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Sunday, Sep 24, 2023


Just before noontime, Takashi “Tachi” Kiuchi gestures in disgust from the boardroom window of Mitsubishi Electronic America Inc.’s headquarters in Cypress.

“Fifteen minutes from now if you watch from this window, there’ll be three or five Japanese people out there having lunch all by themselves,” said Kiuchi, who returns to Japan later this month after eight years as head of Mitsubishi’s U.S. operations.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said. “We should try much harder to become a part of this community, but we haven’t done that.”

Finding ways to have his fellow expatriates meld into American society is a long-running crusade for Kiuchi, who has strived to reverse the general distrust that many Americans still have toward Japan.

Kiuchi is co-chair of the Japan-America Society, which works to improve business ties between the two countries. He also wrote a book, “Working in America,” instructing his countrymen and women on how to do just that.

The 1994 book encapsulates many of his suggestions to Japanese who want to thrive in their adopted society: to break out of the Japanese way of being reserved, to join groups outside of work, not to dwell on things that are different here and to keep up with local news.

“I am very harsh on Japanese people because we don’t behave right,” Kiuchi said. “The bottom line is that in communications, most problems emanate from the Japanese and their slow-moving, change-resistant ways.”

Kiuchi prides himself on his relationships with people. His boardroom is lined with photos of him chatting with the likes of Fidel Castro and Russian Premier Viktor Chernomyrdin. A going-away party for him at the Petersen Automotive Museum this week boasts a guest list ranging from Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley to Tamio Takakura, the president and CEO of Sanwa Bank Calfifornia.

As head of Mitsubishi America, the 62-year-old Kiuchi has traveled widely, overseeing operations of the electronics giant. His eight-year tour was roughly twice as long as the typical overseas stay for a Mitsubishi executive, according to a company spokesman.

Kiuchi now leaves for Tokyo to head a newly formed global communications group at Mitsubishi to handle public and community relations and advertising.

It was his reputation as a communicator which led to his new position, Kiuchi said.

“I was told that since I am always talking so much about improving relations, that I ought to do it for the company,” he said.

As Kiuchi’s departure approaches, many in the Japanese-American business community lament what they say will be a void in the progress toward closer ties.

“Tachi is very outspoken. He has been very candid in saying that Japanese people are too reticent to mix with other people,” said Russell Hamlin, president of the Sunkist Growers Inc. “He will be remembered for the way he has brought Japanese business leaders and citizens together with the people of Southern California.”

Mark Bilfield, a senior partner at TBWA/Chiat Day recounted a speech by Kiuchi that captures his frankness in speaking about inter-cultural relations.

“He was being honored as the Japan America Society’s man of the year, and he got up there and talked about how Japanese have to learn to fit in with our society,” said Bilfield, a Japan America Society member who met Kiuchi in 1988 as an ad client.

In addition to the Society’s award, Kiuchi received the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Award in 1992 “in recognition of promoting greater U.S.-Japan understanding.”

Kiuchi joined Mitsubishi in 1958, served as executive vice president of Mitsubishi Electric Sales America between 1969 and 1976 and returned in his current capacity in 1988 (Mitsubishi Electric Sales America reported sales of $4 billion for 1996).

Outside of work, Kiuchi’s resume lists college boards, cultural associations and other groups in which he participates, including the American Coaster Enthusiasts (its members travel in search of roller coaster thrills). He is also a skydiver and has run in 26 marathons, the first of which he entered at age 53.

Asked what tangible results he sees after all these years of work to improve relations, Kiuchi said there were a few encouraging signs.

“To some extent, Japanese companies are starting to do volunteer work,” he said. “But it’s way, way too small.”

He said many of the Japanese businessmen living in America say they admire his efforts, but that that isn’t enough.

“They said, ‘I wish I could do the same,’ but then they don’t,” he explained. “I get support but more support from Americans. Japanese don’t want to take the effort. They’re lazy and don’t have a sense of appreciation for being here.”

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