The Present April 10th, 2015
Surprising…shocking actually… are the only words to describe how I felt about what happened shortly before noon on March 24th, 2015.
Having just completed his duties as Consul General of Japan in Denver, Mr. Ikuhiko Ono, paid a surprise visit to see me on his last day in Denver before returning to Japan.
During his tenure as Consul General in Denver, many of Mr. Ono’s deliberate actions had caused a great of damage to our cross-cultural organization and he said he had come to apologize for his actions. As he said to me, he wanted to leave his post and retire with a clear conscience. With his head lowered, he apologized to me repeatedly…
As I listened to him, I remembered a similar situation a year ago when the Consul General also visited At that time, the Consul General was about to be exposed by the Japanese media for wrong doings based on leaked information. “Someone has to take responsibility for this” he had told me at that time. On that prior visit too, the Consul General’s visit was unannounced and alone which meant the visit was off the record…
One Year Ago April 24th, 2014
On March 11th, 2011, a great earthquake and tsunami devastated a large part of Northern Japan. The scope of this disaster was unprecedented in Japan’s history and caused a crisis of epic proportions for the Japanese. The damage that occurred at the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant alone threatened the destruction of Japan as a nation.
The first to arrive to assist Japan in this time of great crisis was the US military. Under the banner of “Operation Tomodachi” (Operation Friends) they came to help in the rescue and support efforts. Needless to say, the victims of this natural disaster were very pleased to see the US military and appreciated the helping hand so desperately needed. The USA Operation Tomodachi gained instant and unconditional recognition and gratitude from the Japanese people.
While Operation Tomodachi worked on rescue operations in Japan, another US effort was underway; an effort not so widely known or publicized. This was a NORAD mission commanded by the North American Aerospace Defense Command, headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Commanders were on alert to defend against any unforeseeable missile attacks at the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plants; an attack that could potentially destroy Japan.
Immediately after learning of the scope of the damage from the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, NORAD sent special force units to the area; ignoring the dangers associated with the radiation contamination that had not yet been publicized. This involvement was very different than the involvement of Operation Tomodachi but not in any way less important. One cannot imagine what would have been the future for Japan if any hostile nations or groups landed a bomb or missile on the damaged nuclear plant at Fukushima.
Fortunately for all concerned, Japan’s Self Defense Forces and US Forces sent to the region resumed control of the situation and the NORAD unit returned to their bases un-noticed. I personally have extended my appreciation to 4 of these units who risked their lives and their health in the safe keeping of Japan. If you think that there is no way that this kind of threat was not a possibility and that there is not any nation brash enough to do such a thing…think again. The actions facilitated by NORAD were the embodiment of the principles of “Defense” and Japan should be forever grateful.
The Japanese people surely appreciated the support from the United States, some even expressing their appreciation on the internet by saying they would agree to become the 51st state of the USA! The words “THANK YOU” were written on the beaches torn asunder by the tsunami and even small children waved American flags. Only a very few among them would ever know anything about the selfless bravery of the NORAD missions and their efforts to collect data to protect Japan from potentially hostile groups. The common people of Japan thought the world of the US, but even in this time of crisis, some of the Minshuto administration of Japan did not view this as a positive thing; some members of the Democratic Party in Japan were quoted as criticizing “Operation Tomodachi as a US political performance…
Host Nation Support-
At the time of the earthquake disaster in Japan, the US and Japan were embroiled in tough international negotiations over the expenditures and financial responsibilities of the US Armed Forces stationed in Japan. These negotiations were called “Omoiyari Yosan” (or thoughtfulness budget). Just prior to the earthquake and tsunami, the Democratic Party in Japan and the Japanese administration had taken an advantageous position in the negotiations over the previously mentioned budget. The advantage had tipped to the Japanese in part because of a slight misrepresentation of Japan-US relations by Mr. Kevin K Mayher during a speech to college students, as was reported in the Japanese media on March 6th, 201l. The resulting scandal had turn the tables in Japan’s favor, and then the earthquake happened…on March 11th, 2011, and the great earthquake and tsunami struck Japan. Within days, the US Armed Forces launched “Operation Tomodachi” which turned the tables on these negations again.
There was another reason why the DPJ Administration could not whole-heartedly thank the US for dispatching military assistance after the earthquake. There is a legal agreement between the US and Japan that official consent is required before any deployment can be made by US Forces within Japan. The NORAD unit moved in with the importance intelligence gathering mission within Japan before Operation Tomodachi and certainly before any consent was officially given. This put the DPJ Administration in an awkward position that some representatives defined as a definite political problem for the Japanese Administration.
