On May 1, 2015, I attended a luncheon at the Biltmore Millennium Hotel with special guest Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe. Abe’s visit to Los Angeles was a last stop of his US tour, which included a speech in English to a joint session of Congress, a first for a Japanese Prime Minister.
I am a member of the Japan America Society of Southern California, an organization which was a co-host of the event and gave members an opportunity to purchase tickets. The event which had a capacity of 750 seats sold out in 30 minutes.
Mayor Eric Garcetti who provided the introduction speech for Abe expressed his fondness of Japan and stated that he studied at Tamagawa Gakuin when he was a high school student. Garcetti pointed out that Los Angeles has deep ties to Japan with 250,000 persons of Japanese descent living in Los Angeles and 650,000 visitors coming to Los Angeles from Japan each year.
Abe spoke of several hot topic issues including a new defense cooperation agreement with the United States and his views on the three arrows of “Abenomics”: fiscal stimulus, monetary easing and structural reforms to open the economy. Abe was specifically asked about the third arrow of structural reform and whether it will succeed and he responded, “I am often criticized about the third arrow, that it has missed its target. However, I will tell you this, I was a member of my university’s archery team, so my arrow will definitely hit the target.”
What was refreshing about Abe’s speech was the light-hearted comments he interjected in his speech in addition to providing insights on his background and interests.
Some insights that stood out to me were:
- Abe attended the University of Southern California (USC) as a foreign student for 2 years in the late 70s.
- Abe is a fan of Hollywood movies and watching DVDs is a form of distressing after he has been grilled by opposition lawmakers.
- Abe’s favorite move is the Graduate and one of the things he enjoyed doing as a student at USC is to visit locations where the Graduate was filmed.
- Abe’s grandfather Nonbusuke Kishi, the Prime Minister of Japan in the 50s, stayed at the same Biltmore Millennium Hotel when he visited Los Angeles as Prime Minister.
Additionally, I was surprised that Abe actually sat at the head table to have lunch and socialized with guests. Abe was seated next to the US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy. I’ve been to other events with high-profiled speakers and the speaker usually comes to give the speech and leaves. Abe allowed photos with guests and even stood up to talk to certain guests. The luncheon felt intimate and provided special access to a high political official.
Yoshiki Attended the Prime Minister Abe Luncheon
Another highlight of the luncheon was meeting Japanese musician Yoshiki. Yoshiki was in attendance as an invited guest. Yoshiki is a “mega star” in Japan and has also established himself professionally in the United States (he wrote a score for the Golden Globe Awards). He graciously allowed guests to approach him and take photos with him, which is unthinkable to do in Japan due to his immense popularity. We briefly chatted with Yoshiki and he said that he has visited Sawtelle Japantown from time to time.
Now if I see Abe on television, I will think of him differently from the insights that I gleaned from the luncheon. And my encounter with Yoshiki was an extra bonus!
Yoshiki graciously allowed guests to approach him and take a photo (photo by SawtelleJapantown.com)
首相は７０年代 USCに ２年間留学した。
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