Gov. Roy Cooper touts North Carolina 'on the global stage' with visit by Japan's Prime Minister

Saturday, April 13, 2024
Japan's Prime Minister visits North Carolina
"It puts North Carolina on the global stage of economic development," Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday. "This is a really exciting time for our state."

RALEIGH, N.C. -- Gov. Roy Cooper declared Friday "North Carolina and Japan Friendship Day" as he hosted the Japanese Prime Minister on a trip to spotlight the country as the state's biggest foreign investor.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and his wife, Yuko Kishida, traveled to North Carolina on Thursday night after visiting Washington D.C.

"It puts North Carolina on the global stage of economic development," Gov. Roy Cooper said Friday after touring the Honda Aircraft Co. headquarters in Greensboro with the Prime Minister. "We know that foreign direct investment is needed to put money in the pockets of North Carolina families. We've got about 30,000 people a day that go to work for a Japanese company. So more investment here means more money for North Carolina families and more contracts for small businesses."

Kishida said in a news conference before his visit that he chose to stop in North Carolina to show that the Japan-U.S. partnership extends beyond Washington, according to a provisional translation posted on the prime minister's website.

Kishida said he chose to stop in North Carolina to show that the Japan-U.S. partnership extends beyond Washington.

Kishida, Japan's Prime Minister since 2021, is an up-and-coming Toyota Motor Corp. electric and hybrid battery plant in Liberty and the Honda Aircraft Co. headquarters in Greensboro. He also stopped at the North Carolina Japan Center at Dix Park.

The North Carolina Japan Center was founded in 1980 under Governor Jim Hunt, with a focus on strengthening relationships and attracting economic opportunities. Today, the Prime Minister attended an award ceremony where students there were honored for their pursuit of learning Japanese.

WATCH | Visit from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to put North Carolina in global spotlight

The State of North Carolina is preparing to offer visiting Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida a taste of the region, from banjo to barbeque.

The Prime Minister also got to tour the Nagoya University global campus located at NC State's Centennial Campus.

His visit marks the first campus visit from a foreign head of government in nearly 70 years, according to NC State. The last visit was in 1954 when Turkish President Celal Bayar visited.

Japanese Prime Minister tours Nagoya University Global Campus

Japanese students from NC State, Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill had the chance to talk to Kishida one-on-one after hearing about some of his visions for Japan's partnership with NC State, including expanding the student exchange program.

"I feel like the time has passed very fast," Kiriko Terai said. "But it was very good to directly know what the prime minister is looking for, and I'm glad that we were all able to share our great experiences here with the prime minister. I hope young students in Japan will also be encouraged by us to study abroad."

Prime Minister's wife

Meanwhile, Yuko Kishida spent her morning inside a Japanese language classroom at Chapel Hill High School. She then toured Duke Gardens with North Carolina first lady Kristin Cooper. The pair enjoyed a traditional Japanese tea ahead of touring the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences.

At the museum, Kishida and Cooper saw a traditional Japanese Friendship Doll named Miss Kagawa. It was given to the State of North Carolina by the people of Japan as part of an exchange in the 1920s.

Unlike other similar dolls, Miss Kagawa remained on display during World War II as a symbol of peace and goodwill.

Yuko Kishida spent her morning inside a Japanese language classroom at Chapel Hill High School.

Lunch at the Executive Mansion

In the middle of the day, the entire group met at the Executive Mansion for a historic lunch, marking the first time that a foreign head of state visited the residence.

The menu for the luncheon was prepared by James Beard Award-winning chef Ashley Christensen, with food provided by Sam Jones BBQ. Unspoken Tradition, a North Carolina bluegrass band, performed for guests.

Dignitaries from Japan met at the Executive Mansion for a historic lunch Friday, marking the first time that a foreign head of state visited the residence.

Inside, attendees included US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel, Attorney General Josh Stein, Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, House Speaker Tim Moore, House Minority Leader Robert Reives, Consul General for Japan Mio Maeda, NC State Chancellor Randy Woodson, and Honorary Consul for Japan in North and South Carolina David Robinson.

"(The Japanese delegation is) going to go back and tell stories (that) North Carolina isn't just that place between Washington and Miami. It's a great place to do business. It's a great place to study. It's a great place to do research and development, collaboration, and we told that story really well today," said Robinson.

Also inside was Lars Petersen, the CEO and President of FUJIFILM Diosynth Biotechnologies. Thursday, Petersen spoke at an event in Raleigh, in which the company announced it was investing more than $1 billion into its Holly Springs facility, with plans to add 680 jobs by 2031.

"What we're seeing today is the fruits of investment 30 years ago. When we started an office in Tokyo, when we started The Japan Center where the Prime Minister is going right now, the investments we're making today, they'll pay off this year. They'll pay off in a decade, but they're going to pay off 30 years from now as well," said Robinson.

The luncheon lasted for about 90 minutes.

Outside the event a small group stood across the street watching the motorcade pull behind the gates.

Dean Centa was part of that group.

"I just came to visit for the weekend and I was like, 'literally the prime minister is here. We need to go see,'" said Centa, who landed at RDU this morning to visit a friend at UNC.

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The State of North Carolina is preparing to offer visiting Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio a taste of the region, from banjo to barbeque.

Centa, whose mother is Japanese, grew up in Wilmington. He studied abroad in Nagoya at Nanzan University last year and did see NC State influence there. He got to interact with students from Nagoya University, which has a campus at NC State that Kishida visited Friday afternoon.

"There's not really many Japanese people (in North Carolina). I was one of the only people in Wilmington that had any roots to Japan. Seeing the Japanese Prime Minister come to North Carolina is kind of a connection of both of my parents," explained Centa, who is studying Global Affairs and East Asian Studies at Yale.

Japan's impact in North Carolina

Japan is North Carolina's largest source of foreign direct investment, according to the governor's office. About 30,000 state residents work for Japanese companies, Cooper said.

One of those companies, Fujifilm, announced a $1.2 billion investment in its biopharmaceutical manufacturing plant in the state hours before Kishida landed.

US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel discusses why North Carolina is an attractive place for Japanese business partnerships.

Chiaki Takagi, a Japanese studies lecturer at the University of North Carolina Greensboro, said the prime minister's visit surprised her but it could signal a "positive future partnership" between Japan and the U.S. and more Japanese workers coming to the state.

"This whole thing will provide the area with opportunities to be engaged in very active cultural exchange between Japan and the U.S.," Takagi said. "And it's nice to know Greensboro will be the place."