North Carolina Japan Center prepares for visit from Prime Minister Fumio Kishida

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Thursday, April 11, 2024
North Carolina Japan Center prepares for prime minister's visit
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be taking part in two events at NC State.

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be arriving in North Carolina Thursday, ahead of a busy day of travel across the state.

"It's been 70 years since we've had a Prime Minister or someone of that stature at NC State," said David Robinson, who serves as Honorary Consul for Japan in North and South Carolina.

Kishida will be taking part in two events at NC State, meeting with students studying at Nagoya University's campus at the school, as well as students of all ages at the North Carolina Japan Center.

"We just initiated the order of the Dogwood Academic recognition for learners of Japanese, and that's a statewide recognition that we are piloting at NC State and UNC Charlotte this year. I thought for sure it'd be amazing if we could present that award in front of the Prime Minister," said Stephen Sumner, Director of the North Carolina Japan Center.

NC State senior Camden Wilder is one of the recipients of the recognition.

"I'm very excited for this opportunity to see the Prime Minister visit North Carolina and also to be able to speak with him," Wilder said.

Wilder, a Mebane native who is double-majoring in Business IT and Japanese, is President of the Japan Culture Club at NC State. He studied abroad in Japan and works with Japanese students who are studying at NC State.

"Speaking in Japanese can help them warm up to accepting North Carolina more easily so they can feel more comfortable speaking with American students who don't have any Japanese ability at all," explained Wilder.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida will be taking part in two events at NC State.

Chapel Hill High School junior Kyle Agano was born in Florida and is Japanese on his mother's side.

"It is a really special moment for me just because I'm half Japanese, I'm half American," he said. "All my life I've just felt like there was no intersection. I've gone to Japanese schools and done all these cultural things, I just didn't feel like it was being recognized almost."

He said he moved to Japan until first grade and then moved to Chapel Hill at the beginning of middle school.

"Finally this important person--literally the head of government of my home country in my homeland--which sounds really weird, it's really special for me," Agano said. "It shows that North Carolina is not just a state that has UNC and Duke, not just a university state but two rivals of basketball but it's more special than that."

The North Carolina Japan Center was founded in 1980 under Gov. Jim Hunt, with a focus on strengthening relationships and attracting economic opportunities.

"The main thing that we're doing right now is helping solidify the academic pipeline of Japanese-speaking students, students who are familiar with Japanese culture to support the more than 220 Japanese companies here in North Carolina," said Sumner.

In a statement, Lisa Bamford, President of the North Carolina World Trade Association Triangle Chapter, wrote in part:

"The strong academic appeal as well as a flourishing entrepreneurial spirit in North Carolina has drawn many Japanese students to come and pursue not only their education but their first major career ventures and start-ups here. This area is a mature and fertile ground for Japanese business owners, professionals, and students, and it is primed for encouraging young business growth and empowering more seasoned businesses to expand their impact. We now see many people from Japan traveling here frequently and also many who come and stay for the long haul, to work and raise families, because there are so many features about this area that appeal to both business and lifestyle enhancement."

Wilder said he believes these skills could potentially serve him after he graduates.

"I do know that within a professional capacity later on, I would love to pursue working within a Japanese company, working within government. I'm open. I'm currently very open right now to whatever possibilities come my way," said Wilder.

During the past decade, the EDPNC reports that half of foreign direct investment in the state has come from Japanese companies, with the Center playing a role in easing cultural transition for expats moving to the area.

"What is their experience going to be like? How do we help on that end? So, you know, kind of the landing services part of things, how do we connect them with the community, give them things to do, enriching opportunities so that they can interact with our local communities as well," said Sumner.

More than 30,000 North Carolinians work for Japanese companies, with business leaders expecting this visit could lead to further opportunities.

"We want to make sure that Japan and the world knows, as we all say, North Carolina's open for business, but especially Japan being such a great partner being the number one foreign direct investor in the state, we want everybody to walk away going, 'okay, now I get it. I see what all the buzz is about.' It's a fantastic state with fantastic resources and a real willingness to collaborate and be friends with Japan," said Sumner.

Kishida will also visit the Toyota electric battery manufacturing site in Randolph County and HondaJet facility in Guilford County before heading to an official luncheon at the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh.