The Women’s Leadership Conference celebrates Japanese and American women leaders in Oakland County

The Oakland County Department of Economic Development & Community Affairs and the U.S.-Japan Council present the U.S.-Japan Women’s Leadership Conference on Sept. 26 in the conference center of the county Executive Office Building in Waterford.

The keynote speaker is Irene Hirano Inouye, president of the Washington D.C.-based U.S.-Japan Council, which she founded in 2008. She has dedicated her life to strengthening relations between the United States and Japan as well as advancing philanthropic and social causes

“The Women’s Leadership Conference is really focused on how Japanese women have come a long way in their paths getting to leadership roles,” explains Irene Spanos, director of economic development and community affairs for Oakland County.

Space for this event is limited to 80 participants. Interested parties can register here.

Inouye is the widow of U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye, a Congressional Medal of Honor recipient and World War II hero. He represented Hawaii in Congress for more than 50 years and was the first Japanese-American elected to serve in both the House and the Senate. He died in 2012 at age 88.

During her address, she will share her story and speak about the U.S.-Japan Council and the work it does both in Oakland County and in the world. She administers the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the government of Japan that invests in young Japanese and Americans through educational and cultural exchanges and leadership programs. Prior to this, she was the founding CEO and president of the Smithsonian-affiliate Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles for 20 years.

The struggles women have historically endured in rising to leadership positions is certainly a common experience among women of all cultural and ethnic backgrounds, but the struggles of Japanese and Japanese-American women are unique to their own social and cultural experiences.

Mary Kamidoi, treasurer of the Detroit Chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League, will also present at this event. At age 11, she and her family were forced out of their home in Stockton, Calif. and into a nearby internment camp where she slept in a stable. When the war ended the camp was evacuated, and they had to relocate with nothing but the items they brought with them to the camp. They settled in Michigan. Kamidoi will speak about how that experience shaped her life, defined her strengths, and inspired her to a life of activism and advocacy.

The event and luncheon includes panels highlighting women in leadership positions in Oakland County and Japanese American women in leadership roles throughout Southeastern Michigan. During the latter group’s “Diverse Paths to Leadership” discussion, Japanese and Japanese-American women in different sectors and different industries will talk about their paths to these positions. Of particular note, Yuki Sakai, deputy Consul General of Japan in Detroit, will speak about how she had to rise to a leadership position in Japan – where there are few women in such international leadership positions.

This is the first event that Oakland County has partnered with the U.S.-Japan Council, and Spanos says they hope for it to be the first of many.

“We have such a large Japanese population and business community here in Oakland County and we see the value in hosting these types of events,” Spanos says. “Events like these bring the Japanese and Japanese-American community together with us, and allows us to bring services to them that they may not receive in other regions of the United States.”

This leadership conference is just one recent event that Oakland County has hosted in honor and celebration of the local Japanese community; earlier in September, the county partnered with the city of Novi, Michigan State University, and Japanese community leaders in Oakland County to celebrate the grand opening of the new Sakura Garden at MSU Tollgate Farm in Novi.