Home Culture The Grassroots Summit ensures friendship across the Pacific

The Grassroots Summit ensures friendship across the Pacific

Photo by Nat Seymour. All attendees gathered after the opening ceremony at Tillicum Village

by Misa Murohashi,

Over 135 visitors from Japan were welcomed to Washington State from September 18th to 24th for the 28th Japan-America Grassroots Summit. The Summit was founded in 1991 by the John Manjiro-Whitfield Commemorative Center for International Exchange to honor the friendship between John Manjiro Nakahara and his descendants in Japan and Captain
William Whitfield and his descendants in the United States. The Summit alternates between the United States and Japan every year. Hosted by the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington in association with the Consulate General of Japan in Seattle, city governments, sistercity associations, and Japanese community organizations and leaders, the Summit was held in Seattle for the first time.

The opening ceremony was held on September 19th at Tillicum Village on Blake Island. Lieutenant Washington State Governor Cyrus Habib, Deputy Mayor of Seattle Shefali Ranganathan and descendant of Commodore Perry, Matthew Perry made speeches at the ceremony and expressed their welcome to visitors from Japan.

Photo by Nat Seymour. Scott Whitfield, 6th generation descendant of Captain Whitfield (left) and Tomoyasu
Nakahama (middle), son of Kyo Nakahama (right) and 6th generation descendant of John Manjiro exchanged gloves at the opening ceremony

Students from Unebi High School in Nara Prefecture made an English presentation about what they learned about Japanese American history in Seattle. Their skit about Jamie Ford’s novel “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” attracted audience’s applause. Two high school students Hiromi Komatsu and Hinako Osaki gave an English speech “Dream of Manjiro in Our Hands” and “Connecting Tracks with Invisible Thread” respectively, with which they won at the John Manjiro Speech Contest held previously in Kochi prefecture.

Participants from Japan visited their homestay towns and stayed with their host families for four days. The closing ceremony was held on September 23rd at Hyatt Regency Lake Washington. Emceed by KING5 News Anchor Lori Matsukawa, the ceremony featured music by School of Taiko, Navy Band Northwest and Seismic Sound. Mayor of the City of Bellevue John Chelminiak and Port of Seattle Commission President Courtney Gregoire appeared on stage. Yasutaka Katayama from Hyogo prefecture government also appeared on stage and expressed his excitement hosting the next year’s Summit.

Born in 1841 as a fisherman’s son, John Manjiro Nakahara was drafted and marooned from Japan under isolation policy when he was 14 years old. Captain Whitfield rescued Manjiro and shared his own home with him. Later, Manjiro’s rare command of English
and salutary experience in America became pivotal to the Japan/ US relationship after Perry’s arrival in 1853. The Nakahama’s 5th generation Kyo Nakahama visited Seattle for the summit. “I hope this summit will encourage younger generations to understand importance of friendship between Japan and the U.S,” said Nakahama. The Nakahama and Whitfield families reunite every year for this summit and continue their historical friendship.

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Misa Murohashi is Editor-in-chief of The North American Post and general manager of North American Post Publishing Inc. Born and raised in Japan, she moved the Seattle area in 2005. She earned a master's degree in Urban Planning from the University of Washington in 2016 and has been at the current position since 2017. She often writes about urban issues and Japanese American early immigration history in the Seattle Area.