In Memoriam: Irene Hirano Inouye

On April 7, U.S.-Japan Council president Irene Hirano Inouye passed away at the age of 71. In 2019, she received the Japan-America Society’s highest honor, the Sun & Star Legacy Award, for her many contributions to strengthening the U.S.-Japan relationship. Her North Texas connections also include an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humane Letters from Southern Methodist University in 2015.

When she received the honorary degree from SMU, the Tower Center hosted a symposium titled “Celebrating the American Experience and U.S.-Japan Relations: Irene Hirano Inouye, Her Life, Works and Achievement,” which highlighted her accomplishments in bringing awareness to the Japanese-American community and championing the bilateral partnership between Japan and the U.S. Hiroki Takeuchi, who is a JASDFW friend, Associate Professor of Political Science at SMU, and Director of the Tower Center’s Sun and Star Program on Japan and East Asia, commented “In the symposium, she reminded me that thanks to the tremendous efforts–sometimes painful–of the Japanese Americans, the Japanese living in the United States now can live with peace of mind.”

She was born in 1948 in Los Angeles, where she became a community leader at an early age. A graduate of the University of Southern California, where she also earned her master’s degree, Inouye Hirano was executive director at the T.H.E. Center for Women for 13 years before becoming the president and founding CEO of the Japanese American National Museum (JANM), where she served for 20 years. In 2008, she became the founding president of the U.S.-Japan Council (USJC), a non-profit educational organization which develops and connects global leaders to create a stronger U.S.-Japan relationship.

Through USJC, Hirano Inouye also administered the TOMODACHI Initiative, a public-private partnership with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo and the government of Japan that invests in young Japanese and Americans through educational and cultural exchanges and leadership programs. The TOMODACHI Initiative supported three groups of students which attended the 2012 Japan-America Grassroots Summit in North Texas and the Initiative was a long-time funder of the Dallas-Sendai Young Ambassadors Program. John Stich, a former JASDFW board member, board president, and Honorary Consul of Japan in Dallas, shared that “(Irene) had many friends in Texas and she will be missed.”

In addition to her leadership of USJC, her professional and community activities included serving as Chair and Trustee, Ford Foundation; Chair and Trustee, Kresge Foundation; Chair, Smithsonian Institution Asian Pacific American Center;  Chair of the Advisory Board, Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, University of California at Los Angeles; Trustee, Washington Center; Trustee, Independent Sector, and member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; member of the Advisory Board, Center on Philanthropy & Public Policy, Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California; Chair, Board of Directors of the American Association of Museums; Board Member, National Trust for Historic Preservation; Member, National Board Smithsonian Institution; member, Toyota Corporation’s Diversity Advisory Board; member, Business Advisory Board of Sodexho Corporation; President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities by Presidential appointment; and Chair, California Commission on the Status of Women.

To see a video about her life, presented at the 2019 Sun & Star Legacy Award Dinner, please visit here.

To see a highlight video of the 2019 Sun & Star Legacy Award Dinner, please visit here.

To see photos from the 2019 Sun & Star Legacy Award Dinner, please visit here.


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