One year exactly, to the day, after the great earthquake and tsunami disaster in North Eastern Japan, I invited a 15 member Japanese drumming performance group to come to Colorado to perform a “Thank You” Concert Series to thank our US friends for all that was done for Japan with support and recovery efforts.
Through our non-profit organization Nippon Kan, my goal was to express the appreciation of the people of Japan on a civilian level; it was not to be an official government organized campaign. I did not want however to act without respect for Japanese government establishment in Denver and agreed to accommodate requests of support from Japanese government agencies in Denver. We received some financial help from the Japan Foundation and had the endorsement and support of the Consulate General of Japan at Denver.
At first, the collaborative effort with the Consulate General of Japan at Denver was cooperative; they even helped me fill out a grant application with the Japan Foundation. From the beginning I had intended to provide all of the funding for this effort, but the offer of support from the Consulate seemed very honest and sincere so I reluctantly decided to accept the Consulate General as a sponsor of this event.
The Consulate consented to be named as an official sponsor and allowed their name and logo to be used on printed advertising for the Thank You drumming concert series.
One of the concerts was scheduled to be performed on March 11, 2012, one year to the day after the earthquake in Japan at the Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs. Over 1000 military and civilian guests attended this special concert to thank all of the military personnel and their families who took part in the NORAD mission to assist Japan after the earthquake disaster.
The concert was well attended and was an incredible success except for one critically important factor. The Consul General of Japan, a Japanese official who I was to learn had demonstrated his anti-American views on American Forces on numerous occasions, Consul General of Japan at Denver, Ikuhiko Ono, without notice, did not show up.
For this concert series we had an “Event endorsement contract” in place with the Consulate General of Japan at Denver and we had a personal verbal agreement with the Consul General that he would be present to officiate the event. The senior Consul who was co-coordinating the event on behalf of the Consul General made a trip to Peterson Air Force Base with our staff to check on all of the arrangements being prepared for the Consul General’s visit by Peterson personnel including his parking spot, the waiting room where he would wait before the concert, and the elaborate welcome reception being arranged for his visit. All preparations had been checked and approved.
As the date of the concert grew near, we began to receive numerous requests from the Consul General to identify the names and ranks of the high-ranking military officers who would be attending the concert at Peterson Air Force Base. As a diplomat in his position, Consul General Ono should have known the schedules of high ranking officers would not be publicized during early planning stages for obvious security reasons, but the Consul General persisted. In an attempt to cooperate with the Consul General, the Peterson Air Force staff in charge released the information that officers attending the concert would be Colonel in rank.
Consul General Ono sent us a reply stating that the rank of Colonel was too low for corresponding officers for him to be present and that to be comparable, US officers must be at least the rank of a four star general, preferably the Commander of NORAD.
This was an outrageous demand especially days before the concert was to be held. Consul General Ono insisted he had a direct line to the President of the United States and that his rank was the peace-time equivalent of a four-star General. The reality was that considering the rank of the Consul General in Japan with MOFA, Consul General Ono would not even get his own office in the US military, much less be consider an equivalent rank.
On the day of the concert at Peterson Air Force Base, Consul General did not show up, without any excuse what so ever. As we arrived at the base in a caravan of vehicles from Denver, we were greeted by a neon sign that had been set for the occasion and a Japanese national flag. The sign read, “Welcome Mr. Ikuhiko Ono, Consul General of Japan”…Sushi chefs had been hired by the Peterson military staff to set up a welcome reception for the Consul General and attended high-ranking officers who had come for the occasion.
The PURPOSE of this concert series was to express the appreciation of the Japanese people for what the US Forces did to help Japan after the epic earthquake and tsunami one year ago. At Peterson Air Force Base, the Color Guard displayed the US and Japanese flags and the band played “Kimigayo”, the Japanese national anthem to welcome the Consul General. The concert hall was filled to capacity with military personnel and their families and attending officers filled the front row dressed in dress uniforms waiting for the Consul General’s arrival…
When we all realized that Consul General Ono was not going to show up, the coordinating Peterson Air Fore Base officers muttered words of disbelief and confusion. They had worked to hard so hard to welcome Consul General Ono to their base, and when the guest of honor did not show, I can easily imagine what was going through their minds. The staff was professional however and quickly adjusted the schedule. The concert went on as if nothing had happened. I felt enormous respect for their flexibility as they adapted quickly to the circumstances at hand.
