One of the people I met on my recent trip to Japan was Akira Uchimura, the Executive Director of the Nikkei Youth Network. He brought together a whole bunch of Nikkei (people of Japanese descent) from all over the world for a conference about Nikkei issues. Being one of the most interesting people I know, I sat down with Akira for a few minutes and got to know him better. These are the eight questions I decided to ask him:
Tell us where you are from and a little about yourself…
My name is Akira Uchimura, my father is Japanese (ex-diplomat) and my mother is a Chilean landscaper/Ikebana teacher/Kimono collector.
I was supposed to be born in El Salvador but a few months before I was born, there was a civil war in the country so my father sent my mother to Costa Rica while he was closing the Japanese Embassy in San Salvador. After I was born in September of 1980, we moved to Paraguay, Bolivia, Ecuador, El Salvador (to reopen the embassy after 12 years of civil war), then Japan and Suriname. We stayed in each country for about three years. After that, my father retired and we all moved to Chile. When I finished my bachelor’s degree in International Commerce (2004), I was accepted for a new scholarship called the Nippon Foundation Nikkei Scholarship, and went to Japan once more to study Public Administration at the International Christian University graduate school in Tokyo. During this period I got to meet many interesting people and organizations through different types of events, and one of the most interesting organizations was Peace Boat, a Japanese NPO that carries 900 Japanese tourists around the world to show them the reality of each country through their eyes and with no media filter. I got to board this ship as a translator during my summer break and liked it so much that I became a tour coordinator after graduating. After travelling the world for a year, I came back to Japan to become the coordinator for the 30 students of the Nikkei Scholarship. Then after two and a half years, I became the director of a new organization called Nikkei Youth Network, an NGO that wants to create a global interconnected community of Nikkei Leaders so that we can create a better and sustainable future.
What is the mission statement of your life?
I don’t have a mission statement for my whole life but more a mission statement for my day to day life, which is to enjoy and live that day to the fullest. When I turn 90, I would like to look back and smile, thinking that I have done the right things and have made as many people happy as I could.
What is the Nikkei Youth Network?
Nikkei Youth Network (NYN) is global network of young nikkei leaders which are connected by Kizuna, or a strong bond of friendship and loyalty to each other. It is an organization that is going to help people achieve the goals that they want to reach through collective power and trust.
The three pillar projects to help us achieve this are:
NYN Connect: A web portal called Hana.bi that will help people express and share their ideas and experiences through their own websites. http://hana.bi
NYN Action: Creating spaces where nikkei leaders from around the world can meet in person to show their ideas, meet new friends and collaborate on projects.
NYN Challenge: We are preparing a fund to support innovative projects that are for the benefit of their society.
What is a Nikkei?
The most common definition of a Nikkei is someone whose ancestor was a Japanese that immigrated to another country before/after World War II.
But we feel that this definition isn`t broad enough because it doesn`t include a lot of people such as the children of Japanese + other nationalities spouses. They are called ha-fu in Japan, hapa/Japanese American in the U.S., and Mestiços in Brazil. All these terms are related to blood ties, so then we have quarters when another generation comes in. But then how about the fourth-generation (1/8ers?) or the fifth-generation (1/16ers?)?? In countries where the immigration started earlier we already have the sixth generation of Nikkei! After many generations have passed, blood ties start lose meaning. Also there are about two million non-Japanese living in Japan, their children may or may not have blood ties, but they can be much more familiar with the Japanese culture than many Nikkeis who were raised only overseas. There`s also an increasing number of non-Japanese who are interested in the Japanese culture, having studied and mastered the culture in a way that it`s now part of their identity. So this is clearly a definition that is already outdated and we want to propose a new one, one that will last regardless of time or generations.
The Nikkei is someone who is multi-cultured that considers the Japanese culture part of their identity. We feel that this is a much more open definition and that this can be the first step to write a new chapter in Nikkei history.
What is coming up for Nikkei Youth Network?
2011 will be a very active year with many collaborative events and projects!
NYN Parties: We will start this year having concept NYN Parties (in Japan) every two months to keep the spirit up and a constant space where people can share their interesting ideas.
January 28th: NYN Hana.bi Party
March: Pecha Kucha Party
May: TedxEvents NYN Party
July, September, November parties to be announced.
Once we have enough experience and achieve the right recipe for the NYN Parties, we will start organizing them internationally as well.
COPANYxNYN Summit We are planning a collaborative summit in Cancun in September.
NYN Summit Japan 2011 Continuing last year’s first Summit, we will continue to have a NYN Summit in Japan as well.
NYN Retreat: A retreat for 5+ Delegates from different countries but of the same area (for example: 5 journalists, actors, etc.)
If you could work for any person in the world, who would it be and what job would you want?
I would like to work for Chris Anderson (Founder of Sapling Foundation, the organizers of TED.com) for a year as his assistant so I could contact, interview and coordinate all of the great speakers at ted.com and see how he made this project possible.
Any advice for Nikkeis around the world?
I call to all young Nikkei around the world to become more open, active and have fun!
I think that now is the right time to make this global network of Nikkei because we live in a time where we can fly to anywhere in the world in less than 50 hours, talk to anyone instantly as long as they have an internet connection. There are so many things that we can do together as an integrated group as other communities do, we just need the motivation so I hope you can help us make fun and sexy things together. 🙂
One of the things that you could do right away is to open your own website or blog in our global nikkei web portal Hana.bi (http://hana.bi). Here people from around the world who have a strong interest in Japan and Nikkei communities will be sharing their experiences and ideas.
How can people find out more about or get involved with the Nikkei Youth Network?
Bio: Akira Uchimura is a Chilean-Japanese born in Costa Rica. He likes to think big and dreams about making the Nikkei Youth Network into a global community to change the world into a better place through “Kizuna”. At the age of 24, he came to Japan as a Nippon Foundation Nikkei Scholar. After graduating, he made four trips around the world on Peace Boat, became the coordinator for the Nippon Foundation Nikkei Scholarship, and is now the executive director of Nikkei Youth Network. He loves food, graphic design and events where people share cool innovative ideas.