In an exclusive interview with Sankei Shimbun, Governor of Hawaii David Yutaka Igea third-generation Japanese-American, discusses US-Japan relations and his friendship with former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
The interview took place during the US-Japan Council Annual Conference 2022, which took place on October 27th and 28th in the spirit of global return to normality. The theme of the conference was “The Great Reconnect: Strengthening Alliances, Partnerships and Communities”.
The US-Japan Council is a non-profit organization that aims to promote exchanges between Japan and the United States. The event included panel discussions on economic relations, cooperation in technology development and the relationship between local leaders and political communities.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
spirit of compassion
Recalling the former prime minister’s sudden death, Ige referred to Abe as a “true friend”. He also commended Abe’s diplomatic efforts to strengthen Japan-US relations, describing Abe as a man with an “aloha spirit,” meaning a spirit of compassion and tolerance.
Significantly, Abe was the first Japanese incumbent to pay his respects at Pearl Harbor, where war between Japan and the United States broke out.
Abe was ‘a true friend of Hawaii’
Abe was shot dead in July during a blunt speech for the House of Lords election. Recalling the time he first heard the news, Ige said: “I was devastated. He was a true friend of Hawaii.”
In December 2016, on the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Abe visited the USS Arizona Memorial with then-US President Barack Obama. The memorial is dedicated to the victims of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
At that crucial moment, Ige was the one who received Abe in Hawaii. “It was an unforgettable event in my life,” he said.
Governor Ige’s father was a member of the 442nd Infantry Regiment. It was a Japanese-American US Army unit that fought on the European front. He joined because he urgently needed to prove his loyalty after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.
After the war, Ige’s father dedicated his life to building a society that offered equal opportunities to all, regardless of race or origin. He was determined to prevent the discriminatory treatment of Japanese Americans from ever happening again.
For this reason, the first joint visit by American and Japanese leaders to the Pearl Harbor Memorial was a deeply moving moment for Ige. “I know both the needs and the achievements of second-generation Japanese Americans, including my father. I couldn’t help but be proud of the visit. It symbolizes the true reconciliation between the two countries.”
Governor Ige also witnessed Abe’s character during his stay in Hawaii. Abe was always considerate of others. When he attended a large dinner with local Japanese-Americans, he made sure to walk around each table to connect with everyone there.
About the pineapple
As for Governor Ige, he had a lot of fun talking about pineapples.
With a guilty smile, Abe admitted that he’d only ever eaten pineapples that had been pitted. When his relatives sent him a whole pineapple, he didn’t know where to start.
Ige Abe was soon showing enthusiastically how pineapples are stoned. Coincidentally, Ige’s first job was in a pineapple cannery.
“Abe was an accomplished politician who formed a close friendship not only with former US President Barack Obama, but also with former US President Donald Trump, who has a very different personality. This has made US-Japan relations even stronger.”
Finally, referring to the ongoing Russian aggression against Ukraine, which also threatens the security of the Pacific region, Ige said: “I am aware of the need to strengthen Japan-US relations.”
It’s at a time like this that Abe’s absence is most felt.
“He had the ability to deal with any international crisis,” Ige said.
Read the article in Japanese with this link.
Author: Yukako Ueki
Introduction by Arielle Busetto