A Slice of Japan in the Heart of Hollywood

In late August, the Japanese community -- comprised of expats like me who will eventually return to Japan -- and the Japanese-American community were joined by our American friends in celebrating the grand opening of Japan House Los Angeles, an initiative that seeks to foster awareness and appreciation of Japan and Japanese culture globally. The highlights of the occasion were the appearances of Foreign Minister Taro Kono and rock star YOSHIKI, 2 men from very different backgrounds.

Japan House has locations in Sao Paolo and London, and the LA branch is its third. Japan House LA seeks to showcase the very best of Japanese art, design, gastronomy, innovation, and technology from its Hollywood & Highland entertainment complex. Despite its name, it's not a house. It consists of an upscale boutique on the second floor where Japanese products such as spices and pricy kitchen tools are sold, a restaurant on the 5th floor that serves authentic Japanese food along with a spectacular view, and a multi-purpose event space used for everything from seminars to world-class gastronomy events.

Kono spoke for about 10 minutes in English to 800 sharply-dressed participants at the grand opening reception held in the Ray Dolby Ball Room. Having covered many politicians who only spoke in Japanese, this was very refreshing. Kono was funny, thoughtful, and poked fun at the US president.

The 55 year old recalled his first visit to LA at the age of 13, which was also his first time overseas, during which he excitedly called home to say, “Mom! My bedroom has its own bathroom and shower!” Even Kono, whose father was also a Foreign Minister, did not have an individual bathroom growing up. He mentioned Japan House LA President Yuko Kaifu’s name twice, knowing how hard she and her team had worked to reach that day, and spoke about the importance of trade and investment.

Kono said that had investments by Japanese companies to the US been included, the US would have a trade surplus with Japan rather than a deficit. “Please tell President Trump that putting tariffs on steel or auto parts or whatever doesn’t help to decrease the trade deficit. The only way to eradicate it is to increase Japanese investment in the US to create more jobs and more exports,” he stated. But Kono got his loudest applause when he jabbed Trump for withdrawing from the TPP trade deal, saying, "We are happy to change the Trans Pacific Partnership to the Trump Pacific Partnership if the US will return." This being Los Angeles, it was probable that many in the room did not vote for Trump in 2016.

This video is the full version of Foreign Minister Taro Kono's speech at the Japan House opening ceremony in LA

Going into the event, I knew very little of Yoshiki, who wore a white jacket and black shirt for the occasion. But after having had a chance to interview him and seeing him up close, I developed admiration for him. He said that he agreed to become the advisor to Japan House because he is one of the few Japanese in the entertainment business who has lived in LA for more than 20 years, and he wanted to give back to the community.

He then performed "Anniversary," which he also played for the Japanese Emperor on the 10th anniversary of his reign. "I want to thank America for letting me pursue my dream -- an American dream, even though I am from another country. I’d like to show my appreciation," the 52 year old told the audience in English before sitting at the piano and performing the US national anthem that rocked the house. Yoshiki, being a perfectionist, had rehearsed until 5AM that morning. Also, I overheard him talking to his technicians about the mirror ball and I understood why once he played his signature "Endless Rain." It made the experience feel like a fantasy.

You might think of Japanese men in their 50s as reserved in public and overly apologetic for their poor English. But the 2 men proved otherwise with their intelligence and wit. If you're ever in heart of Hollywood, Japan House Los Angeles is a good place to learn about and experience the Japanese culture.