Former ANA Houston General Manager Received 2023 Honorary Citizen and Goodwill Ambassador of Houston A conversation with Yuzuru Nagawa on his love of Houston and efforts to bridge the travel gap between Houston, Texas and Japan
In this edition of ANA Stories, we had the opportunity to interview Yuzuru Nagawa, senior director of Government and Industrial Affairs for ANA Holdings and former Houston General Manager at ANA. Earlier this year, he received both Honorary Citizen and Goodwill Ambassador of Houston.
Join us in exploring his achievements and contributions during his tenure in Houston that led to this prestigious recognition.
Q: Congratulations on being selected as the Honorary Citizen and Goodwill Ambassador of Houston.
A: Thank you very much.
Q: Could you tell us more about these titles? What kind of achievements or contributions are recognized with these honors?
A: Houston awards these titles to individuals who have made significant contributions to the city. In my case, I believe it was for my role as a bridge between Houston and Japan. The first important milestone was the successful launch of the non-stop flight between Houston and Tokyo in June 2015. June 12, 2023, was the 8th anniversary.
While in Houston, I actively engaged in various activities beyond my professional duties. I served as Vice President for the Japan-America Society of Houston, Extraordinary Director and Community Liaison for the Japanese Garden at the Japan Business Association of Houston and co-Executive Chairman for the Japan Festival Houston. I actively participated in initiatives that fostered connections between Houston and Japan. I believe that my unwavering commitment to bridge this gap resulted in my recognition.
Q: How did you feel when you first heard you would be honored with these titles?
A: I was surprised. The news came during a busy period just before my return. Initially, I wondered if it was true. However, when I was invited to city hall and realized I would receive the award, I was delighted. I feel incredibly honored to receive both the Goodwill Ambassador and Honorary Citizen titles simultaneously. I wouldn’t have these titles without the support from both the local and Japanese communities and also my ANA colleagues in Houston. I am filled with gratitude.
Q: Could you share some memorable experiences from your time in Houston?
A: In addition to the launch of the non-stop flight between Tokyo and Houston, we faced difficult situations such as Hurricane Harvey and the COVID-19 pandemic during my tenure that ANA had to suspend the operation temporarily. However, we were able to overcome those obstacles and tough times with the support of Houston's mayor, Mr. Sylvester Turner, our colleagues and the entire Houston community. I like to thank the warm support I received from everyone in the City.
The initial plan in April 2020 for Mayor Turner to visit Japan was postponed due to the pandemic. It finally happened in October 2022 after Japan re-opened for international visitors. Mayor Turner and the delegation of Houston, a total of 180 members including the group of Houston Ballet made an official visit to Japan, and were able to celebrate the 50th anniversary sister city with the City of Chiba. The Houston Ballet also had their first time show in Tokyo to mark the occasion. Guests enjoyed the culture, hospitality, seasons, food and activities that Japan has to offer.
Q: How would you describe Houston? Is there anything that makes you want to go back?
A: My friends often asked me "Are you really leaving? It would be great if you could stay." I also wished to stay, if possible.
Houston is a lively and diverse city with a pleasant climate. It offers ample opportunities to enjoy culture and nature. I particularly liked the presence of large parks within the big city. I enjoyed running at Hermann Park or Memorial Park and volunteering at the Japanese Garden located at Hermann Park after work or on weekends.
Q: When your family and friends from Japan visited Houston, where did you typically take them?
A: I always took them to sporting events such as Houston Astros baseball games, Houston Rockets basketball games or Houston Texans football games. It always gave them the authentic American experience, especially being surrounded by passionate local fans. Additionally, we visited the parks I mentioned earlier and explored various facilities like museums and gardens within them. Of course, NASA's Johnson Space Center was a must.
Q: What kind of work are you currently doing in Tokyo?
A: I returned to Japan’s head office in April and have been working as Senior Director of Government & Industrial Affairs at ANA HOLDINGS. My department works closely with stakeholders including the government to discuss aviation policies. We are currently engaged in conversations with the related organizations to pursue sustainability in the aviation industry to contribute to the realization of a carbon-neutral society.
Q: What do you love the most about being back in Japan?
A: The four distinct seasons in Japan are very special to me. Each season has its unique characteristics and beauty. Therefore, I recommend visitors to experience all four seasons. I think these four seasons influence Japan's various cultures, hospitality and cuisines. Each region in Japan has its own unique foods. In Japan, since Spring is recognized as the beginning of the calendar year, I am happy to be back in Spring to restart my life here.
I also suggest visiting Kyoto, Nara or any places, known for their rich history. They provide an opportunity to learn and experience the essence of Japan as a country.
Q: Finally, how do you wish to further contribute to the relationship between Japan and Houston?
A: I want to continue the mission of connecting Japan and Houston. When I traveled to Japan with Mayor Turner, everyone was amazed by the culture and warm hospitality they were experiencing. We planned the trip for a long time and kept communicating with people in Japan during the pandemic. There is a significant difference between meeting in person and talking online or actual experiences versus seeing photos or videos on the internet.
Now that pandemic restrictions are lessening, and the currency exchange rate is favorable, I believe it's easier for international visitors to come to Japan. As I am “appointed” as Goodwill Ambassador, my goal is to continue to be a bridge for people wanting to visit Japan, as well as I want to contribute to people-to-people connections globally.