Noriyuki Okada — internationalizing international Minato Ward
by Kirk R. Patterson
Noriyuki Okada (51), a native of Tokyo, is in charge of the Azabu District for the Kissport Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is to support and facilitate sports programs and cultural, social, and other activities for the citizens of Minato Ward.
What is your educational background?
I graduated from a technical high school and then entered university, but I dropped out after two years.
What did you do after that?
I worked in a Chinese restaurant in Yokohama and then as the house boy for the Commander of the U.S. army base in Zama, and then I became a paratrooper in the Japan Self-Defense Forces. After that, I worked in sales, first in an apparel company and then in a computer company, before working for seven years as a security guard for the Prince Hotel chain. I then joined the staff of Minato City Hall, where I have worked for 19 years — 13 years in programs to help Minato’s elderly and then one year in Minato’s Children’s Hall prior to moving to the Kissport Foundation.
What is the Kissport Foundation?
The Kissport Foundation was established and is financed by Minato Ward to support and organize programs and activities for Minato citizens that would be difficult for the Ward to operate directly.
For example, what types of programs is the Foundation involved in?
There are so many! Dance classes, hobby classes, film festivals, fireworks shows, local festivals, and cultural exchange programs. In some cases, especially for the larger undertakings, the Foundation directly initiates and organizes the activities. But more often the Foundation supports the initiatives of local citizens’ groups by offering the use of Minato Ward facilities and helping promote their programs.
I am responsible for the Foundation’s activities in the Azabu district. I try to do things that others cannot, especially those activities that draw on and enhance Azabu’s international identity. With so many embassies and residents from around the world in Azabu, we have a great opportunity to undertake activities that facilitate intercultural understanding. In this way, we are striving to make Minato Ward truly international.
Looking to the future, what new initiatives do you have in mind?
There are about 10 universities and colleges in Minato Ward and I would like to help their students interact with one another and with Minato residents, such as through sports, music and drama clubs, and volunteer activities. For example, the Japan campus of Temple University (TUJ) is located in Minato Ward and we have supported and hosted its student film festival and drama productions, and TUJ’s students have participated in various Ward festivals and activities. I also want to provide more opportunities for foreign residents to learn about various aspects of Japanese culture, such as taiko (traditional drums), tea ceremony, and kabuki. But such learning should not be one way — people from all cultural backgrounds (including Japan) can learn from others. For example, we could offer lessons in both traditional Japanese calligraphy and various foreign styles of calligraphy.
You have an unusual career background, especially for a Japanese government official. How does what you do now fit with you have done in the past?
This job is the perfect job for me. I have always had an outward-looking orientation and a strong interest in foreign countries and cultures — I once spent several months traveling by bus around the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. For various reasons, though, I have had to stay in Japan. And so my current job helps satisfy my desire to be both international and local at the same time.
You seem to have a real ability to motivate others. Where does that ability come from?
When I was traveling around the U.S., I spent some time on a Navajo Indian reservation and in talking with the elders there I learned a very valuable lesson. I learned that each person, no matter how poor or disadvantaged, has the power to shape one’s own destiny. In matters large and small, each person can create ‘value’. That lesson has stayed with me for many years. It gives me the confidence to share my enthusiasm with others and to encourage them to become my allies in taking on new challenges.