About the Author: Jonas Stewart is the Director of the Nagoya American Center and Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Consulate in Nagoya, Japan.
Earlier this summer, Masaichi and Mieko Hattori paid a courtesy visit on the U.S. Consulate in Nagoya in Central Japan. They wanted to introduce us to their friends, Holley and Richard Haymaker, as well as update us on the U.S.-Japan exchange program they founded to honor the memory of their son, Yoshi.
After the customary business card exchange, Mieko Hattori introduced the Haymakers, a friendly couple from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, then quietly explained the progress of their program. After casual small talk and discussion about how to work together on future programs, the Hattoris and their friends took their leave.
But this was no routine meeting about a cultural exchange program. The Hattoris were the center of a tragic episode in U.S.-Japan relations, and in the years since have used their heartrending experience to enhance U.S.-Japan relations via student exchange.
Their son, Yoshi Hattori, was a gregarious boy who was interested in sports and teenage life in America. At the age of 16, he seized the opportunity to participate in a student exchange program allowing him to live in the Haymaker's Baton Rouge home and attend a local high school during the fall of 1992.
Two months into his stay, Yoshi and the Haymaker's teenage son were invited to a Halloween party. While looking for the party, they unknowingly approached the wrong house. Yoshi and the Haymaker's son were mistaken as trespassers with criminal intent, and the homeowner shot Yoshi, who died shortly afterwards.
Back in Nagoya, Yoshi's parents received the horrible news of their son's death. In most cases, parents going through such a tragedy would understandably elect to have nothing to do with the country and other circumstances surrounding their child's death. Yet, after their initial shock and sadness the Hattoris decided to honor their son by using his death as a cause to strengthen U.S.-Japan relations.
Since 1994, the Hattoris have hosted American students in Japan for 11-month homestay programs. The Hattoris introduce the students to Japanese culture and encourage them to meet with community groups. These meetings include discussions about how to make the world a safer and more peaceful place.
When we think about bilateral relationships, we usually consider politics and human relations on the macro level. We think about treaties, press events, and armed conflict. When it comes to the U.S.-Japan relationship, and many other bilateral relationships throughout the world, foundations instead often consist of occasionally tragic but often inspiring personal stories like the one shared by the Hattoris and the Haymakers. Thanks to the courage and vision of the Hattoris, Yoshi's tragic death has become a vehicle for stronger relations between the people of America and Japan.