Masashi OkaThis Citizen Diplomat Spotlight features Mr. Masashi Oka, Executive Chairman of MUFG Americas and MUFG Union Bank, the top executive of MUFG (Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group) in the Americas. MUFG is Japan’s largest bank and one of the world’s largest financial institutions, with more than 1,100 offices in more than 40 countries, and with a presence spanning the Americas from Vancouver to Santiago and coast to coast.

Mr. Oka has long been committed to, and a strong advocate of, the Global Citizen Diplomacy Movement. Most recently he actively supported the Japanese Consulate of San Francisco and the Northern Chapter of Sister Cities International in launching the 100th sister city relationship between the State of California and Japan. In addition, MUFG Union Bank was the Title Corporate Sponsor of the 2014 SCI Annual Conference in San Jose, California.

Mr. Oka and MUFG Union Bank were honored with the Sister Cities International Corporate Citizen Diplomacy Award in 2015.

What is it that you think makes Sister Cities International’s community-to-community relationships as important today as they were when President Eisenhower founded the organization in 1956?

When Sister Cities International was founded in 1956, I was a two-year-old boy living in Tokyo. Three years later, I found myself in the Bronx because my father took a job in New York with Mitsubishi Corporation. I remember standing at the bus stop in my little coat and tie, with my giant briefcase, waiting to start first grade at PS 24 – not speaking a word of English. Believe me, at that moment I felt the need for everything Sister Cities International stands for.

And I found it, in the nice kids at PS 24, and the kind people in our community. I found common ground through my love of the Yankees and hot dogs, and pretty soon I felt a deep bond of kinship that straddled two cultures, two nations, that a dozen years earlier had been at war. By the time I returned to Tokyo five years later, that kinship was indelible and the bond, unbreakable.

I think that’s the secret. Not only for Sister Cities International but for forging all robust relationships, national and otherwise: they’re strongest when built face-to-face.

Your question was what makes the SCI mission as important today as back then. My answer is, today it’s even more important when so much can take place in an anonymous, or at least impersonal, cyber environment. It’s good we have powerful tools today to enable virtual interaction. But once people meet and can smile at each other face-to-face, the chemistry is as old as humanity itself. Very powerful.

What are some ways you feel Sister Cities International partnerships can enhance a community?

The word “community” shares a root with “communicate,” which means give and take. One-way media like TV, radio, print, and so on are described so often as “communication” that we forget they don’t help us interact, so they’re really not so great at building community. The same principle is true among nations. The basis of a community is give and take, humans talking and listening to each other – developing informal and formal partnerships, large and small. Sister Cities International knows how to create and foster environments where these relationships take seed and grow, in what’s maybe the most fertile soil of all – curiosity about discovering the familiar in the unfamiliar.

You know the term, “global village?” I think the more powerful concept is “local universe.”  I spend a lot of time in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. In all four cities – great concoctions of cultures bubbling together in a rich, wonderful stew – I get the sense that the whole wide world is at my feet, on my street, in my neighborhood. That’s what SCI facilities so well. It’s a noble mission.

How does the mission of Sister Cities International coincide with the priorities of MUFG Americas and MUFG Union Bank?

MUFG – Japan’s largest financial institution and one of the largest in the world – has ties to the Americas that go back more than a century. Our original bank in California actually was the first American business of any kind to enter an official partnership with the Japanese government, when we helped mint a new Yen currency backed with California gold, so to speak.

Fast forward a century, and that bond between the American and Japanese cultures has grown incredibly strong. Our recent creation of MUFG Americas – bringing together all our resources in the hemisphere, from Union Bank based on the west coast, Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ based in New York, and enterprises from Canada to Chile, all into one new organization  – is meant to acknowledge that cross-cultural bond and take it to the next level. The beautiful thing is, every day in our company, we confront the fact that all these cultures are distinct, and we find ways to work together that honor the differences. By working together, we create something new while preserving the past.  

A bank is only as strong as the communities it serves. I think you could say that about any noble institution – and isn’t that interdependent bond the sort of strength the SCI mission exists to create?