Got Cherry Blossom Questions? Ambassadors Can Help
By Andrea Kemp
Roll Call Staff
Which way to the sushi and sake? What time does the parade start? Just how many trees are there? Attendees at the upcoming National Cherry Blossom Festival are likely to have such questions. Luckily for them, the Goodwill Ambassadors — easy to spot in their festive pink blazers — will have answers.
One of those ambassadors is 24-year-old Yuuki Shinomiya, a MetLife political action committee worker who interned both on Capitol Hill and in Japan’s Senate equivalent.
There are seven individuals this year serving as Goodwill Ambassadors. Their duties are “to be a liaison with the festival and the attendees, as well as the festival and the VIPs, but also to do some translating to make our guests from Japan feel more comfortable,” said Diana Mayhew, executive director of the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
Mayhew added of this year’s ambassadors, “It’s a quality group of young adults. Their mission is to promote the friendship between the United States and Japan and the culture of Japan as well as the festival.”
A 2005 graduate of Oberlin College in Ohio, Shinomiya spent most of his youth in Tokyo. The product of a youth spent in two entirely different cultures, Shinomiya is credited for being extremely adept at merging the East and the West in his daily interactions, a characteristic that made him a strong standout for this year’s ambassador program, according to Theresa Belpulsi, chairwoman for the ambassadors.
Belpulsi said Shinomiya “understands both cultures … because he’s now been a part of both of those cultures he can find those common interests,” and also noted “he’s very mature for his age. He’s a very confident kind of person; the way that he speaks in public, he’s a leader, he’s definitely got that leadership ability.”
Shinomiya said he is grateful for his cultured youth. “I think having lived in both countries gives me both perspectives,” he said. “I can connect with a lot of people.”
Possessing a strong Asian and American perspective also has spilled into Shinomiya’s political aspirations. In the summer following his junior year of college, Shinomiya interned for Toshio Ogawa of the Diet (a segment of the Asian government comparable to the Senate) in Japan. From January to June 2005, Shinomiya served as an intern and staff assistant in the office of Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.).
“Basically the same campaign techniques are used in Japan … knocking on doors, and doing PR and everything else, but that was very eye-opening,” Shinomiya said of the two political experiences.
Kim Fuller, legislative assistant to Meeks, remembers fondly the time she spent working with Shinomiya.
“We really didn’t want him to leave,” Fuller said. “He was a really good fit for our office.”
Despite being happy in his current PAC work, Shinomiya still has more political aspirations. While he currently does not intend to go back overseas, he still wants to merge his knowledge into a successful career in American politics.
“I used to think I wanted to run for an office in Japan, but at this point I’m leaning towards running for an office here,” Shinomiya said. “Since Asia is such a big area coming up politically and also economically, I really want to work on the international — not only trade, but international exchange and that aspect of politics.”
For the time being, though, Shinomiya is excited for the opportunities of his upcoming ambassador stint: “I’d like to represent the whole festival, but I’m really looking forward to … talking to the visitors about what this whole festival is about and what great friendship between Japan and the U.S. can bring and showcasing the friendship between the two countries.”
The National Cherry Blossom Festival kicks off March 31 and runs through April 15. For a schedule of events, see www.nationalcherryblossomfestival.org.