By Paula Brainard and Christina Le
Diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are not simply workplace concepts, they are about creating a culture and environment in which all feel welcome to be their authentic selves. Mission Japan’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) has tackled difficult issues through an extensive speaker series and community conversations, in addition to tackling concrete actions such as reforming bidding and assignments processes to increase transparency and equity. Fostering a culture of inclusivity also applies to the names of the buildings where they live and work. Upon learning the history of former-Ambassador Joseph Grew’s documented attempts to keep women and African Americans out of the Foreign Service, the CDI embarked on a labor of love, in close coordination with Mission Japan leadership, to successfully rename embassy spaces in honor of diverse Americans who have contributed to U.S.-Japan relations. Deputy Secretary of State Wendy R. Sherman and First Lady of the United States Jill Biden presided over two separate name unveiling ceremonies in July 2021.
A residential tower on the embassy housing compound was dedicated in honor of Beate Sirota Gordon (1923-2012), who played a critical role in writing the clauses for equal civil rights for women into the Constitution of modern Japan. General Douglas MacArthur recruited Gordon to help create a new Japanese constitution following World War II. She did not take this responsibility lightly and saw an opportunity to create a more equal society. As a result, Articles 14 and 24 secured women’s rights and democratic freedoms in Japan. Afterwards, Gordon became the performing arts director for the Japan Society and, later, for the Asia Society where she facilitated cultural exchanges and paved new ways of experiencing Asian performing arts in the United States.
In addition to renaming the tower, a guest room in the U.S. ambassador’s residence was dedicated in honor of Irene Hirano Inouye (1948-2020) and Senator Daniel K. Inouye (1924-2012), who committed their lives to public service and were passionate about empowering Japanese-American communities. They founded the U.S.-Japan Council in 2009, and Irene Hirano Inouye’s philanthropy included recovery efforts after the Great East Japan Earthquake and the embassy’s TOMODACHI Initiative. Senator Inouye served in the U.S. Army during WWII and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, and Purple Heart with Cluster. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013, becoming the first—and, to date, only—senator to receive both the Medal of Freedom and the Medal of Honor.
The impactful legacies of these individuals will continue to resonate for generations. Their lives demonstrate the importance of representation and that diversity is not only about having a seat at the table, but also using your voice to make impactful changes in the process.
Paula Brainard is the office management specialist to the deputy chief of mission of Embassy Tokyo’s Executive Office and a member of Mission Japan’s CDI. Christina Le is a pol/mil officer and co-chair of Mission Japan’s CDI.