Japanese ambassador to the United States visits Seymour


Japan’s highest ranking diplomat based in the United States made a visit to Seymour on Monday.

Ambassador Shinsuke J. Sugiyama toured Seymour Tubing, spoke to local manufacturers, businessmen and businesswomen and others during a luncheon at Aisin Holdings of America. He also fielded questions from the press.

Sugiyama, who has served as ambassador to the United States since March, was making his first trip to the Hoosier State.

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He was joined by Consul-General Naoki Ito, who is in charge of Consulate-General of Japan’s Chicago office. Japan has 18 consulates throughout the United States and its territories. Consulates process work visas and legal documents. Ito’s office oversees work in 10 Midwestern states, including Indiana, on behalf of Japan.

The stop was one of two in Indiana on Monday with the second being a meeting with Gov. Eric Holcomb at the Governor’s mansion in Indianapolis.

Both stops were part of a Grassroots Caravan, a program established by Ito that serves as an opportunity for the consulate’s office to learn more about business relationships between the United States and Japan and to network.

Seymour Mayor Craig Luedeman said it was the first time that an ambassador from any country has visited Seymour or Jackson County.

“This was a big day for Seymour,” he said. “I hope the general public understands the importance of this event.”

The caravan is a project Ito developed since he was appointed the consul-general in February 2017.

There have been 12 caravan trips since September with six being in Indiana. The caravan made a stop in Columbus in October.

This is the first caravan that has featured Sugiyama, Ito said.

“Our main purpose is to reach out to the local communities where Japanese companies have already made investments so that business leaders and political leaders in the communities will be more aware of the significance of the Japanese companies’ contribution through direct investments in the local economy,” he said. “Another aim is to further economic investments and partnerships on both ways. Not necessarily just Japanese, but Indiana-based companies that do business with Japan for mutual benefits.”

Sugiyama said when he became ambassador in March, he was told by Japanese officials, including Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, he needed to build relationships with political and government leaders but also those who have made an impact on business relations between the two countries. He said his visit to Seymour helps accomplish that goal.

“We need to see people in various places in this country,” he said. “Unless I see each state with their governors and their people, I can’t tell people what the United States is all about.”

He said traveling around to see all of the United States can be difficult because of its size, but it’s important for him to do it.

“I believe that seeing is believing,” he said. “I do believe it is a learning process for me so I can be in a much better position to tell my whole experience.”

Efforts to travel the country and learn more led him to a tour of Seymour Tubing, which manufacturers steel tubing for automotive and other uses in the city’s Eastside Industrial Park. He said he learned about their products and that the organization is a good corporate citizen.

“The company has a great health care system for their employees and a scholarship program for them, so these things are quite important for them,” he said. “Investments have been done in such a way that Japanese investors have tried to be good neighbors.”

Meetings such as the one with Seymour Tubing and local, state and federal officials could plant the seed for more investments from Japanese businesses, he said.

“We are committed to further Japanese investments, which will create more American jobs and more American parts to be used,” he said. “When I get back to Washington, D.C., I can tell my own experience to everybody.”

Additional investments is a topic Sugiyama expected to discuss with Holcomb, whom he said deserves praise for leadership. He also expected the two to discuss trade concerns.

So far, Japan has been exempted from steel and aluminum tariffs levied against U.S. allies Canada and Mexico.

“Frankly speaking, we have a strong concern,” he said.

He also spoke of concerns the Trump administration would use Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which the U.S. Department of Commerce has concluded that steel and aluminum imports “threaten to impair the national security” in a recent decision.

“But we are U.S. allies, and I don’t see a good explanation with us being an ally and the 232 being good reasoning,” he said, adding trade policies have not been established, so much remains unknown.

Scott Turpin, president of Aisin World of America, said 13,500 are employed by Aisin in North America, while discussing the impact of the relationship between the two countries.

Turpin said he has been able to welcome many important guests to the corporation and was excited to welcome Sugiyama and Ito. Turpin said Sugiyama was an honorary Hoosier since it was his first trip to Indiana.

“I’m still trying to figure out the definition of Hoosier. There are many,” he said as the crowd laughed. “We are humbled by your presence, Mr. Ambassador.”

Luedeman presented both with wooden bowls from Dudleytown Crafter to give the two a gift from Jackson County. He received gifts from both Sugiyama and Ito.

He said it was clear to see how influential Japanese investments have been in not only Seymour but all of Jackson County throughout the years.

“The importance of Japanese investment in Seymour is very obvious as you look around this room and drive around our Eastside Industrial Park,” he said.

Aisin employs 2,000 workers in Jackson County, making it one of the top employers here, Luedeman said.

“We know the importance of partners, and all these organizations have been great partners,” he said.

Ito said Jackson County’s strength in securing investments comes from consistent, local organization.

“Someone like Jim Plump, who has been leading the organization (JCIDC) for more than 30 years is quite an achievement,” he said.

The state as a whole benefits from that type of organization, but the work ethic of its citizens is its most precious resource, he said.

“Midwesterners’ work ethic is very good and similar to the Japanese,” he said. “That’s the strength of Indiana.”

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