Home Community Voices Where Does the Strong American Identity Come From?

Where Does the Strong American Identity Come From?

By Takaaki Hayamizu
The North American Post Contributor

Editor’s note.On February 24, the Japan-America Society of the State of Washington (JASSW) and the Nisei Veterans Committee co-hosted a Japan-US Military Program (JUMP) event, “ Beyond Reconciliation, Celebrate the Japan-US Alliance and Honor Nisei Veterans” at the NVC Memorial Hall (napost.com, Feb. 23). Among the featured speakers, Takaaki Hayamizu, Rear Admiral, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and Defense and Naval Attaché, Embassy of Japan, Washington D.C., presented the most memorable remarks for NAP readers. Below, we share them in full.

▲Rear Admiral Takaaki Hayamizu from Japan’s Self Defense Forces delivers his speech at the Japan-United States Military Program. Photo by Yujin Heo

One of the questions I have had in the past has been: Where does the strong identity as Americans come from? Japanese share a common ancestry, having lived on ancestral Japanese lands for thousands of years, with most of today’s 120 million Japanese people having been created out of a population of about 7 million people 1,000 years ago. In addition, since Japanese speak a common language and have almost identical cultural practices, it is easy for us to have a strong identity as Japanese people. On the other hand, the United States is a country of immigrants, with different ethnic groups and diverse cultural practices, which should make it difficult to share a common identity as Americans. It was difficult for me to understand how Japanese Americans with a strong American identity were able to participate in World War II fighting against the Japanese side. It was difficult for me to understand why Japanese Americans were willing to risk their lives to fight under the Stars and Stripes, and why Japanese- American units such as the 442nd Regimental Combat Team were able to earn so many medals.

However, after studying in the United States for about a year, 13 years ago, and after being in the United States for about six months this time, I have gradually come to understand somewhat, although not fully, about the American identity. I am reminded from time to time that American identity is not based on common ancestry, race or language, but rather on the ideals of freedom, democracy, the rule of law, and so on. The United States is the embodiment of these ideals, and I believe that Americans are proud of this and are willing to risk their lives at times to defend these ideals. I believe that it was these ideals, the symbols of the United States, that the Japanese Americans of that time risked their lives to protect.

After World War II, Japan came to share the same ideals as the United States. I believe that one of the main reasons for the strong relationship between Japan and the United States today is that we share these common ideals. A Chinese politician once said that Japan should place more importance on its relationship with China than with the USA because of its historical and geographical proximity to China. But Japanese are finding it challenging to share common ideals with China these days. It is hard to talk about a common dream together. It is hard for Japanese to share the dream of “the Great Revival of the Chinese Nation” with the Chinese.

▲JUMP 2024 speakers and special guests. From left: David Yamaguchi (JASSW), John Suzuki (author, American Grit, 2023), Makoto Iyori (Consul-General of Japan in Seattle), Major General Matthew W. McFarlane (First Corps, US Army), Hayamizu, Rear Admiral Mark B. Sucato (Navy Region Northwest), Shanti Shoji (Sasakawa USA). Satohiro Akimoto (Sasakawa USA), Michael Yaguchi (NVC). Photo by Yujin Heo

On the other hand, we do share common ideal s an d common dreams with Americans. I believe that having common ideals not only functions as an American identity, but also fosters a strong bond that transcends national borders and spans different nationalities. I believe this is the foundation of the Japan-U.S. relationship.

Last year I attended the JUMP event in Hawaii and had the opportunity to speak with a variety of Americans. In this context, the participants from Japan and the United States shared common ideals and had the same dream.

Japan is now working with the United States and other like-minded countries to spread the ideals of “FOIP,” a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, along with the ideals of democracy and the rule of law, throughout the world. We are working to encourage more countries to share common ideals and values, and to cooperate with each other to realize the same dream for the future. I believe that the foundation for such efforts is the Japan-U.S. relationship and the exchange of people who share common ideals through JUMP.

The international community is at a historic crossroads. We must maintain the international order that we have established in cooperation with other nations, based on a strong Japan-U.S. alliance that is built on people-to-people exchanges between Japan and the United States based on common ideals. I hope that you will continue to cooperate with JUMP as one of these efforts.

Thank you very much.