April 30, 2021
JICA President KITAOKA Shinichi spoke at the “Symposium on Remembering OKAMOTO Yukio, Special Advisor to JICA” on April 29, organized by JICA in cooperation with Okamoto Associates, Inc. The symposium was streamed on YouTube LIVE (archived video is also available: please refer to the end of the article for the link). An overview of the symposium is as follows.
Distinguished speakers, who knew Mr. Okamoto well before his passing, including online speakers from the U.S. and Okinawa, delved into his achievements and his appeal as a person. They discussed Mr. Okamoto’s view on the world he aimed for, the role of Japan in the international community and the expected future of international cooperation.
At the beginning of the symposium, President Kitaoka explained the two significant objectives of the symposium: (1) to consider Japan’s future direction, and (2) to learn from how “OKAMOTO Yukio” lived his life. He also referred to the relationship between JICA and Mr. Okamoto, including exchanges with him and his visit to Sub-Saharan Africa. He described Mr. Okamoto as a realist who continuously proposed practical security measures, and as a humanist who never forgot that there are real people behind security issues.
Mr. SASAE Kenichiro, president of the Japan Institute of International Affairs, a former colleague of Mr. Okamoto at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, introduced the diverse background of Mr. Okamoto as a diplomat, management consultant, diplomatic critic, author, educator, and photographer. Mr. Sasae also introduced Mr. Okamoto’s autobiography, which he wrote until the end of his life, where he expressed his wish for the youth of Japan to “build a country that is filled with pride.”
3.Part I- Panel Discussion 1: Navigating Japan’s route in uncharted ocean
Following introductions by the panelists (Mr. Richard L. Armitage, former U.S. deputy secretary of state, Mr. Sasae, Mr. MIYAKE Kunihiko, visiting professor at Ritsumeikan University, and President Kitaoka) about their encounters and close friendship with Mr. Okamoto, there was an exchange of opinions on how Mr. Okamoto viewed the China-U.S.-Japan and Middle East-U.S.-Japan relationships and the route Japan should take. As a way forward for Japan, the panelists pointed out the importance of a strong Japan-U.S. alliance based on trust and the importance of the Japanese people's readiness to take risks for the sake of peace. In a video message from Mr. Frank Helmick, the retired U.S. Army lieutenant general, he touched on the strong desire and actions of Mr. Okamoto for the reconstruction of Iraq during his time as special advisor to the prime minister (in charge of Iraq reconstruction) in the Koizumi administration.
4.Part II- Video Messages 2
Video messages were received from Dr. NAGATA Toyoomi, former chairperson, the Ritsumeikan Trust, Dr. Richard J. Samuels, Ford International Professor of Political Science and Director, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dr. Joseph S. Nye, Jr., university distinguished service professor, emeritus, Harvard University, and Mr. AKIBA Takeo, vice-minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan
5.Part III- Panel Discussion 2: “The most important thing is ‘kindness to others’”
The panel discussion was led by five panelists, including Dr. John Roos, former U.S. ambassador to Japan, Mr. MAEDOMARI Hiromori, professor at Okinawa International University, Mr. Sasae, Mr. Miyake, and President Kitaoka. They focused on the thoughts and actions of Mr. Okamoto and discussed the issue of bases in Okinawa, the Great East Japan Earthquake, and international cooperation, all of which Mr. Okamoto had been deeply involved in. Through the discussion, the panelists reflected on the fact that Mr. Okamoto was not only a man of outstanding diplomacy backed by deep knowledge and rich experience who tackled from the front lines the difficult issues facing Japan, but also a man with a passion for dialogue, understanding and empathy with each and every human being, and a tenacious ability to carry out his work.
In the course of the panel discussion, a video message from Mr. KOIZUMI Shinjiro, the Minister of the Environment of Japan, who worked with Mr. Okamoto to support the reopening of the fishing industry in Tohoku through the Signal of Hope Fund, and people involved in the Fund in Onagawa Town was introduced. They delivered a message of firm determination to do their best to repay Mr. Okamoto for his efforts to support Tohoku.
President Kitaoka, referring to Mr. Okamoto's recent book, “What is Japan's Greatest Crisis?,” pointed out that the greatest crisis for Japan is that young people in the country do not take on challenges because of limitations that they imposed on their own. In order to overcome this, he noted that leaders could be nurtured by starting with basic education, which requires them to “stand in the batter’s box” and repeatedly train themselves on how to make decisions and take actions as if they are top leaders.
6.Slideshow: OKAMOTO Yukio and the Sea & Nature: based on “Hans and George - Journey to the Everlasting Sea”
After the panel discussion, the photo book “Hans and George” was introduced along with messages from Mr. Samir Aziz, a friend of Mr. Okamoto for about 40 years since his posting in Egypt, and Mr. NAKAMURA Ikuo, a photographer. This book complies a story and beautiful underwater photos by Mr. Okamoto, who was an underwater photographer and novelist who loved the sea and nature.
In closing, Mr. OKAMOTO Yasuo, president of Okamoto Associates Inc. (Mr. Okamoto's brother), expressed his appreciation. He said that OKAMOTO Yukio's way of living is not only to analyze logically but also to understand the mind and emotions of the other person in order to find a clue to the solution. He then closed the symposium by saying that he would be happy if OKAMOTO Yukio's way of life could inspire many people and give them the energy to lead a better Japan and world.