Last week, the 9th Annual Florida-Japan Summit was held in Pensacola. The summit’s purpose is to foster business and cultural ties between Florida and Japan through presentations and networking opportunities. This year’s summit was hosted by the Japan-America Society of Northwest Florida and made possible by a grant from the Japan Foundation Center for Global Partnership (CGP).
It kicked off with a reception Thursday afternoon at the Japan House at University of West Florida’s International Center, where the Consul General of Japan in Miami, Eiichi Kawahara, presented UWF President Dr. Judy Bense with a commendation letter from Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Koichiro Gemba.
“UWF has been actively contributing to all the advancement of Japan-US relations through its excellent education programs on Japanese language and culture,” Kawahara said, “as well as through the exchange of students, and through the partnership with Japanese academic institutions.”
Kawahara praised the university’s Japanese program, which began in 1987. Their program led to the formation of Pensacola’s sister city relationship with Gero (née Hagiwara) in 1993, which has since seen nineteen Japanese delegations visit Pensacola. The Japan Center at UWF, with its authentic Japanese tea room and sugi wood pillars, was established in 2004.
“This Japan House and International Center — especially the tea room — stand as a permanent symbol to our relationship and our strong friendship with the people of Japan and between our State of Florida and Japan,” said Bense. “I’m grateful to you, Consul General, and I am very deeply touched.”
In March, UWF planted 100 cherry trees — half of them donated from citizens in our sister city Gero — to commemorate the centennial of the original cherry trees given in 1912 by the Japanese government to the United States. The UWF campus was named the official State of Florida site of the National Cherry Blossom Festival, due in large part to the involvement of Consul General Kawahara.
“He could have nominated any community, but he nominated Pensacola for the centennial celebration of the cherry blossoms,” said Greater Pensacola Chamber CEO Jim Hizer. “Kawahara-san wa Pensacola-no tomodachi desu.”
Dr. Morris Marx, president emeritus of UWF, thanked CGP’s Noriko Yamamoto for her organization’s sponsorship of the summit.
The summit itself took place Friday at the Hilton Pensacola Beach Gulf Front. It featured keynote remarks by Kawahara, along with remarks by Dr. Marx and National Association of Japan-America Societies (NAJAS) President Peter Kelley.
A business and tourism panel was moderated by Dave Woodward, executive director of the SEUS/Japan Association Florida delegation. Panelists included Scott Luth, senior vice president for economic development at the Greater Pensacola Chamber, and Dr. Tadayuki “Tad” Hara, associate dean of Rosen School of Hospitality at the University of Central Florida. An education and tourism panel was moderated by Dr. Marx and included Dr. Maria Cummett, associate vice president for global affairs at the University of South Florida, and independent anthropologist Leslie Fedota.