japanese American Historical Society for hosting this Annual Awards Dinner tonight and for inviting me to present this keynote address. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to honor the individuals, institutions, and heritage that have made the Japanese American community the rich, vibrant and productive community that it is. I think that you can tell from my remarks tonight that I take great pride in the cultural heritage that my parents, grandparents, and Japanese and Japanese American communities have passed on to me.

It is truly wonderful to be with you here tonight, and I’m glad that I made the trip here from Tokyo. Events such as this Awards Dinner make me proud to be an American, and immensely proud to be a Japanese American!

Thank you very much.