【June, 2004】American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) Journal 'Promoting Diversity' by Al


Kobe born and bred, of as the first U.S. citizen to become president of a junior chamber of commerce (Jaycee) in Japan. This 38-year-old managing director of import-export business iupiter International Corp. became the 45th president of the Kobe Jaycees last year.

The activities of iaycees (age restriction 20-40 years) vary from place to place, but in Kobe they focus on helping to promote the Iocal economy and supporting the community. Their biggest event is the summer Kobe Port Festival, attracting over 70,000 visitors."Members wanted to demonstrate to the nation that Kobe city is composed of foreigners of diverse cultures and that this is one of its key advantages,"says Sethi.

He is clearly the person for the job.He loves the Kobe lifestyle: the long-established foreign clubs, the continuity of a foreign presence and the feeling of being at. home. "The only other place I can walk down the street in my turban and 'hot get stares is Roppongi," he says. Despite his distinct appearance, in cosmopolitan Kobe Sethi passes as a native son. His father arrived from Mumbai in 1959 and established a trading company. Watching that business develop has given Sethi a personai sense of how a century of the foreign community's efforts have given Kobe global standing as a trading port. Lately, though, he has begun to worry that the city's rich ethnic diversity and business heritage are not being put ta the best use.

As Jaycee president, he says his biggest success has been to " remind the residents of Kobe of the positive effects that the inter-national community had in building up Kobe, especially in the postwar period, and of its special relevance, still, today."

Sethi is satisfied that the central government is trying to listen to the voice of citizens and residents of Japan from around the country. He was one ~of a small number of individuals selected in February to speak with Prime Minister Junichirou Koizumi and other government officials at the Cabinet Secretariat-sponsored 100th Town Meeting at the Prime Minister's official residence in Tokyo.

His children are enrolled at Canadian Academy, his alma mater, and St. Michael's International School. He wants to equip them to be completely functional in either Japan or the U.S. "I want my children to have the choice I had to live and work in Kobe," he says,

As a Kobekko (a son of Kobe), he also wants the city to be as nurturing and dynamic for his children as it has been for him. Therefore as a Jaycee president, he pushes initiatives aimed at positioning Kobe as Japan's most desirable city in which to live, work and retire. This means developing it further as the nation's most international city, as per its reputation as "the Switzerland of Japan," and a second home for affluent Asian visitors.

In order to create such an international center capable of attracting visitors, foreign retirees and a new generation of traders, Sethi has proposed that the city upgrade the level of con- versational English and other foreign languages taught at schools. He fears that, if Kobe does not dramatically strengthen its international position, China could suck it dry.

Alex Stewart (alex@ac-access.com) is president of Alexander Capital Access, a catalyst consultancy and communications business in Osaka.

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