Mirja P. Hanson, Ph.D., was named the new Honorary Consul General for Japan in Minnesota last May, a role that puts to work a lifetime association with the country she was raised in as a child of missionaries. (Contributed photo)
By TOM LAVENTURE
AAP staff writer
St. Paul, Minn. (August 4, 2010) – Dr. Mirja P. Hanson now serving as the Honorary Consul General for Japan in Minnesota – a title that is more functional than its title – as an individual who sets the tone for a century of continuing relationships between two cultures. The appointment was made by the Japan Minister of Foreign Affairs George Hisaeda, who was present in Minneapolis May 24, for an inaugural reception along with the Chicago Consulate General and staff and local dignitaries.
In her remarks at the Inaugural Reception, Dr. Hanson said she is proud to serve as Honorary Consul General of Japan – a role she said “links two beloved lands and cultures.”
Hanson said she is committed to doing her best to serve as the official representative of the Embassy and Consulate General of Japan in Minneapolis.
She will focus on building upon on the prosperous ties in two primary duties. Her first priority is to represent the interests of Japan and to enhance the service connections needed to assure a safe and fulfilling experience for Japanese citizens during their stay in Minnesota.
Her second duty is to take her place in the dynamic network of cross-cultural people, programs and organizations that link this state with Japan.
“I look forward to intensifying bi-lateral relations in an era when we are realizing that good planets are hard to find and multi-lateral efforts among all nations are needed to care for our global village.”
At the reception Hanson recognized two previous Honorary Consular General appointees, her predecessor of five years Bill Strang, and his predecessor of 10 years Evan Williams, who was presented with a commendation by the Consul General at the reception. She said they are a good source advice and support in her position to “re-affirm and celebrate Minnesota’s ties to the nation and people of Japan.”
Her goal is to continue to exemplify the importance of the role that requires collaboration and collegiality.
“Please allow me to serve you and be in league with you,” she said. “I kindly ask for your trust, support and cooperation.”
Hanson actively supports Japan-Minnesota relations and has served as a Board Member of the Japan American Society since the 1980s, including a 4-year term as its President. She volunteers as a class correspondent for the Tokyo American School and as a Board planning facilitator for JASM and the St. Paul Nagasaki Sister City Committee.
She said the role of Honorary Consul General for Japan in Minnesota is significant when you consider how many people and institutions in this state have strong links to Japan.
“In fact, I think a valid corollary to our state slogan would be the ‘Land of 10,000 Japan-America Relationships per year’, ”she added.
This abundance of professional and personal ties over several decades has led to several cultural connections starting with the St. Paul – Nagasaki Sister City Committee over 50 years ago. Since then, she said corporations and communities alike have cultivated a cross-cultural awareness and engagement between educational, cultural, religious, public affairs, government and business organizations.
“We have invested generously in our collective social capital – a key accomplishment and asset for two cultures that believe lasting progress is made one resolve and relationship at a time,” she said. “In 2009 alone, I counted over 100 Japan-related programs hosted by some 50 organizations statewide that were advertised in the Japan America Society newsletter.”
Minnesota is a state with a process of developing inter-cultural awareness and lifelong connections. She said this tradition continues in September when Governor Tim Pawlenty leads another gubernatorial trade mission delegation to Japan.
Hanson said she would work closely with the Minnesota Trade Office, and the area visitor and convention bureaus on this delegation and for her entire term.
Hanson is truly a world citizen and an American citizen by chance.
Her parents, Pentti and Pirkko Karikoski, were missionaries from Finland who landed in New York en route to Japan around 55 years ago. Mrs. Karikoski was pregnant with Mirja and went into labor in New York.
Once the family was ready to travel, they continue to Japan where they would live for the next 34 years. Hanson grew up speaking Finnish and Japanese and learned English while attending the American School in Japan.
At age 21 Hanson had to choose between a U.S. or a Finnish citizenship.
“I always felt that if you can’t have a world citizenship then a U.S. citizenship is the closest thing to that,” she said.
The ‘accidental American’ says the greatest life decisions are usually based on luck. She said the good fortune of being raised in Japan is one of wonder, with training for life provided in a Finnish household and the Japanese community.
She said that Japan is a collaborative culture and that it continues to influence her career choices that emphasize on service, community and global development. She said the Japanese value trust and long-term relationships and whether in business or community decisions, they are not usually looking for the “opportunity of the month or year.”
With that in mind, Hanson said she would rely heavily on Japan American Society of Minnesota for its programming, events and membership from all around the state. She said the sister cities are also an exciting connection for their direct contact and exchanges with Japan.
She credited the Tokyo American School and the Mission with instilling a sense of being world citizens in an interrelated society. Sometimes you tow the line and sometimes you cross it, she added.
Her association in the Mission allowed her to meet many Minnesota Lutherans, which led in part to her decision to attend college here. It was here that she met her future spouse, Sam Hanson of Mankato, who recently retired as a Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Together they raised six children, and now enjoy six grandchildren.
“The adjustment to life here was made easy because Minnesota and Japan share many bedrock values that are often rehearsed on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion radio program: “Be polite;” “don’t be a burden;” “do your part;” “make yourself useful;” and “don’t create a scene.”
Hanson would earn a degree from Metropolitan State University, then an MBA from Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota; and a Doctorate in Education Leadership from the University of St. Thomas.
In her early career, Hanson was employed by the Institute of Cultural Affairs, an international development NGO. She worked in Osaka, Japan, Kansas City and Minneapolis, where she was co-director of Midwest operations.
Later on Hanson worked with the State of Minnesota as Conference Director of the Minnesota World Trade Center; Transition Director for the Metropolitan Council; the State’s Quality Program Coordinator; and Senior Consultant with the Management Analysis Division.
More recently, Hanson returned to the private and nonprofit sector as a Founding Member and past President of the International Association of Facilitators and the Global Facilitator Service Corp. She is Emeritus Board Member of Simpson Housing Services, a non-profit organization serving homelessness needs in the Twin Cities.
She is currently an adjunct instructor and guest lecturer at several universities on the topics of leadership ethics, conflict resolution and citizen participation. She is also the author of Clues to Achieving Consensus and a chapter contributor to several books about civil society and collaborative decision making.
She said that her new role in representing the Japanese government will mean deferring from her own perspectives based on her other roles as to not be in conflict with an official capacity.
Contact Mirja P. Hanson, Honorary Consul General for Japan at Minneapolis, Honorary Consulate General of Japan at 5510 Edgewater Boulevard, Minneapolis, MN 55417. Or call 651-291-5616 and email [email protected]