Moriwaki goes to Washington

Councilmember reflects on Japan’s connection to BI

It might not be unusual if you ran into Bainbridge Island City Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki on Capitol Hill but next time, he hopes to meet with President Biden on BI instead.

On April 10, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida addressed Congress and Biden in a special international summit to reaffirm geopolitical ties in the Indo-Pacific. Moriwaki attended the joint meeting of Congress as the guest of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer, who represents the state’s 6th congressional district.

The two lawmakers met with congressional representatives, listened to the prime minister’s address and enjoyed Washington, D.C.’s historic Wharf District. Moriwaki has spent plenty of time in the nation’s capital. He was a staffer for the Clinton administration, then-Congressman Jay Inslee and an advocate for the Japanese American community, which has made him well-acquainted with the city. But returning to D.C. as a civic leader added a new level of reception.

“When I was introduced as an elected official, the nods, handshakes and comments seemed warmer,” Moriwaki said. “Perhaps they may have held local or regional office themselves, but I interpret that subtle recognition as an unspoken sign of respect to another person in public office.”

Kishida’s speech was a poignant personal moment, Moriwaki said. He recalled watching the State of the Union with his father as a child, and felt deeply proud to witness the leader of his mother’s home nation as an accomplished lawmaker.

On a national level, a congressional address by a foreign dignitary is no small gesture. Until now, Japanese leadership had visited only once in that capacity, when former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed Congress in 2015. Kishida’s speech echoed Abe’s from nearly a decade ago, but also emphasized the strength of Japan’s alliance with the U.S. and other Pacific nations and reminded Congress of America’s commitments to stability worldwide.

Moriwaki said he was moved by Kishida’s account of his childhood in Hiroshima, watching Japan recover from the nuclear bombings and political redirection after World War II. Japan has transformed from “a reticent ally, recovering from the devastation of World War II, to a strong, committed ally, looking outward to the world,” Kishida said in his speech.

Moriwaki reflected that: “It’s understandable that many Japanese harbored feelings of hatred and fear towards the United States, but thanks in part to helping Japan recover, rebuild and reboot, old resentments and wounds were replaced with positive relationships.

“Of course, it took decades […] but at a base level, it’s a simple yet powerful example of literally putting aside past battles and grudges when you didn’t get your way, and instead work towards finding common ground and shared visions to improve our world.”

Kishida, Biden, and Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also met to reaffirm the alliance between their respective nations. Ongoing disputes between the Philippines and China in the disputed territories in the South China Sea, as well as between Japan and China in the East China Sea, have provoked alarm in Pacific nations — and their leaders have called on Biden for support.

As for Bainbridge Island, this particular group of nations is an auspicious reflection of BI’s history. Throughout the 20th century, Japanese and Filipino immigrants worked on strawberry farms and as fishermen on BI. The families became treasured members of the community, and when the nation turned against Japanese American citizens, BI folks pushed back, Moriwaki said.

It would have been easy to create division by stoking racism and fears during WWII, between domestic Japanese American incarceration and Japanese occupation of the Philippines abroad, but that would have been ineffective on BI because it had no bearing on the lasting relationships between the Japanese and Filipino American communities, the local lawmaker said.

Relations between the Pacific nations were not always cordial, but those divisions did not extend to BI and should not extend to today’s alliance, Moriwaki said.

“The takeaway is that when a relationship exists – friendship, work, school, community, sports, arts, clubs, organizations, etc. – strong bonds are established between people that cannot be broken by attempts to implant bigotry, stereotypes and labels,” he said.