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Pro-Japanese Politicians Honored for Their Global Outreach

While the rest of us spent the week fixating on everything that is wrong with Congress, the Japanese extolled the good that federal lawmakers can do by conferring one of that country’s top honors upon Washington Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott and Wisconsin Republican Reps. Tom Petri and Jim Sensenbrenner.  

The three lawmakers recently received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star in recognition of their working relationships with the island nation.  

Rep. Tom Petri wearing his Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star awards in Japan. (Courtesy Tom Petri)
Petri displays his Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star awards in Japan. (Courtesy Tom Petri)

“For a long time they have been making contributions to promoting Japan-U.S. legislative exchange, and maintaining and deepening the Japan-U.S. alliance through the promotion of enhanced understanding of Japan in the U.S. Congress,” Japanese officials stated in a release, adding, “It is unprecedented for 3 members of the U.S. Congress to simultaneously receive this honor.” The three pols have, at one time or another, either led or been involved with (or both) the U.S-Japan Legislative Exchange Program or Congressional Study Group on Japan.  

McDermott said he last visited Japan — one of more than two dozen lifetime trips — this past January. In addition to developing a deep appreciation for the country’s rich history (McDermott listed the former imperial capital, Kyoto, as one of the most interesting destinations he’s ever explored.) and world-renowned cuisine (“Many different kinds of delicious sushi,” he noted.), McDermott has also delved into one of the region’s classic art forms.  

“I would love for Americans to know more about Sumi-e,” he said of the monochromatic painting style he has engaged in for more than 30 years.  

The Sumi-e painting
The Sumi-e painting “Green Lake Moon,” by McDermott, was auctioned in March during a benefit for Seattle’s Wing Lake Museum. (Courtesy Jim McDermott)

“It is a fascinating, relaxing, improvisational art form,” McDermott said of his evolving hobby . “In March, my Sumi-e piece ‘Green Lake Moon’ was auctioned off to benefit the Wing Luke Museum in Seattle. Another work of mine was recently auctioned off to benefit the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington D.C.”  

Petri said he started working his way across Japan back during the Ronald Reagan era.  

“I went a lot in the 1980s and 1990s, a few times with [former] Speaker Thomas S.  Foley and a few times with my colleague Jim Sensenbrenner,” Petri said, ticking off trips taken to Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nara and Kamogawa (sister city of Manitowoc, Wis.).  

Along the way, Petri has battled slippery snacks (“I’ve had some of the strange sea creatures they serve with some meals, squid and the like — some of which are alive — but I didn’t mind them,” he shared.), practiced treading lightly on extra creaky “nightingale floors” (“emperors had to worry about someone sneaking up on them to strangle them or stab them, so they installed these floors so that they could hear anyone approaching.”) and huddled with youth in far-flung classrooms.  

Rep. Tom Petri visits with Japanese school children in 2011 during a trip to Kamogawa. (Courtesy Tom Petri)
Petri visits with Japanese school children in 2011 during a trip to Kamogawa. (Courtesy Tom Petri)

The most striking experience, though, was talking shop with the late Sen. Michael Mansfield.  

“He explained the importance of a strong and positive relationship with Japan given its location in the world and because of its strong economy, which was the second-biggest economy in the world at the time after the United States,” Petri said of the sage advice he received from the former Senate majority leader-turned-U.S. ambassador.  

Petri remains committed to keeping those all-important lines of communication open today.  

“When the U.S. and Japan work together, we can have a more stable world and peaceful relations with China,” he counseled.  “A rift in the U.S.-Japan relationship could easily create unease and tension in one of the most critical regions in the world.”  

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