COLUMBUS — How long can friendships last? Ohioans are about to take the torch of a friendship that has grown across cultures, races, and languages over 180 years through multiple generations.
More than 60 Japanese citizens from all walks of life, along with diplomats and dignitaries from around the United States will travel to join hundreds of Ohio residents in Columbus for the 30th Japan-America Grassroots Summit. The Summit launches with a Sept. 20 opening ceremony featuring remarks from Gov. Mike DeWine and others, and it is hosted by the Japan-America Society of Central Ohio (JASCO). This unique people-to-people exchange is the largest and longest-lasting grassroots exchange for Americans and Japanese, and it commemorates the friendship between John Manjiro, a young Japanese man, and Capt. William Whitfield, that played a pivotal role in the establishment of the U.S.-Japan.
In 1841, Captain Whitfield rescued Manjiro from a shipwreck and brought him back to the United States, making him one of the first Japanese to ever visit the country. He allowed him to live in his home for years as a family member, and after Manjiro returned to Japan, his command of English and understanding of America enabled him to play a crucial role in building friendly relations between the two countries. The Manjiro and Whitfield families have kept in touch over the years and, during the opening ceremony, three descendants of Manjiro and five descendants of Whitfield exchange a commemorative globe that symbolizes US-Japan friendship. They will be joined by Dr. Matthew Perry, a descendant of US Commodore Matthew C. Perry, whose arrival in Japan in 1854 marked the opening of Japan from its 200-year isolation. Notably, Manjiro facilitated that process as an interpreter.
The opening ceremony will be held at the Ohio Statehouse on Sept. 20 from 5–8 p.m. DeWine will give welcome remarks, and other dignitaries in attendance include Consul General Yusuke Shindo, Consul General of Japan in Detroit; Ambassador Kazuhide Ishikawa, former Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines; Rear Admiral (ret) James D. Kelly, former Commander, US Naval Forces Japan; and officials from the nine host communities around Central Ohio.
This year marks the first time the Summit has ever been held in the Ohio area. The 60-plus Japanese delegates will take part in a series of cultural and educational exchanges, including homestays in nine Ohio communities—Columbus, Dublin, Marysville, Delaware, Bellefontaine, Findlay, Bluffton, Sidney and Troy. A closing ceremony will also be held on Sept. 24 from 4:30–7:30 p.m. at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium to celebrate new friendships between the Japanese visitors and their respective host family members. The Japanese delegation will range in age from 8 to 79 years old and include nine students from Mizusawa High School in Iwate Prefecture, which was devastated in the 2011 tsunami.
“The Grassroots Summit opens doors to new experiences, new friendships, and a new future to communities in Ohio,” said JASCO President and chair of Grassroots Summit Committee, Noriko Mills.
Since the first Japan-America Grassroots Summit was convened in 1991, nearly 50,000 people have taken part. These summits normally alternate annually between Japan and the United States, and they target people from all generations with little prior experience in US-Japan relations. This is the first time full-scale Summit held in four years due to the COVID-19 pandemic.