Japan’s consul general to the Southeast, Kazuo Sunaga, has announced that he is to return to Tokyo in the new year to assume still-to-be determined responsibilities in his government, acknowledging a bittersweet note due to the “kindness and compassion” he has found in the region.
Mr. Sunaga announced his departure at his residence Dec. 4 during an evening celebration of the birthday of Emperor Akihito, expressing his sorrow. “This is the life of a diplomat,” he said, “but alas, I am still sad to leave.”
Including his service on behalf of Japan at the United Nations from 2003-07 and his three years in Atlanta, he has lived in the United States six and a half years.
He said that he fed his curiosity about the U.S. as a youth by listening to American music, watching American movies and traveling throughout the country.
“But it was only here, through the compassion and kindness of the people of the Southeast, that I have found America. To me, America is full of compassion, kindness and strength,” he added.
His comments did cite, however, the violent past between the U.S. and Japan by referring to the visit by Emperor Akihito to the Pacific island of Peleliu to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
“Many of you may not know this,” he told the 200 or so attendees, “but Peleliu Island was where Japanese and American fought one of their deadliest battles. Their visit reminds us Japan and America now stand together in our commitment to freedom, democracy ad the rule of law. In these last 70 years, we have built a great partnership.”
Mr. Sunaga reviewed what he considers the outstanding successes for U.S.-Japanese relations accomplished during the past year in the four states for which his office is responsible.
These included the establishment of the first Japan America Society in North Carolina, the visit by the influential business group, the Keidanren, personally led by its chairman, Sadayuki Sakibara, in South Carolina, and in Alabama, Birmingham’s hosting of the annual Southeast-U.S. Japan Conference.
Nor did he forget Georgia, underscoring the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations that took place in Atlanta during which a final agreement was reached. He also said that he was pleased with the success of this year’s JapanFest cultural festival that attracted more than 20,600 visitors, the highest number in its 29-year history.
He also acknowledged the presence of U.S. Rep. Tom Price, a Republican from Georgia’s 6th District; Georgia’s attorney general, Sam Olens, who both spoke of the state’s close ties to Japan.
In addition, he thanked Georgia Reps. Tom Taylor and Betty Price; Georgia mayors Joe Lockwood of Milton and Larry Guest of Elberton; and Alabama mayors Hollie Cost of Montevallo and Mike Schmitz of Dothan.
David Robinson, Japan’s honorary consul in North Carolina, and Elmer Harris, the honorary consul general emeritus of Alabama, also attended the celebration.
As an indication of his heartfelt sincerity about his departure, he wore a kimono. “The first time I wore a kimono was when I married my wife 34 years ago,” he said. “This is now the second time I have worn one, so you can see how important tonight is to me.”
In keeping with the evening’s sentimentality, Mrs. Sunaga, an accomplished vocalist, sang the Irish ballad “Oh Danny Boy.”
The main function of the consulate is to serve to Japanese nationals and their economic interests, provide consular services and cultural exchange. The jurisdiction of the Atlanta office includes Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and South Carolina. Its former responsibilities for Virginia have been taken over this year by the embassy in Washington.
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