A Japanese garden in Memphis, Tennessee [Image: H. Michael Miley / Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)]

Japan Matters to Tennessee

Japan Asia

On November 2nd and 3rd, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States, Koji Tomita, visited Nashville, Tennessee to attend a Tennessee World Affairs Council reception at Belmont University. He visited to talk about public health, national security, and business relations. According to Tennessee World Affairs Council, ambassador Tomita’s visit was one more expression of the longstanding friendship that exists between Japan and Tennessee.

Since the 1980s, and even before, Tennessee has been an attractive state for Japanese businesses. In 1985, the state of Tennessee attracted 12% of all Japanese investment in the United States. The state held contracts with 29 Japanese companies which brought in $1.1 billion in investment and created 6,700 jobs. As of July this year, according to Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Japan is currently Tennessee's top foreign direct investor, with 192 establishments bringing in $19 billion in investments and creating 54,391 jobs. Japanese firms account for more than half of the foreign direct investment in Tennessee. Fields of job creation include automotive, electronics, and renewable energy. Notable companies that have maintained a longstanding and growing presence in the state are Denso, Mitsui, and Nissan. In 2019, Mitsubishi Motors North America announced it would invest $18.25 million to move its United States' headquarters to the state. In addition, Japan is Tennessee’s fourth biggest export partner. Tennessee exports $2.6 billion goods and services to the island nation, creating 15,109 jobs from these exports.

Beyond economic ties, Tennessee and Japan also have longstanding cultural connections. Currently, the state and Japan have eight sister city relationships. The oldest one dates back to 1983 between Hendersonville and Tsuru City in Yamanashi, Japan. Nashville, the head location of the Consul General of Japan, has a sister city with Kamakura City in Kanagawa, Japan. Nashville is home to more than 8,000 Japanese citizens and 300 businesses as well as the location of Tennessee’s Japan-America Society and annual Cherry Blossom festival featuring cherry blossom trees donated by Japan in 2008. During Ambassador Tomita’s visit to Nashville, Bill Hagerty, United States Senator to Tennessee and former Ambassador to Japan, remarked that Tennessee’s future collaboration with Japan "looks bright and will continue to flourish."

Shannon Wells is a participant of the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington. She is a first-year Master's of International Studies student at North Carolina State University.