Impressions From a Recent Trip to Buzen, Fukuoka

Pauline Chakmakjian, MA, Board of Directors, JASH visiting with Governor George Ariyoshi and Mrs. Jean Ariyoshi

In a conversation on July 20, 2015, Former Governor Ariyoshi and Mrs. Ariyoshi discussed their recent visit to Buzen, Fukuoka, home of his father’s birthplace. In celebration of Buzen’s 60th anniversary, neatly coinciding with the Ariyoshi’s own 60th wedding anniversary, the Governor, Mrs. Ariyoshi and their eldest son, Ryozo not only ceremonially planted sixty dogwood trees along the main boulevard of the city, but also enjoyed exchanges with the city’s community.

Their first visit to Buzen took place in 1975 during the city’s 20th anniversary. On this visit, forty years later, Governor Ariyoshi went to the Mikikado, the elementary school his father had attended. Reflecting upon the city of Buzen, he mentioned how he was particularly struck by three things:

  • Mountains, green and open spaces
  • The impressive flow of the waters from the mountains
  • The abundance of fresh seafood as the city is right on the coast

Moreover, he found the people of Buzen to be friendly. This caused him to recall the first Japanese he had ever met in the country of his ancestry when he went to Japan as a member of the U.S. occupation force – a seven-year-old shoeshine boy. He had asked the boy why he was shining shoes to which the youngster resolutely replied that his country was hurting, his family was hurting and that he had to shine shoes to help his country and his family. Governor Ariyoshi then brought some bread to the boy who said he will take it home to eat it with Mariko. When the Governor inquired as to whom Mariko was, the boy explained she was his three-year-old sister.

It seemed to those of us listening to Governor Ariyoshi recount this encounter that he is proud of the Japanese people, most notably for demonstrations of discipline and selflessness such as this. He went on to stress the U.S. – Japan relations as the most important bilateral relationship in the world.

Governor Ariyoshi still contributes to this relationship. He believes national policies are worked out between national leaders, but that this requires the support of the peoples of both countries. He therefore supports sister-state relations and all other people to people activities. He travels frequently and makes numerous speeches here and there. This is a natural extension of his past appointment to the Advisory Council for Trade Policies and Negotiation by President Clinton, and his appointment to the Center for Global Partnership by the Japanese Government.

Governor & Mrs. Ariyoshi were equally delighted to talk about their experiences with members of the Imperial Family in Tokyo on this trip. Governor Ariyoshi explained that the normal protocol with guests in audience with Their Imperial Majesties, The Emperor and Empress of Japan is a period of twenty minutes, but their visit lasted over one hour. Mrs. Ariyoshi was also refreshingly surprised when the Empress’ hospitality consisted of coffee and both matcha and hojicha tea accompanied by elegant wagashi each decorated with an iris flower to match the garden of iris flowers near their meeting room. She will never forget the two hugs the Empress gave her as they said goodbye.

Their past experience of meeting the Imperial Family was no less outstanding. We were shown a magnificent photo of Governor Ariyoshi in formal attire with decorations at the coronation ceremony of His Majesty, The Emperor of Japan. Of the 2,500 attendees at the Coronation, 2,000 were Japanese guests and Governor Ariyoshi was one of the 500 foreign guests in attendance. But despite all these special and unique life experiences, he remains a modest and humble gentleman in the finest sense. Towards the end of our meeting, Governor Ariyoshi emphasized that one ought to always remember what one’s parents teach, especially attributes related to good character such as perseverance, responsibility, honorable behavior and loyalty.