On September 28th, residents of Des Moines gathered to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Japan America Society of Iowa (JASI). The four-hour long event took place at the Downtown Des Moines Central Library and some activities included were sushi making workshops, film screenings, a kimono show, and tea ceremonies. The Deputy Consul-General of Japan from Chicago was also in attendance.
The current President of JASI, Hiromi Umeda, said that the purpose of the society is to deepen the understanding between the two cultures and strengthen connections between Iowans and Japanese. JASI finds host families for Japanese students who study in Iowa and also helps Iowans meet people when they travel to Japan. Looking forward, Umeda hopes that the society can bring more Japanese people and companies to Iowa.
JASI was founded in 1989 and currently has around 50 dues-paying members. Every year the society hosts a variety of events such as the Anime and Japanese Culture Festival held on October 18. In 2012, JASI began a weekly Japanese language school and offers Japanese language courses very Saturday.
Iowa and Japan’s historic relationship can be traced back to the 1959 “hog lift” which celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2010. Iowan farmers sent 36 hogs to Yamanashi Prefecture after Japan lost a significant amount of livestock in two devastating typhoons. In 1960, the year after the hog lift, Yamanashi and Iowa established a sister-state relationship that continues today.
Earlier in September, Iowa hosted the 46th annual Midwest U.S./Japan Association conference for the first time in twenty years. More than 300 people registered for the event, including five US governors and 100 participants from Japan. Iowa Governor Terry Branstad emphasized the importance of the conference by pointing out that Japan is one of the top export markets for Iowa’s goods. Next year, the conference will be held in Tokyo, Japan.
The total population of Asian-Americans in Iowa is estimated at 66,297, comprising about 2% of the state population. Roughly 2,854 Iowans are of Japanese descent, making them one of the smallest Asian-American demographic groups. In spite of that low number, the Japanese community of Iowa is clearly active in sharing their culture with the state and reinforcing the importance of the bilateral trade relationship.
Melissa Newcomb recently graduated from American University SIS and is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, D.C.