Serving in Japan

9/11 inspires giving back home

Yoichi Shiraishi, MBA 93
Member, Japanese House of Representatives, Tokyo

“Events beyond our imagination” is a recurring theme in Yoichi Shiraishi’s life. He began his career in the Long Term Credit Bank of Japan (LTCB), an apparently rock-solid financial institution. Within eight years he was closing the LTCB’s Chicago office, only to see the bank become one of corporate Japan’s biggest bankruptcies.

 “The LTCB had a triple-A rating when I joined, and collapsed within a decade.”

After LTCB’s demise, Shiraishi joined global accounting firm KPMG in New York in 2000, where he advised Japanese companies expanding in the U.S. His apartment was located directly adjacent to the World Trade Center. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, his wife was taking their 6-year-old son to school while his 3-year-old daughter was already at her nursery, located between their apartment and the Twin Towers.

 “We saw burning debris and then bodies fall from the towers. I found my wife and son quickly and then spent the whole day searching for my daughter,” he recalls. “Her nursery had been completely blanketed in dust and rubble.”

 He eventually found her at a New Jersey military base, where her teacher had taken the class. The events of that day, the kindness the family received from so many people during the long walk to New Jersey, and the support that America received from around the world had a profound effect on Shiraishi. “It made me want to do something with my life, to change myself, and to give something back.”

 After taking years to convince his wife that he should return to Japan to help his homeland, they moved back in 2006. In 2009, Shiraishi won a seat in the Japanese Diet representing his district in southwestern Japan.

He serves on committees dedicated to the crucial reform of Japan’s welfare and pension system as the country struggles with the challenges of the fastest-aging society on earth. He also is serving as secretary general of pensions for the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, tasked with creating a new “affordable, occupation-neutral system,” that will provide a universal guaranteed-minimum pension benefit to all citizens.

“I want to create a country that helps those who are struggling,” says Shiraishi.

 The struggles reached another level with the devastating earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. After visiting affected areas, Shiraishi was appointed to the committee dedicated to reconstruction. He says, “Seeing the LTCB fail, then 9/11, and the tsunami, which was predicted to be 5 meters high, but actually reached 30 meters—sometimes events occur that are beyond our imagination.” –Gavin Blair


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