By G. Chambers Williams III / The Tennessea
Tennessee might just be the perfect post for the new Japanese
consul-general, Motohiko Kato, who took the top position at Japan's
Nashville consulate in October: He's an Elvis fan and a Civil War
Kato, who represents Japanese citizens and business
interests in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky and Louisiana,
has already made several trips to Memphis, where he visited Graceland
and viewed the rock 'n' roll king's grave site.
"Elvis Presley was
a wonderful musician," Kato said during an interview at the consulate,
on the ninth floor of the Palmer Plaza on West End Avenue. "I was
surprised to see so many birthday cards on the tomb, and people singing
'Happy Birthday' to him."
For his study of the Civil War, Kato has already been to some of the battlefields in Tennessee, he said.
recently visited Chattanooga, a beautiful city," said Kato, who speaks
English fluently. "I'm very much interested in the Civil War, so I try
to visit the places where battles occurred."
Back at work, Kato's
primary function as consul-general is to protect the interests of the
Japanese people and businesses here and to promote more trade between
Tennessee and his native country.
"A major responsibility is to
promote business opportunities in the state, so we are ready at any time
to try to help Japanese companies invest here," said Kato, a career
diplomat who began his service in 1982. "We also have to take care of
the interests of the Japanese companies.
"We also want to
establish a good friendship with the people here and promote cultural
opportunities so local people can obtain a deeper understanding of our
Kato came to Nashville from his most recent post in
Manila, where he was deputy chief of mission for the Japanese embassy in
Pleasant memories of Tennessee
His career has taken him from Japan to Washington, D.C., Afghanistan, Singapore, Iran and Paris, as well.
worked at the Japanese embassy in Washington in 2007, but that wasn't
his first trip to the United States. Early in his career, he studied
English at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, which led to his first
"About 25 years ago, when I was a student at
Swarthmore, I decided to take a long driving trip with some American
friends, and I visited Nashville," Kato said.
His recollections of the area then were reinforced when he returned last fall to take his new post, he said.
is a beautiful state," he said. "But what has always impressed me most
is the wonderful hospitality of the people. That's why Tennessee is
attracting so many Japanese investors and Japanese people. They feel
very welcome here."
180 Japanese firms do business in state
There is so much Japanese investment in Tennessee that the Japanese
government felt compelled to move the consulate here from New Orleans,
"Tennessee is a wonderful place for these investors,"
he said. "Currently, more than 63 percent of the foreign direct
investment in Tennessee has come from Japan. There are 180 Japanese
companies successfully doing business here, and there are 3,700 Japanese
residents in the state."
Bridgestone, the world's largest tire
manufacturer, has its Americas headquarters in Nashville, as well as
manufacturing facilities in La Vergne and McMinnville. Nissan, Japan's
No. 2 automaker, opened its first U.S. plant in Smyrna in 1982 and moved
its North American headquarters here from Southern California in 2006.
Both companies have brought some of their top Japanese executives here,
Among them is Chikahiko Nobori, a senior human relations
manager at the Nissan headquarters in Franklin, who has already met Kato
and attended functions at his home.
"He is friendly and has been
very open to us and has been very supportive of the Japanese community
here," Nobori said. "I believe the function of the consul-general is to
help the Japanese companies and people here, and it is very important
for us to have him here."
And, he added, Kato "serves excellent food at his house."
no accident. Kato brought his own chef from Japan and uses him to
prepare meals for the many groups he brings to his home as part of his
outreach to the community.
"At my residence, we are ready to
invite many American people," Kato said. "My chef from Tokyo is eager to
serve authentic Japanese cuisine to the people here as we establish
more wonderful friendships."
Among the many invited guests so far has been Ralph Schulz, president
of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, who said he has been to
various functions at Kato's home.
Schulz said Kato's warmth and friendliness are helping him quickly forge friendships throughout the community.
has been very aggressive about getting out and meeting people," Schulz
said. "He entertains frequently at the consulate residence. I have spent
a lot of time with him already, even more than with his predecessor,
Hiroshi Sato, who left here to become the ambassador to Cuba."
strikes me most is that he is friendly, engaging and knowledgeable,"
Schulz said. "If you meet with him, he will fill his ambassadorial role
of letting you know what is happening with the economy in Japan, the
recovery from the earthquake and tsunami two years ago. But he moves
quickly into their desire to be deeply connected to our community. He is
an economic developer, and he's looking to enhance exports from
Tennessee to Japan and to bring in more foreign direct investment."
promoting more Japanese business opportunities in the state, Kato says
he also wants to help Tennesseans learn about Japanese culture.
my surprise, there are universities here providing courses in the
Japanese language and Asian studies, including Japanese history and
culture," Kato said. "Many local students are learning our language and
our cultural history."
He reaches out to those classes and makes himself available to give talks to them, he said.
also had praise for the American people for the U.S. response to the
double tragedies on March 11, 2011, when the earthquake and tsunami
wrecked a significant portion of eastern Japan.
"It claimed the
lives of 20,000 people in Japan," Kato said. "But the United States
immediately decided to extend a big helping hand to the people in
shelters and in difficult situations, and the Japanese people will never
forget that. It was an awful disaster, but we are recovering, and the
new (government) is working hard to restore the Japanese economy.
the affected area, there is still room for the (government) to do
more," he said. "Many people still are in temporary housing. But the
Japanese people are united, and we are working hard to get through