Following this incident, I attempted to ask Consul General Ono for an explanation through his staff and I still have not received a viable response. There are no words to excuse the Consul General Ono’s actions. His actions were intentional and showed total disrespect for the US Armed Forces and the citizens of the USA. Consul General Ono has said nothing and in my view should be viewed as an official from Japan with anti-US views.
Who would want to parachute down into an area near a nuclear power plant that had been severely damaged by a natural disaster? One cannot know what kind of personal dangers are involved in exposing oneself to this kind of disaster, but the US Forces carried out this mission for the defense of their ally; Japan, without hesitation. We cannot forget the US Forces for their bravery and their family members who also bear their risk. The Consul General’s actions can only be described as stamping on the US with muddy shoes.
After numerous requests for an explanation, I finally received a message from Consul General Ono. “ I am under no obligation to talk about it” was his response. Dissatisfied with this response, I asked again for an explanation. I was told, “The Consulates duty is to protect Japanese citizens in Denver. Maintaining relations with the American Military community are not our responsibility. In particular, maintaining relations with US Forces is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense-not the Consulate General of Japan”.
This was a nonsensical response and way off target. When you meet people in Denver, it is not easy to find a person who is not related to or associated with military personnel. Most Denverites that I have met will answer proudly when asked if they know someone in the US Forces. “Yes! My father is/was or my mother is/was or my brother…my sister…my uncle…my cousin…my friend have served”.
If it is only US Military related matters that are not the Consul-General’s responsibility then why would the Consul General also refuse to speak at a following concert in this series that was held at the University of Denver for over 1200 residents of Denver? Why did he refuse to send a message of support for the event as the Governor, Mayor, Senators and Congresswomen of Colorado had done? Why did he ask for special seating at the concert then prohibit his staff from attending? This concert had nothing to do with the US Military; it was a thank you to the people of the United States from the people of Japan.
The Consul General says his job is to improve the relationships with Japan and the public and private sectors of the US, but I think this is just talk. He disregarded the important role he could have played for the people of Japan at this concert, a purely private sector activity. I learned later that he excused his actions relating to this concert series to his staff “for the national interest of Japan” and “That is what a diplomat must do”. I do not understand his logic, to me it seems he is only thinking of himself and what best suits his own self interests and ambitions.
The role and duties of the Japanese consulate in Denver are many. They issue visas and provide support and protection for Japanese citizens in Colorado. Public relations, cultural exchange, intelligence gathering and many more tasks are considered responsibilities of the Consulate. Public relations and cultural exchange activities are suppose to be with whom? If you remove everyone that is related in some way to the US Military Forces, who would be left as a target for these activities? Nobody.
If the Consul General refuses to show respect for the US Military and those related to them, then there is really no need for a Japanese Consulate office. At the time of this event in 2012 and even up through 2014 when this article was written, the DPJ Administration in Japan was clearly anti-US. This was demonstrated by DPJ Administration policies seeking the reduction in US presence by downsizing US bases in Japan and by the choice of the Consul General they had appointed to Denver.
NOTE: Currently, the new Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has clearly improved relations between Japan and the US and current relations are going quite well between our two countries.
As I write this article, President Barack Obama is visiting Japan, and details of the visit are being reported on the Japanese television news. US-Japan relations are reported as solid and strong. In audience with the Emperor and Empress of Japan, Emperor Akihito officially expressed his gratitude to President Obama for the support provided by the USA during the time after the great earthquake and tsunami disaster in Japan in 201l.
Compare the graceful gratitude of Emperor Akihito with the actions and comments of Consul General Ono in Denver. He declared US military matters and relations not his responsibility despite the fact that US Forces fully support Japan’s own defense. He refused to even be present to say “Thank you” when fellow Japanese people created the opportunity to express appreciation to the military forces and people of the US. The excuse that US officials attending were not equal to his rank is atrocious.
Consul General Ono ignores his commitments to others, but when it comes to promoting his own advancement he gladly invests his time and resources. His performance as an official representing Japan did nothing to promote US-Japan relations; his service was to his own personal ambitions and private benefits. This kind of self serving performance as a representative of government can only serve to hurt the relationship between our two countries with a friendly alliance.
The Japanese people are proud to be a nation of people whose character is built on good manners and courtesy. The behavior of this official has gone against the moral principles that the Japanese people stand for. Regrettably there are many people who are not aware of the true reality of the situation here in Denver; it is for this reason that I write this report.
