2018 marks the tenth year that the city of Nashville, Tennessee has housed a Japanese consulate. The anniversary of the consulate’s 2008 opening marks a decade of deepening ties between Tennessee and Japan.
A strong economic connection is one of the hallmarks of the Tennessee-Japan relationship. Japan’s $9.4 billion in Greenfield Investment in Tennessee has created over 23,000 jobs in the state, making Tennessee the leading recipient of Japanese investment. These business ties are the result of decades of collaboration between Japanese and Tennessean businesses; whereas in 1977, Japanese Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) accounted for just two percent of FDI in the state, Japanese investment now accounts for over half of Tennessee’s FDI. Significantly, Franklin, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Nashville, has been home to the headquarters of Nissan North America since the company relocated to Tennessee from California in 2005.
Although businesses have created long-held connections between Tennessee and Japan, the relationship is not solely based on economic ties. For one, the newly appointed ambassador to Japan, William Hagerty, hails from Nashville. Additionally, in the ten years since the consulate has opened, it has taken immense strides to promote and deepen cultural connections between Nashville and Japan. For example, since 2009, the consulate has hosted an annual cherry blossom festival, in collaboration with other Japan-related organizations, such as Sister Cities and the Japan-America Society. The festival, which celebrated its tenth anniversary in 2018, features numerous Japanese cultural events and demonstrations, a cherry blossom walk, and tree plantings. In the ten years since the festival was founded, Japan-related organizations and individual donors have succeeded in planting 1,000 cherry trees throughout the city.
Additionally, Japanese consul generals in Nashville have become quite involved in the local community. The first Consul General to Nashville, Hiroshi Sato, formed a band and performed alongside prominent bluegrass artists. Similarly, Consul General Kobayashi, who was appointed in May 2018, served as a judge for the city’s 12th annual Hot Chicken Festival and contest. These light hearted cultural events are a testament to a mutual enthusiasm for cultural exchange.
During the consulate’s tenure in Nashville, it has also helped to develop a sister-city relationship with Kamakura, Nashville’s first Japanese sister city. This relationship began in 2009, when the newly-opened consulate facilitated the establishment of a Japan Committee within Sister Cities of Nashville, as well as the creation of a “friendship city” relationship between Nashville and Kamakura. The Sister-City arrangement was finalized in 2014, and has been the source of numerous cultural exchange trips since.
The ten years since the Japanese consulate of Nashville opened have transformed the Nashville-Japan relationship from one rooted primarily in business to one that emphasizes mutual cultural appreciation and exchange. In the coming years, the work that the Japanese consulate has done to promote Japanese culture not only in Nashville, but also throughout the broader region as a whole, will certainly continue to build meaningful people-to-people connections.
Elizabeth Smith is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington. She has recently finished her undergraduate coursework at the University of Chicago and will be spending the next year at the Inter-University Center in Yokohama as a Boren Scholar.