This story is part of GlobalAtlanta’s exclusive Japan special issue. Click here to read more.
This 2010 “bonenkai,” or end-of-the-year holiday party, of the Japan-America Society of Georgia featured a film retracing the state’s relations with Japan to the mid-1960s.
The film is the centerpiece of the society’s “history project” launched on its own 30th anniversary this year to underscore the depth and breadth of the relationship. It was premiered in two showings at the party held on Dec. 9 at the worldwide headquarters of United Parcel Service Inc. in Sandy Springs.
Hard figures from the Georgia Department of Economic Development tell quite a story by themselves. Japanese-affiliated companies have invested $7.5 billion in Georgia, with more than 400 of these companies operating in the state.
These affiliated companies employ 35,323 workers and the most recent export figures to Japan amount to more than $1.4 billion, making Japan Georgia’s fourth largest export market.
But behind the numbers is a human-interest story that stretches back to the Coca-Cola Co.’s post-war presence in Japan and a sister-state relationship between Georgia and the prefecture of Kagoshima, located on the southern coast of Kyushu island.
During an interview for the film, former Gov. Carl Sanders explained how he sent a delegation to Kagoshima to explore agricultural and other business opportunities for trade.
That relationship blossomed. Allen Judd, a former international and corporate banker with the First National Bank of Atlanta, recalled in the film that he visited Kagoshima with other attendees for one of the Japan-Southeast U.S Association meetings.
“…when we got off the airplane, there were hundreds of Japanese children. And they begin to sing Georgia songs. You could not find a dry-eye among anyone,” he said.
Mr. Sanders, who had been governor from 1963-1967 and then launched a law firm in the early 1970s, agreed to take on the chairmanship of the Japan-America Society in the early 1980s.
He then persuaded Robert Broadwater, a former Coca-Cola executive who had retired as a senior vice president for Coke’s international planning, to serve as executive director of the society.
Mr. Broadwater, who had survived the Bataan Death March and endured the remainder of World War II as a prisoner of war, readily agreed and served without a salary.
The film further depicts the evolution of the relationship built on mutual economic advantage.
Among the interviewed “pioneers” of the society are Day Lancaster, vice president of the commercial real estate firm NAI Brannen Goddard; George Berry, former commissioner of the Georgia Department of Industry, Trade and Tourism and Ron Allen, former president and CEO of Delta Air Lines Inc.
“It was all about raising the economic well-being of Georgia people,” said Mr. Berry with widespread recognition that the development of the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport was the key economic driver.
“What we found every time we started a new international flight, you would see the business opportunities almost quadruple, and I use the term ‘quadruple’ because that was typically the multiplier effect that you saw with new service to a new international city,” said Mr. Allen.
The early 1970s was an important time in the strengthening of ties. In 1973, then Gov. Jimmy Carter encouraged Japanese investment into the state by opening a Georgia Trade and Investment Development office in Tokyo.
That year the YKK Group, the zipper and aluminum products powerhouse, and Murata Manufacturing Co., the global electronics firm, opened facilities in Georgia.
Alex Gregory, president and CEO of YKK Corp. of America, describes the relationship that developed between Tadao Yoshida, the founder of YKK, and Mr. Carter.
“Gov. Carter really appreciated Mr. Yoshida’s philosophy, the cycle of goodness,” he said, adding that the two developed a life-long friendship up to Mr. Yoshida’s death in 1993.
The ties were further strengthened in 1974 when the Consulate General’s office responsible for Japanese relations with five Southeastern states opened in Atlanta.
The Georgia Japanese Language School also opened in 1974 with only nine students and now has some 400 students.
During the governorship of George Busbee, the relationship took a giant step with the creation of the Southeast U.S or SEUS-Japan Association, which has resulted in more than 30 annual joint meetings with the venue alternating between a city in the Southeast and Japan.
By the end of the 1970s, there were 55 Japanese companies operating in Georgia and the Japan-America Society was launched to increase the knowledge of Japanese society, culture and public affairs among Georgians.
The society benefited from the leadership of Sam Ayoub, senior executive vice president of Coca-Cola, who took over as chairman and helped grow the membership.
In its early days, the society also benefited from the support of Fred Chanoki, president of Murata Electronics North America, a leading figure in Georgia’s Japanese business community.
The growing strength of the society also spurred on the establishment of affiliated organizations such as the Tomodachi Club of Georgia created in 1981 to foster friendship and cultural exchange among Japanese and American women.
More recently, a Young Professional’s Group has added vibrancy to the society.
Another tie to Japan was created when the Japan External Trade Organization, the trade promotion agency, opened an office here in 1985.
The next year Japan/Fest was started as a small picnic and field day for the Japanese community in Georgia. Today, Japan/Fest has become the largest Japanese festival south of Washington and east of Houston with more than 16,000 visitors coming every year.
In 1987, the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program, or JET program, was established to improve foreign language education and to help develop international exchanges at the community level.
The importance of all of these initiatives was underscored when the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited Atlanta in June of 1994.
The Japan-America Society now has 750 members and cooperates with the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Georgia, composed primarily of Japanese company representatives.
Yukio Fujie, chairman of the Japanese chamber, says in the film that his desire is to help the society become more business oriented. “I want to put as the No. 1 priority to help or to support the business environment for members.”
His remarks are echoed in the film by Dan Amos, chairman and CEO of Columbus-based Aflac Inc., which gets most of its revenue from policies supplementing work and government health insurance in Japan.
“I think that the society plays a key role in people understanding each other’s cultures; specifically Japanese understanding American culture and Americans understanding Japanese culture,” he said,
“If you understand that, then the business aspect works. But, business alone doesn’t really make it work What really makes it work is camaraderie, understanding how people act, think, and then from there, you can build on that. And that’s where the society played an important role, and that’s why I think it’s so important to have the Japan-America Society.
Others interviewed in the film are: Takuji Hanatani, Japan’s consul general in Atlanta; Tom Harrold, partner, Miller & Martin PLLC; Glenn Cornell, commissioner (retired) of the Georgia Department of Economic Development; Robert Banta, managing partner, Banta Immigration Law;
Tim Evans, vice president, Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce; George Waldner, president, York College of Pennsylvania; Geoff Kelly, general counsel, Coca-Cola; Raymond Riddle, president (retired), First National Bank of Georgia; Tom Yamamoto, former president, Murata Electronics North America;
Daijiro Nogata, president, Toto USA; Brian Arnold, director, Kubota Manufacturing of America Corp.; Toshimitsu Iio, president, Yamaha Motor Manufacturing Corp. of America; Yoshifumi Matsudaira, CEO, JETRO Atlanta; Jerry Drisaldi, president, international sales, United Parcel Service Inc.; Steve Harris, partner, Jones Day;
Bob Johnson, partner, Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Bekowitz PC; Hideo Ishii, senior vice president, Marsh USA Inc.; Anne Godsey, co-chair, Tomodachi Club of Georgia; Yoshi Domoto, executive director, the Japan-America Society and Sachi Koto, chairperson, the Japan-America Society and producer of the film.
To learn more about the Japan-America Society of Georgia, go to www.jasgeorgia.org or call (404) 842-1400.