I ask the people of America, can you accept the fact that the highest ranking government official from Japan stationed in Denver is a person who could not express any appreciation to all of you, your sons, daughters, husbands or wives that took action for the security of Japan without hesitation or concern for their own safety after the earthquake disaster in Japan? YOU CAN FORGIVE OR DO YOU AGREE? Is my opinion too radical?
The Japanese people that live in the USA, including myself work jointly with the people of the US to promote mutual understanding between our countries. For a Japanese diplomatic official to ignore, disregard or even obstruct such activities for their own personal advancement are not actions that should be tolerated by any nation.
Japan’s peace, stability and prosperity would not exist without all of the contributions that have been made by the United States and US Military Forces. The ungrateful actions of one small official reflect negatively on all of the people of Japan.
This year, the Japanese media has begun to investigate Mr. Ono. Mr. Ono now comes to me privately with the intention of settling this issue. He says to me, “Someone has to take the responsibility for this”… The meeting was recorded on our security cameras, in case someone is interested.
April 24th, 2014
Refocusing on the present, I again asked him as he stood before me, “It has been 3 years and you still have not explained satisfactorily why you did not attend the thank you drumming concert that we organized for the military here in Colorado; the concert that you were scheduled to attend as a special guest. How could you disappoint these men and women and bring dishonor to all of us involved with this effort?”
He answered, “As I have said, I did not come because I was told by the United States Department of Defense not to attend the military event because my position and status is too high and my presence would complicate the situation”.
I replied immediately, telling him that simply was not true. If he had told me that the Japanese Embassy in Washington had told him that he was too important to go, there would be little way for me to refute that claim, but I know that the United States Department of Defense would have no time or any reason to release such a ridiculous mandate.
The truth was that Consul General Ono did not attend this event because he believed that his status and importance was equivalent to the Commander of NORAD and that any attending US officers at the concert below this rank were beneath him. This is a reason for disgrace not absolution.
A more basic explanation for Mr. Ono’s behavior was his interest in his own legacy. He was concerned that the appreciation concerts that our organization organized drew over 2000 military and civilian patrons, while the concert that was organized by the Japanese Consulate drew an audience of about 200. It was out of his own self interest that Mr. Ono did not attend the military concert and tried desperately to insert the Consulate event into our schedule in an attempt to make the Consulate event the largest and most important event in the series. Mr. Ono told his staff, “Government first”; giving priority to his own national interests and reputation rather than focusing on the spirit, integrity and purpose of the events.
Mr. Ono succeeded only in temporarily protecting his own position. He was motivated by political flow in Japan and took action to emphasize his own national interests; blaming his predecessors to avoid numerous inquiries about his actions from Japanese mass media.
“Finally”, I said. “You will be leaving this country. So many of your capable staff left Denver during your tenure here because of your actions and policies and others told me they were just trying to hang on, dreaming of the day you left this post. I wrote the first article in April of 2014 but to spare your staff, I have waited until this day to post it publically”.
“I have no issues with the office of the Consul General of Japan or any of its other staff members. Only one individual has caused a major disruption in community relations here in Denver and has wrongly held absolute power over his staff, and that is you. Your only interest in Denver has been your own status and your own political career; choosing personal politics and even corrupt practices for your own advancement within your party” I said.
I am writing this article so that others will have the opportunity to know what has been real and what has been manufactured about this situation so that stronger US-Japan relationships can be built in the future. Consul General Ono will now return to Japan as a retiree so anything he has done here does will not matter anymore. We however will continue to live here in Denver, and will continue to attempt to correct all of wrongs he has brought to the people of Denver.
The office of the Consul General of Japan at Denver has had problems with scandal in the past. The first Consul General, Mr. Mizutani was suspected of using government funds for private use. At that time, the Prime Minister of Japan was Mr. Yoriko Kawaguchi and I reported these findings directly to the Prime Minister. Seven days later Mr. Mizutani’s successor, the second Consul General Seiki and two other council members and prominent Japanese businessmen in Denver came to apologize.
Now, Mr. Ono, the former Consul General of Japan at Denver, again amidst allegations of abuse of power has come to apologize and to shake my hand.
I shake his hand in accordance with decorum and manners, but in my heart I do not trust an apology from this man. On his way out of Denver I suspect he will continue to sully me and Nippon Kan to his staff or to his headquarters in Japan. My doubts about his sincerity leave me no choice but to make this letter public in self defense. Since my experience with the first Consul General, I have always tried to clear up any problems privately and internally however this time, I do not want to repeat the same mistakes
April 10, 2015