Ms. Irene Hirano passed away. She was the Founder and President of the US-Japan Council.
I met her more than 20 years ago when she led the very first delegation of young Japanese Americans who wouldbe future leaders. She was at the time running the Japanese American Memorial in Los Angeles. I was at the time Director General of North American Affairs in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.
When I became Ambassador to the US in Washington,DC, she was the newlyーwed wife of the most senior and influential senator, Senator Daniel Inouye. She was so instrumental in making this important political figure friendly toward Japan. Although he was Japanese American, or perhaps because of this reason, he was thought of as indifferent to Japan. I think in his early days, even having been a war hero in the 442nd Infantry Regiment, he still had to show that he distanced himself from Japan. So many of the former Japanese diplomats who served in Washington, DC were pleasantly surprised when I told them that I was depending so much on the Senator. Whenever I could not solve a problem through the
administrative channel, my backdoor was the Senator. Of course, after he squarely established himself, he did not mind being seen as close to Japan. But overall, I think it was the influence of his new wife Irene. I heard himself say several times that the best thing that happened to him was that he married Irene. After their marriage, my wife Yoriko and I gave a small congratulatory dinner with just the four of us. Since then, one of the highlights was the awarding of the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun. As the Senator was not able to go to Japan, I passed the decoration to him at theAmbassador’s residence. His long-time good friend Vice President Biden was there to celebrate with him. Irene Hirano looked so happy, too.
In 2009, I was called in several times to Senator Inouye’s grand office at the Senate. Always present was Irene. The two said it’s time to establish a political group to connect Japan and the US and Japanese Americans should be the key players in such an endeavor. I remember attending the first three meetings. After the March 11, 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake, they started to solicit contributions mainly from newly upcoming Japanese businesses with the help of Ambassador John Roos. It flourished as the Tomodachi Initiative. Ms. Irene Hirano’s initiative and leadership were truly amazing. I think she should be and will be long remembered as an individual who has done so much and left so much for future generations. JapaneseAmericans
, Americans, and Japanese owe so much to her. She was truly a charming, smart, powerful nice little lady.
I am writing this on behalf of the 29 America Japan Societies of Japan. We all thank you Irene and now please rest peacefully in heaven.