Soaring Toward Solidarity—JCCI Holds 36th Annual Dinner Gala Virtually, “Solidarity for the Future”

NOVEMBER 6TH— It was the first ever Gala the Japanese Chamber of Commerce & Industry of New York presented virtually, as this year’s theme, “Solidarity for the Future,” focused on finding common ground in a time of uncertainty, no matter our racial, national, economic, and ethnic differences.

While the Gala was abbreviated to an hour, and guests were unable to gather in person, the Chamber was thrilled to virtually recognize the contributions this year’s guests of honor have made to the community, despite these trying times.

“2020 has been a year unlike any other in our lifetimes; a year marked by a global pandemic, a presidential race in the US, and a sudden change in Prime Minister for Japan,” Mr. Masaki Nakajima, President of JCCI and President & CEO of Sumitomo Corporation of Americas, said. “The much anticipated Tokyo Olympics were forced to postpone while New York City quickly became the center of the COVID19 pandemic. This year has forced us to change the way we do business, the way we celebrate, and the way we embrace our loved ones. Amidst it all, the bond between the US and Japan has held firm. It is because of our ability to join together that this special relationship remains so strong.”

JCCI President Masaki Nakajima

Mr. Kunio Watanabe, Executive Chairman of Nomura Holding America Inc. served as this year’s Dinner Chairman. Ms. Catherine Kobayashi was the MC. There was no Co-Chairman this year.

Dinner Chairman Kunio Watanabe
MC Catherine Kobayashi

This year’s Keynote Speakers, Mr. Marc Lasry, Chairman, CEO and Co-Founder of Avenue Capital Group, and Mr. David Blitzer, Founder of Harris Blitzer Sports and Entertainment, gave an in-depth discussion on the expansion of the international fan-base in sports, e-sports, and investing and developing relationships with sports teams, along with the eco-system that revolves around it.

“There is tremendous growth—and pull—the demand is there,” Blitzer said. “[It’s about] bringing your stars to life in a live exhibition match. The Japanese fan base is passionate and the numbers are growing.”

“Values are going to go up, especially for NBA teams,”Lasry said. “I’d say to not buy, but to invest in a team where you’re the second largest stakeholder so that it’s meaningful. You come in and start developing a relationship, and find a team where you’re getting along with the managing partner. Then it’ll be a very enjoyable experience.”

Marc Lasry (left) and David Blitzer (right)
Irene Hirano Inouye
(Photo/Courtesy of Irene Hirano Inouye)

The Chamber honored the founder of the U.S.-Japan Council and the Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles, Ms. Irene Hirano Inouye as this year’s Commemorative Awardee. The Award was accepted by her daughter, Ms. Jennifer Hirano, and Ms. Suzanne Basalla, President & CEO of U.S.-Japan Council. Ms. Inouye’s husband, the late Senator Daniel K. Inouye, was also a recipient of the Eagle-on-the-World Award in 2013. Ms. Inouye was also awarded in 2016.

Basalla remarked that Ms. Inouye “recognized the importance of the New York City leadership JCCI represents in the broader network of the two economies and peoples. Irene always understood the central role of the business community in enabling the work of nonprofits like USJC.”

“No one can ever replace Irene,” she said. “But we can always strive to build her legacy.”

Professor Ezra Vogel, Henry Ford II Professor of the Social Sciences Emeritus, Harvard University, and Mr. Masahiro Tanaka, Starting Pitcher for the New York Yankees, and Professor were this year’s Eagle-on-the-World Award recipients.

“Japan had a very good organization, educational system, and its bureaucrats were very well trained, working together to modernize Japan,” Professor Vogel said. “Since 1975-6 when I spent a year in Japan studying the zaikai, I’ve now enjoyed 41 years of wonderful relationships with high-level Japanese. In the 1980s, I remember the Japanese worked so hard to establish firm roots in the United States, and although Americans were concerned about the competition, the Japanese became very good citizens in communities all over. It’s a great honor for me to receive this award for the long friendship and long cooperation I’ve enjoyed between Japanese friends in the United States, Japan, and the all over the world.”

Ezra Vogel speaks during the Award presentation

“It’s the first time in America I’ve received such an award so I am very happy,” Tanaka said. “Also being able to tell my family and friends around that I could receive such an award is a humbling experience. Based on my time in America, I can certainly say my world has expanded. I found myself enjoying those new discoveries and changes in life being here…playing with very humble and great teammates and fans is something I’ll always remember in my heart.”

Masahiro Tanaka during the Award presentation

“No matter what game or situation, I’ve always told myself to do what I could based on my own energy. To be myself no matter what, and that’s what I think is most important.”

Tanaka further touched upon his social charities. “There is really very little I can do as a person, but when time passes, things as natural disasters tend to be forgotten, but I’m hoping that through our charity work people will remember what happened and hopefully lead to some change.”

The Ron Carter Golden Striker Trio performed for the entertainment. The U.S. and Japan National Anthems were sung by Ms. Mikaela Bennett, accompanied by Mr. Jeb Patton and Mr. David Wong. They later performed during the closing of the Gala. All performances were held at the Blue Note.

Prior to the start of the Gala, bento box sets were offered to all guests for pick-up, prepared exclusively by Nippon Club Executive Chef, Hideki Yasuoka. What’s more, complimentary thank-you care packages were delivered to everyone, courtesy of Bokksu. Each box contains authentic Japanese snacks, candies, and teas sourced directly from local family businesses.

Bento box sets prepared by Nippon Club
Executive Chef Hideki Yasuoka

This year’s Gala was most definitely a challenging one for us, but coming together virtually and knowing that we still have a network of supporters speaks volumes about our unwavering bond. The JCCI, and J.C.C. Fund kindly thanks all for attending this very special evening. From here on out, let us continue to envision, and soar toward our solidarity for the future.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the Gala streaming included an incorrect spelling of Toray Industries (America), Inc. We apologize for the oversight.

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