Remarks by Consul General Yoichiro Yamada at the Japanese Agricultural Trainee Program (JATP) Graduation Ceremony (October 10, 2017)

Good afternoon. My name is Yoichiro Yamada, I am Consul-General of Japan in Seattle.

I would like to begin by congratulating the 44 young participants who have completed JATP training. I would like to commend the Japan Agricultural Exchange Council for providing this impressive 19-month program for Japanese nationals to learn about agriculture from US farms and colleges.

I would like to acknowledge the presence of a few persons here today that have been instrumental to the success of JATP for over fifty years. Dr. Terrence Leas is President of Big Bend Community College located in Moses Lake. Mr. Paul Hirai is a trustee of this college. After the students arrived in the United States, Big Bend Community College provides a two-month course to all JATP students before they start their training at their respective farms. Dr. Leas, Mr. Hirai, thank you for your long-term support!

I would like to acknowledge the presence and contributions of Mr. Derek Sandison, Director of the Department of Agriculture for the State of Washington, and the Honorable Tom Dent, State Representative from the 13thlegislative district that includes Moses Lake. Representative Dent just came back from Japan where he visited as a member of a delegation to strengthen economic ties. Thank you for your presence, Mr. Sanderson and Representative Dent, it means a lot to us.

I would also like to recognize the presence of four host families that hosted trainees at their farms, the Mosby Farm, Gebbers Farm, Yoshitomi Bros. Farm and Oregon Roses Farm! And lastly, we congratulate the efforts and success of the very organizers of this program, Mr. Takashi Yoshikawa and Mr. Yoshinaga.

Ladies and Gentlemen, under the JATP, more than 5,000 young Japanese aspiring to absorb innovative ideas and methods have benefitted from this program. They learn in an environment of agriculture quite different from that prevailing in Japan. The experience of coping with the challenges particular to a country of large land and innovative managerial and commercial skills inspires the students profoundly. Many of them have become agents of change, that is, leaders, in Japanese agriculture. In fact, some of such trainees become more than innovative farmers. One of our Consulate staff said that last year, when she worked in a town council office in Ehime prefecture, its well-loved and respected mayor was a former JATP trainee, who, in fluent English, spoke very fondly of his experience in Arizona. According to her, his arrival in that office brought an optimistic, globally-minded and forward-thinking mentality to the entire town.

Japan and the State of Washington have a strong relationship, not just in agriculture but in many areas of human exchange. Some 50% of frozen potatoes produced in this state is exported to Japan. Some 90% of pasta produced in this state is exported to Japan. If you visit Pike Place Market, you find several panels of pictures depicting the Japanese-American farmers before WWII, who formed the majority of vendors in that famous market before their incarceration in concentration camps. I think it is befitting to and emblematic of our close ties that JATP is based in the State of Washington.

Since some time ago, Japanese agriculture has been at a crossroads. In a country where the number of children is declining and the population is rapidly ageing, the effects of these trends are felt most vividly in rural areas. Many farming families are struggling to find successors. Ambitious and innovative young people often stumble into bureaucratic obstacles when implementing new ideas. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has therefore introduced a few key measures to liberalize agriculture. The young innovators that have completed the JATP program will be at the front line for historic change.

Compared to the US, Japanese agriculture may probably look inefficient. But it does not mean that Japanese agriculture is inferior. It actually claims the world’s leading position in quality and variety in many ranges of agricultural products. Our Kobe beef, Koshihikari rice, Fuji apples, Kyoho grapes and Fukushima peaches are just a few examples of such globally-known products. The trials and experiments by Japanese farmers to ever improve the quality of products over the years have resulted in world-acclaimed goods sought by consumers and producers alike.

I was talking with my wife, who is standing here, yesterday. She is learning English and she admits it is an uphill struggle. I asked her the English word for No-gyo, or agriculture. She replied, “Yes, of course. It is ugly culture”. –You know, the Japanese have difficulty differentiating between R and L sounds. I said, “Ehh, you are close, but you are probably wrong,” and explained the meaning of the word “ugly”. She did not look happy to hear that. She said “Oh, I thought that the word “agree” means consent, so “agree-culture” must be associated with some pleasant notion.” And I said, “You are absolutely right this time. Agriculture is very agreeable.” In her defense, I must add that she studied molecular biology at Tokyo University of Agriculture(Tokyo Nodai) and worked and trained in several farms, and is quite knowledgeable about agriculture and its products.

This afternoon, we get together to celebrate the achievements and completion of the JATP program. We are especially thankful today, as the Mosby Farm has kindly provided vegetables and fruits, which my chef has used in preparing today’s buffet. Please enjoy these dishes when the lunch table opens later.

To conclude my remarks, to the Japanese participants in the JATP program, I wish you bright future and safe journey. To the US participants, I thank you again and hope for continued cooperation. Thank you for being here today.