As soon as he landed in San Francisco some three years ago, Consul General of Japan Yasumasa Nagamine hit the ground running, participating in a string of community events starting with the 50th anniversary of the San Francisco-Osaka sister city relationship.
From then, in a seemingly record pace, he attended a flurry of community events. In particular, he made several visits to the San Jose area, and became the first consul general of Japan to visit the Tule Lake concentration camp for Japanese Americans.
“As time passes, people may take history for granted,” Nagamine told the Nichi Bei Weekly after a farewell dinner held in his and his wife Ayako’s honor on July 21 at the Kabuki Hotel in San Francisco’s Japantown. “It’s good to know each other and work together, but in order to do that, it’s good to know our common ground.”
According to Hiroshi Shimizu, president of the Tule Lake Committee, Nagamine was the first consul general to visit the Tule Lake camp, which became a segregation center.
“It was really well received,” said Shimizu, noting the two-day visit by the Nagamines during the 2009 Tule Lake Pilgrimage. “It was important because 4,500 people returned to Japan from Tule Lake… He had the opportunity to talk to many former internees.”
According to San Jose community leader Jimi Yamaichi, the consul general visited the San Jose area more than any of his predecessors.
“The third day he was in the Bay Area, he came to San Jose,” recalled Yamaichi. “He’s a plus for Japan.”
“He spent a lot of time in San Jose,” added Ed Shikada, recently named assistant city manager of the city. He called Nagamine an “extraordinary ambassador” who garnered “genuine affection” by those in the South Bay.
Shikada noted that the Japanese Consulate has been working with the City of San Jose, serving as a liaison with Japanese companies on issues such as green technologies.
It was that affection for the consul general and his wife that culminated with the farewell dinner, where some 300 people gathered in their honor. Some who wanted to attend were turned away from the dinner, which was sponsored by some 27 community organizations and featured performances by Chorale May.
“We are here tonight … to bid a fond farewell,” announced dinner emcee Benh Nakajo.
Hiroshi Haruki, the president of the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Northern California, said the consul general “visited numerous Japanese companies personally,” and Haruki became “amazed with his commitment and energy.”
Both the consul general and his wife accompanied the Japanese Chamber on the Manzanar Pilgrimage in 2009.
“Their commitment to our communities is undeniable,” said Haruki.
That sentiment was echoed by Isao Steve Matsuura, chair of the Japan Society of Northern California and co-chair of the efforts to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the arrival of the Kanrin Maru, the first diplomatic ship from Japan to America.
Matsuura said that Nagamine worked “tirelessly” for the commemorative event. Matsuura also recalled when he organized an annual concert at the Kimochi Home, and Nagamine “graciously volunteered” to play the recorder. “The residents of Kimochi Home were so happy to have the consul general join them.”
Matsuura also said “everybody loves” Ayako Nagamine, recalling her acting in a reading of Philip Kan Gotanda’s play “Yohen.”
“Everyone was inspired by her fiery performance,” said Matsuura. “She will be greatly missed by all.”
Nagamine was also addressed in letters from San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, as well as U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, read by John Nagano and Kaz Maniwa, respectively.
“They actually became one of us,” said San Francisco Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, whose district includes Japantown. “It means a great deal for us, here in the community and in City Hall. We’re about building relationships and forging these ties.”
In his farewell address, Nagamine reflected upon his three-year journey.
“I’d like to say thank you to each one of you before our departure,” he told the gathering, while also thanking his colleagues at the Japanese Consulate and his wife. “After three wonderful years it is very hard to leave San Francisco. This has been a very fulfilling tour of duty.”
Among the goals of the consulate, Nagamine listed the need to support the interests of Japan and Japanese nationals, the support for the Japan-U.S. relationship, public diplomacy and the raising of awareness of Japan, and to further the relationship between Japanese and Japanese Americans.
“I’m … proud of the emphasis we placed on sister city relationships,” said Nagamine, noting that some 97 sister city relationships exist between Japanese and California cities.
His trips to the concentration camps helped him to gain a better understanding of the struggles and triumphs of Japanese Americans. “For me, this was the moment when I understood something so central” to the Japanese American experience, he said.
The consul general and his wife are set to leave on Aug. 9, and his next assignment or successor has not been announced.
“Wherever we are, we will feel like San Franciscans, like Californians,” he said. “We will go back to Japan with great, fond memories.”
As one of his last official duties, Nagamine announced the recipients of the Foreign Minister’s Commendation for 2010: San Jose Taiko, National Japanese American Historical Society, Hakone Foundation, San Francisco-Osaka Sister City Association, Institute of International Education-West Coast Center, former University of San Francisco Center for the Pacific Rim Executive Director Barbara Bundy, and Urasenke Foundation Executive Director Christy Bartlett.