The very much respected Japanese ambassador to the United States is retiring after four and a half years in Washington, D.C.
Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki and his wife, Yoriko, made the announcement official in a letter to personal friends on Thursday.
“The time has finally come to bid farewell,” the ambassador wrote. “Yoriko and I will be returning to Japan in the beginning of November. I am retiring from government service.”
He continued: “What more can you expect as a public servant than to represent my country in this great and friendly nation! Every moment was precious and meaningful.
“The most trying experience was of course the 3.11 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident in 2011. But we were enormously helped by the American government, soldiers, companies, NGOs, schools, churches and the American people, including children. The Japanese, myself included, will never forget your friendship.
“There were also a countless number of happy events. The cherry blossom centennial was a great success thanks to all those who dedicated themselves to this memorable event.”
He went on to say: “We now truly think of here as our second home.”
The ambassador quietly told friends of his plans to retire at the Points of Light gala tribute at the Ambassador’s residence in Washington, D.C. on September 7.
The arts awards at historic Lincoln Theatre is D.C.’s version of the Grammy Awards. Thursday night the ceremonies honored local artists, a handful of politicians and an icon of the theater, George Stevens Jr., producer of the Kennedy Honors.
Afterwards the audience of about 800 walked to the outside tented post-party, a stroll down a U Street alley of fame where beautiful new murals of prominent African Americans, including President Obama, Bill Cosby, Chuck Brown and Donnie Simpson, looked down from an outside wall at Ben’s Chili Bowl.
The 27th annual Mayor’s Arts Awards is supported by the DC Commission on The Arts & Humanities.
Taking home Arts Awards were:
Step Afrika for Excellence in Artistic Discipline;
Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop for Outstanding Contribution to Arts Education;
Art Enables for Innovation in the Arts;
Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra for Outstanding Emerging Artist;
Atlas Performing Arts Center and the Washington Performing Arts Society for Excellence in Service to the Arts;
Jennifer Sonkin, Kenneth Dickerson and Koye Oyedeji for Arts Teaching.
Besides Stevens, honors went to former DC mayor Anthony A. Williams, Melvin Deale, executive director of the African Heritage Dancers and Drummers; and lawyer Paul C. Jorgensen, who provides ongoing pro bono legal services for community civic and arts groups.
In brief remarks, Mayor Vincent Gray praised the new artwork in the alley, and pointed out that one mural was of President Obama. The audience’s cheers prompted Gray to a political high or low note, depending on one’s political persuasion. “I hope you translate those cheers into votes on November 6th,” he urged.
Other politicians onstage were City Council members Vincent Orange who has oversight over the commission, and Jack Evans.
Coming to dinner for a fine cause Friday night were scores of familiar faces and an empty chair à la Clint Eastwood’s gig.
Among the instantly recognizable in the sold-out crowd of 250 celebrating the Points of Light’s Tribute Awards gala at the Japanese Ambassador’s residence was Dan Quayle, vice president in the George H. W. Bush Administration, Al Roker of NBC News and ABC News Correspondent Deborah Roberts.
The gala was a night of bi-partisan good cheer, all in the wake of the edgy national political conventions, as noted by several speakers including Neil M. Bush, chairman of the Points of Light’s board of directors. Bush called the gala “a unifying event….this is what my Dad had in mind.” The elder Bush, who was instrumental in the creation of Points of Light, did not attend due to physical issues.
“In times of divisiveness in our country, service brings people together,” Stefanie Weiss, chief communications and marketing officer in the organization’s DC office, said in underscoring the collegial atmosphere.
In a warm-up act, however, emcee Roker--and who could blame him?-- poked a little fun at both parties when he brought an empty chair on stage and chatted to it. If President Obama were there, said Roker, he surely would tell the audience to contribute generously to Points of Light. And they did. Nearly $600,000 or so was raised.
From the podium, Japanese Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki joked that when he was asked what he thought about the upcoming American elections he proceeded diplomatically: “It’s just like a Christmas gift, you don’t say anything until the day you open the box, and say ‘This is just what I wanted.’” When it was his turn to talk to the surrounding media, Quayle said the presidential race is “a horse race” but the debates could be the “very much a deciding factor.”
The 2012 Tribute Awards, entitled “Changing Lives Through Service,” honored five individuals who embody the vision of “a thousand points of light” that Bush first invoked during his acceptance speech at the 1988 Republican National Convention. Now, Points of Light is the world’s leading volunteer service organization.
Receiving awards were the Honorable Bonnie McElveen-Hunter, chair of the American Red Cross; Wes Moore, Army combat veteran and host of the TV show “Beyond Belief;” Aya Higa and Naho Hozumi, both of Hands On Tokyo; and Scott Davis, chairman and CEO of UPS.
Deborah Roberts, Roker’s wife was co-emcee of the event, which gathered corporate, political and community leaders to “celebrate individuals and organizations whose extraordinary contribution to volunteering and service has made their communities and the world better.”
Tiny and gorgeously gowned Olympic Gold medalist ice skater Kristi Yamaguchi came with her husband, two-time U.S. Olympian ice hockey player Bret Hedican. By far, the tallest person in the room was NBA legend and NBA Global Ambassador Dikembe Mutombo, who played basketball at Georgetown University. Wearing rock-star shades was international musician and producer YOSHIKI, the dream subject of young fans there. Another celebrity was TV producer Ann Lopez, co- founder of the Lopez Foundation and a Points of Light Service Ambassador.
Guests included former Sen. Sam Nunn and his wife, Colleen; Esther Coopersmith; Brett O. Greene, president and CEO at American Management Corp. and his wife Tiffini; Mandy Ourisman and his wife, Ambassador Mary Ourisman; Roderick and Carla Hills; Calvin and Jane Cafritz; David Albritton; Donna Shor; Wilhelmina Holladay; Aniko Gaal Schott; author Alexandra de Borchgrave; and Francisco J. Sanchez, undersecretary for Commerce for International Trade at the U.S. Department of Commerce.
Neil Bush and Ambassador Fujisaki and Mrs. Fujisaki chaired the event benefitting Points of Light, led by CEO Michelle Nunn.
Points of Light also is holding an online auction until September 21 that features, among other items, dinners at DC-area restaurants, including Cafe Milano, il Canale, Assaggi in McLean, Va., and Le Zinc in the Cathedral neighborhood. www.biddingforgood.com/poltribute