Seventy years ago, on Aug. 15, Japan’s surrender ended World War II, and since then Japan and the United States have developed a relationship based on friendship and trust that has resulted, according to former U.S. Ambassador to Japan Mike Mansfield, in “the most important bilateral relationship in the world.”
In April, to mark the 70th anniversary of the U.S.-Japan relationship, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was honored to address a Joint Session of Congress. He spoke about many things, focusing on the close ties between our two countries. That closeness applies to the Florida-Japan relationship as well.
The two major pillars in Florida-Japan relations are people-to-people exchanges and trade and investment.
Japanese citizens came to Florida more than 100 years ago to participate in the opening up of Southeast Florida by Henry Flagler’s railroad, and today 13,000 Japanese reside in Florida.
In addition, 13 universities and at least 10 high schools provide Japanese language courses, where Japanese is taught by dedicated teachers. Hundreds of American youth travel to Japan every year to teach English at Japanese schools. Under the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program), which began in 1987, more than 30,000 U.S. youth have participated in JET, 500 from Florida. This year, 46 additional Florida youth will be teaching English in Japan.
Additionally, there are 10 active Sister-Cities relationships where mayors, students and citizens from the cities of both sides have been visiting each other for more than half a century. This year also marks the 20th anniversary of Florida's Sister-State relationship with Wakayama Prefecture, to be celebrated during the next Florida-Japan Summit in Sept. at FIU in Miami.
Military veterans are no exception. There are a large number of ex-servicemen in Florida who were stationed in Japan who treasure and share their experiences, going back decades. On Sept. 4 in Pensacola there will be a celebration in their honor at the Naval Aviation Museum.
Culturally, we have to mention the significant role played by the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens in Delray Beach. The museum has organized numerous authentic cultural exhibits, courses and events for millions of visitors over the last four decades while maintaining Japanese gardens that measure up to any gardens found in Japan, physical evidence of the commitment of Floridians to Japan.
In terms of economic relations with Japan, some 200 Japanese companies invested, directly or indirectly, in Florida, employing over 20,000 Floridians. The investment amounts to well over $4 billion, making Japan one of the top foreign investors in the State. Japan is currently Florida's fifth largest overall trading partner.
There are many Florida-based companies with operations in Japan including Disney, Universal Studios, Burger King, and Office Depot. The number one export market for Florida’s grapefruit is Japan, with the second largest market far behind.
Tourism is another important aspect of the Florida-Japan relationship. From 2008 to 2012, the number of Japanese tourists annually visiting Florida increased from 150,000 to 278,000, and that number is currently around 300,000 per year.
In 1976, Florida Delegation, Southeast US./Japan Association, Inc. (SEUS/Japan) was founded. Since then, it has become the only statewide organization in Florida working with state government that is dedicated to promoting ties with Japan in the areas of business, education, tourism, culture and friendship. SEUS/Japan and Japan/SEUS Associations will hold their 38th Annual Joint Meeting in Birmingham, Alabama Nov. 15-17.
Enterprise Florida, Inc. (EFI), together with its Tokyo Office are also active in promoting economic ties with Japan. With the support of both EFI and SEUS/Japan, in 2013 Gov. Rick Scott travelled to Japan to foster business ties.
Finally, we wish to recognize two Floridians who helped lay the foundation for the Florida-Japan relationship. They are former Florida Gov. Reubin Askew, who was key in strengthening our relationship, and led the effort to partner with other Southeast states to form SEUS/Japan, and Dr. Mark T. Orr, a long-time professor at USF, President of Japan America Society in Central Florida, and a former member of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff who helped with rebuilding the Japanese educational system.
As we have seen, Florida and Japan have been enjoying a steadily growing and wide ranging constructive relationship. Many important individuals helped build this relationship and we are so thankful to each and every one of them. May we all enjoy the continued partnership as we together move forward addressing the issues and opportunities of the 21st Century.
Shinji Nagashima is Consul General of Japan in Miami. Frank Schnidman is an FAU professor and former president of the Japan Society of South Florida. Dave Woodward is executive director of Florida Delegation, SEUS/Japan Association, Inc., and previously resided in Japan for five years.