Japan’s Youth: What the Next Generation of Leaders need to succeed in the world post-2030

Japans Youth What the Next Generation of Leaders need to succeed in the world post-2030

FEW was thrilled to welcome one of our new Board members, Program Director Kaoru Utada, to share her personal backstory and why she’s dedicated her career to fostering leadership skills amongst Japan’s youth at our quarterly Lunch Gathering on Wednesday, September 25th.

By Alisa Tanaka

What started as a desire to help the communities impacted by the 2011 Tohoku earthquake has led to a career in U.S.-Japan relations for Kaoru Utada, a self-proclaimed “kakehashi” aka connector, and manager at the TOMODACHI Initiative, a private-public partnership between the U.S. Embassy and the U.S.-Japan Council. 

“It was an honor,” she said of using her English/Japanese language skills to report on the 3.11 events. “I was using my language skills to bring viewers the most up-to-date news of the disaster.”

Ms. Utada, who was an Associate Producer at ABC News at the time, went on to tell a story about several elderly women in the earthquake-stricken region, who brought her and several other volunteers glasses of barley tea during the recovery efforts. 

“They probably scrambled to find it,” she recalled. “We were supposed to be helping them, but they were helping us. Such a small thing, but it really touched me.” 

Equally as moving, was the story behind the venue WATASU Nihonbashi, which served dishes containing ingredients sourced directly from the Tohoku region. 

Photo Credit: Alisa Tanaka

Over a meal of fish and vegetables, Ms. Utada elaborated on a few exclusively Japanese language terms and phrases she came across that ultimately shaped her experience as a connector. 

女子力 (feminine power), did not reference female empowerment, as she had first thought. Rather, as she would learn, the term was, and is, often used to refer to the amount of feminine appeal a woman has. Likewise, the expression “出る杭は打たれる” (The nail that sticks out gets hammered down) also influenced her.

How, she asked us, can we change the culture around female empowerment and encourage civic engagement among Japanese youth? 

Ms. Utada went on to describe the birth of the TOMODACHI Initiative administered by the U.S.-Japan Council, and how it initially sent Japanese students from the Tohoku region to the United States. 

Since its inception, the program has expanded to include students from all regions of Japan, and has sent over 8,000 Japanese students to the United States. The transformation, she said, was evident once they returned home to Japan. 

“They had so much more confidence,” she said of the students. “They would realize that if they banded together, they would be much less likely to be ‘hammered down.’”

If those of us who ‘stick out’ join forces, she continued, we are much harder to hammer down.

FEW would like to sincerely thank Kaoru Utada for her profound and uplifting presentation as well as our members for their lively participation. Many thanks to Alisa Tanaka for attending the lunch gathering and writing this recap.