He’s an expert diplomat, but Takashi (Thomas) Shinozuka admits that he’s a “beginner” consultant.
The former consul general of Japan in Atlanta recently retired from the country’s foreign service after a more than 40-year career that culminated in an ambassadorship to Morocco.
Having returned to Japan about a year ago, he has been volunteering at his twin daughters’ high school and helping them prepare for college entrance exams.
He has also stayed busy as vice president of the Japan-Morocco Association and a senior research fellow at the Africa Society of Japan.
But recently, a new opportunity came calling in the form of two voices from his recent past: Jorge Fernandez and Craig Lesser from the Atlanta-based Pendleton Group.
The consulting firm was looking for a contact on the ground to help its clients — companies, municipalities, economic development agencies and innovation hubs — connect with counterparts in Japan.
After four decades mostly away handling visa issues, promoting Japanese economic interests abroad and relaying policy positions to various international interlocutors, Mr. Shinozuka said his business network at home was a little out of date.
“I can’t say that I have so many connections for the time being, because I’m a kind of beginner consultant, but now it’s time to try to build (them),” he told Global Atlanta in an interview by phone.
Those who remember him from his time in Atlanta from 2015-19, however, recall a consummate connector who seemed ubiquitous at community events, always ready to lend assistance to those seeking to engage with the country.
Before coming to Atlanta, Mr. Shinozuka worked for a decade in the Imperial Household Agency, where he helped manage the affairs of then-Emperor Akihito, often welcoming visiting foreign dignitaries.
Retiring with an ambassador rank gives him leverage to open doors, Mr. Shinozuka said, which is just what Pendleton needs in Japan, a country where the right relationships and access can make all the difference.
Working with Mr. Shinozuka also complements a strategy that has worked well for Pendleton in other innovation strongholds like Israel, Canada and Switzerland — appointing retired diplomats with connections to Atlanta to represent clients’ interests in strategic countries, said Craig Lesser, a founder and current chairman of the Pendleton Group.
“Japan plays a key role in the U.S. Southeast region economy and certainly in many of our clients’ global reach, particularly in the automotive, smart mobility and 5G smart applications innovation ecosystems,” Mr. Lesser said.
For Mr. Shinozuka, it’s a bit of a twist of fate representing the Georgia-based company in Japan.
When the state celebrates the 50th anniversary of its Tokyo office at next month’s SEUS-Japan conference, he will be there on Pendleton’s behalf.
“I will be in the Georgia business delegation,” Mr. Shinozuka said. “Gov. (Brian) Kemp made me an honorary Georgia citizen, so I won’t forget that.”
He looks forward to meeting old friends like Pat Wilson, the commissioner of the Georgia Department of Economic Development, and Mellissa Takeuchi, a former staff member at the consulate under Mr. Shinozuka who now plays a key role managing inbound Japanese projects for the department.
In the meantime, Mr. Shinozuka will be boning up on Japan’s innovation ecosystems and seeking ways to connect national organizations, prefectural governments and private companies to Georgia.
He remembers visiting Peachtree Corners, a major client of Pendleton’s, when its Curiosity Lab was mainly just a concept. Now, the “living laboratory” for connected cars and smart city technologies has partnerships the world over, in large part thanks to Pendleton.
Japanese companies see innovation “as a matter of their survival,” Mr. Shinozuka said, and many are looking for ways to align themselves with the government’s push to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Japan’s 47 prefectures and the national government are supporting research and development, although they have been more hesitant than places like Europe to codify sustainability mandates. Japanese auto makers also have been slower to commit to transitioning fully to electric vehicles.
“You know that Japanese particularity: We are not very fast, but once we decide, we stick to it,” Mr. Shinozuka said.
Always keen to trade around the world, Japanese firms are seeing even more pressure to deepen their global ties amid growing U.S.-China rivalry and increasing competition from countries like South Korea and India, he said.
“I think most of the Japanese companies know that if they don’t go outside more, it will be difficult to survive in the current situation,” he said.
Georgia has seen evidence of that, as existing investors re-up on their commitments here and new players like Yakult continue to announce factories in the state.
Read Mr. Shinozuka’s bio on the Pendleton website here.
Editor’s note: Pendleton Group is an annual partner of Global Atlanta
The Dean Rusk International Law Center at the University of Georgia is the presenting sponsor of Global Atlanta's Diplomacy Channel. Subscribe here for monthly Diplomacy newsletters.