The Emerging Leaders Program and SPICE: Empowering youth from Yokohama


Yokohama Science Frontier High School students at Stanford University
Yokohama Science Frontier High School students at Stanford University
Photo credit: 
Rylan Sekiguchi

Why does cellist Yo-Yo Ma refer to the Silk Road as the ‘Internet of antiquity’? What is globalization? What is economic interdependence? What are diversity and inclusion? These are some of the questions that high school students from Yokohama Science Frontier High School (YSFH) considered during a visit to the San Francisco Bay Area in January 2019. Alumni of the U.S.-Japan Council’s TOMODACHI Emerging Leaders Program (ELP) and SPICE staff encouraged the students to critically consider the questions during their visits to Facebook, Apple, and Stanford University.

Prior to their arrival, YSFH students shared their goals for the trip. YSFH student Ken Horikoshi, who aspires to become a robotics engineer, noted, “I will need communication skills, skills of thinking deeply, and of course, knowledge about space or robotics to make my dreams come true. So, I’d like to make an effort to improve these skills.” With the students’ goals in mind, ELP Chair and SPICE’s Rylan Sekiguchi organized visits to Apple and Facebook and assisted with a one-day seminar at Stanford.

Derek Kenmotsu talks with students and teachers on Apple campus.ELP alumnus Derek Kenmotsu, Global Supply Manager of Apple’s World Wide Operations, guided the students on a brief tour of Apple campus and led a discussion that helped them understand the economic interdependence of the world by focusing on Apple’s manufacturing and worldwide sales in countries like China and Japan. The importance of addressing diversity and inclusion in the workforce was underscored by ELP alumna Mana Nakagawa, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy and Operations Lead of Facebook, as she toured the students around Facebook headquarters. Nakagawa has helped to scale Facebook’s women’s community and business resource groups globally. Her comments prompted students to consider the value of inclusivity and cognitive diversity to companies like Facebook that serve a global audience. YSFH student Taishi Chijimatsu, who is involved with his school’s IT club and interested in pursuing computer programming as a career, was especially grateful for having the chance to visit Apple and Facebook as it gave him a first-hand glimpse into what it is like to work for a global company.

During the seminar at Stanford, SPICE staff introduced the YSFH students to SPICE lessons from Along the Silk Road to illustrate that globalization is not just a modern phenomenon. The staff noted that in some ways, the ancient Silk Road was the first real conduit of globalization, as it connected vast lands into a trade network that spread goods, beliefs, and technologies far from their areas of origin. ELP alumna Naomi Funahashi, instructor of SPICE’s online course on Japan, illustrated this by showing how musical instruments were carried along the Silk Road and gradually adapted to cultural and geographic features of local environments. She mentioned, for example, similarities and differences of lutes that can be found in Europe, China, Korea, and Japan. She also noted a description of the Silk Road by cellist Yo-Yo Ma, founder of Silkroad, who has described the Silk Road as the “Internet of antiquity”; expounding upon this notion, Sekiguchi and SPICE’s Jonas Edman noted that by studying about the Silk Road, we can gain historical insights into how the contemporary stage of globalization is changing our world and our lives.

A highlight of the seminar featured the YSFH students giving presentations on their science-related research to the SPICE staff and visiting scholars at Stanford from Japan. YSFH student Kazuhiro Okada’s presentation on his ambition to design underwater cities stretched the audience’s notions of globalization and interconnectedness. One commented, “It would be interesting if you could someday design a subway stop under the ocean between Aomori Prefecture and Hokkaido.”

The ELP identifies, cultivates, and empowers a new generation of leaders in the U.S.–Japan relationship. Chair Sekiguchi, other ELP alumni, and SPICE staff extended this mission to the generation behind them. YSFH teacher Nobuyo Uchimura described the experiences that they provided her students as very precious ones that expanded their learning beyond the confines of a classroom, and YSFH teacher Yukimasa Uekusa noted his desire to prioritize programs such as this into the future.