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Meet Akihito Nakanishi, the new Director of Programming at the Portland Japanese Garden

Photo by Jonathan Ley

Akihito “Aki” Nakanishi is not only a cultural leader but a public diplomacy expert with 19 years of experience in government relations, public communication, artistic exchanges, and cultural programming in Japan. Portland Japanese Garden is thrilled to have Nakanishi on its leadership team as the Garden’s new Director of Programming.

“If it wasn’t for the people, by which I mean not only the dedicated gardeners and staff here, but also the members of the community, who all invariably share the love and respect for the Garden, I would not have come here. It’s an amazing combination of mutual respect and reciprocal
cooperation between individuals in the U.S. and Japan that has spawned this global cultural institution. I hope to add even more fun and educational dimensions to the holistic cultural art form that this world-class Garden proudly stands for,” said Nakanishi.

“The depth and breadth of experience and knowledge that Aki brings to the Garden is considerable. I don’t think we could have found a better person to build on the foundation we have established over the past decade. I have complete confidence that his ideas and energy will enhance the experience for members and visitors alike.”
— Diane Durston

Caroline Kennedy, U.S. Ambassador to Japan (2013-17), conferring an award of excellence to Aki Nakanishi.

For the past ten years, Nakanishi has served as the Cultural Affairs Specialist at the U.S. Embassy in Japan, working to enhance the mutual understanding between the U.S. and Japan through a number of visit programs by high-level U.S. Government leaders including President Barack Obama; Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry; and Ambassador Caroline Kennedy. He oversaw the Embassy’s involvement in cultural, creative, and educational activities which earned him multiple professional awards of excellence including The U.S. Department of State Meritorious Honor Award.

“While it is critical to focus on the growing needs of international visitors from all over the world, for whom Japanese ideals and aesthetics might be foreign, I would like to be cognizant of those regular visitors from our community who discover something new in the Garden each time they come as well,” he said.

With his firm foothold in visual art and other forms of contemporary expression through personal ties with a myriad of Japanese cultural icons, he has spearheaded numerous cutting-edge art exhibitions, as well as performing arts and literary programs internationally, crossing boundaries of culture, genre, and time.

Photo by Jonathan Ley

“As Director of Programming, I will oversee the entire spectrum of the Garden’s cultural programs totaling more than 250 events each year, and they are very diverse, with some of them being highly multi-disciplinary often involving high-tech media to enhance the experience design. This cross-genre approach with clear emphasis on Japanese traditions and creativity as they relate to other Asiatic cultures will provide multiple layers of understanding towards the culture and ethos of the Japanese garden,” Nakanishi added.

Aki and his wife Mie and two daughters, Mina and Lisaki have moved from Tokyo to Portland so Aki could start work at the Garden, and we couldn’t be happier that he’s here.