LOS ANGELES – A former diplomat is promoting Japanese cultural strengths as the head of Tokyo’s Japan House facility in Los Angeles.
Yuko Kaifu initially turned down the government’s offer to serve as president of the Los Angeles branch but eventually relented.
“I couldn’t remain a bystander when I took into consideration the significance of making it (the project) meaningful,” Kaifu said.
The Japan House project aims to set up facilities overseas to showcase and communicate Japan to the world, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The first one opened in Sao Paulo in April 2017, followed by Japan House Los Angeles in December. The third one is scheduled to open in London later this year.
The Los Angeles outlet has a shop that sells Japanese artifacts and refined articles for daily use, as well as a gallery for exhibitions on the second floor of the Hollywood & Highland Center, including a theater used for the Academy Awards ceremony. It will open other facilities, including a restaurant, on the fifth floor this summer to usher in full operations.
Born in Kobe, Kaifu joined the ministry as a fresh university graduate. Her assignments included the First North America Division and the Foreign Policy Bureau.
Fluent in English, Kaifu in 1989 became the first female official in the ministry to work as an interpreter for Empress Michiko, which she did for over a decade.
In September 2001, immediately after the coordinated terrorist attacks in the United States, Kaifu was assigned to the post of consul in Los Angeles.
Japan’s ties with Japanese-Americans and their descendants in California weakened after the mass internments sparked by the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii in 1941. Kaifu worked particularly hard to deepen their understanding of Japan.
For example, she was involved in launching a program to invite Japanese-American leaders in politics, economics, education and many other fields to visit Japan.
Kaifu, whose father-in-law is former Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu, quit the ministry in 2007 to join the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles as its vice president. She then moved to a U.S. banking unit of Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc.
Aimed at increasing the number of people friendly to Japan overseas, the Japan House project portrays Japan from a broad set of perspectives, including “high culture,” which covers artistic products and designs with aesthetic value, “subculture,” represented by anime and manga, and the culture of daily life, including food, fashion and standard necessities.
“Los Angeles has diversity and symbolizes the strength of the United States,” Kaifu said. “Japan House here enables lots of people to meet each other and form partnerships in a variety of fields.”
In addition, Japan House Los Angeles will help expand opportunities for business related to Japan and increase the number of visitors from the U.S. to rural areas in Japan, she said.