Atlanta, Jan 6, 2022 – The Japan-America Society of Georgia (JASG) presented its first ever Lifetime Achievement Award to President Jimmy Carter as part of the Society’s 41st Bonenkai Holiday Gala on December 14, 2021, at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta. The award was accepted by Jason Carter, Chairman of The Carter Center, on behalf of his grandfather.
Many people are familiar with President Carter’s contributions to protecting human rights and alleviating human suffering in countries around the world – efforts for which he received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. However, it is less widely known that President Carter has been instrumental in laying the foundation for the enduring bonds of friendship that connect Georgia and Japan. Today, Japan is the number one foreign investor in the state as over 650 Japanese affiliated companies that employ over 35,000 people, have invested over $11 billion in Georgia.
During the ceremony, JASG Chair Jessica Cork shared, “President Carter has the particular superpower of making everyone who comes in contact with him, from emperors and prime ministers, to businesspeople and school children, feel seen, valued and important to him.”
During his acceptance speech, Jason Carter acknowledged, “The relationships that my grandfather built when he was the (Georgia) Governor gave him the faith, I think, in himself to step to that next level when he decided to run for President… He started that life in Plains (Georgia) with this image of Japan as the rest of the world in many ways… A few months ago, he received from a small group of children in a hospital one thousand cranes, and he hung it right in his sunroom… So that connection to the rest of the world that he’s had so much for his life, it really is now in that room with that incredible symbol of Japanese culture.”
During his time as Georgia Governor, Jimmy Carter was a leading figure to help YKK and Murata Electronics become Georgia's first Japanese facilities to start operations in Georgia in 1972 and 1973, respectively. He also played a significant role in opening Georgia's Trade and Tourism office in Tokyo in 1973, the State's first international office of any kind. One year later, the Consulate General of Japan was established in Atlanta, paving the way for many more Japanese corporations, government entities, and Japan-related organizations to open. During his time as U.S. President, he continued his efforts to promote U.S.-Japan relations by not only conducting a variety of high-level nation-to-nation meetings with Emperor Hirohito, Prime Minister Ohira, among others, he also made time to meet with local residents and students in the cities he visited for townhall events to stimulate grassroots exchange as well. Encompassing the larger Asian community, President Carter later signed a proclamation in 1979 designating a week in May as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Week, which later became Asian-American Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
President Carter’s work in promoting U.S.-Japan relations did not stop after his presidency. He maintained his friendship with the Japan through his visit to YKK's 50th Anniversary Celebration in Kurobe and then showed his passion for peace when he visited the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima as a private citizen during the same trip in 1984. He worked with the Japanese government to have Japan be part of The Carter Center's Guinea Worm Eradication Program in 1989, making Japan the Center's second largest government donor.
Perhaps a story that embodies President Carter the most is of the bonds of friendship that formed between the people of Konu-cho in Hiroshima and Americus, Georgia, all because, through a twist of fate, President Carter came to be in possession of Konu-cho’s temple bell. The bell was to be melted down and turned into ammunition during World War II but the war ended before and it amazingly made it to the U.S. where the Japanese community gifted it to him in commemoration of the opening of The Carter Center. The bell, now known as the “Peace Bell,” has been housed at The Carter Center since 1985 and it will be put up in a new Bell Tower being built at The Carter Center by the JASG and other Japanese community organizations. The Bell Tower will be a replica of the tower in Konu and is expected to be completed by Fall 2022.
After a 2 year pause due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was the first gala event hosted by the JASG as a total of about 250 guests were in attendance at the Gala to witness the Lifetime Achievement Award Ceremony. Among those in attendance were Consul General of Japan, Kazuyuki Takeuchi, President & CEO of The Carter Center, Paige Alexander, Georgia House and Japan Legislative Caucus Representative Kim Schofield, as well as many esteemed Japanese business leaders doing business in Georgia, and prestigious Georgia companies and business owners investing in Japan. The Gala itself allowed guests to celebrate the holidays with special guest performer, Junko Fujiyama, and also provided a unique opportunity for in-person cross-cultural understandings within the Georgia community.