Japan Engineer District
Published Oct. 4, 2021
30 Year Award

Daniel Fujimoto, Japan Engineer District safety chief, receives his 30 years of service recognition from Col. Gary Bonham, Japan Engineer District commander, during a ceremony at Camp Zama, Japan. Fujimoto is one year into his second tour with the Corps in Japan.

On any given day if you were to enter Japan Engineer District, you would hear him before you see him.
A voice full of mirth, wrapped in the warmth of friendliness, with just a hint of a Hawaiian accent. Combined with a gaze that not even the tiniest safety infraction can escape, there’s no wonder why he stands as the chief of safety for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Japan. This is Daniel Fujimoto – half-Hawaiian, half-Japanese, and an all-American asset to the Corps.

 If you mention his 30 years in service, you’re likely to get a laugh.

“Counting years like this is kind of corny,” he grins. “Thirty years ago I had just graduated [college] with a four-year business degree, and I said, ‘Hey… what am I going to do?’ Now, here I am thirty years later and I’m still asking myself the same question… but for different reasons, of course.”

The Aiea, Hawaii native hadn’t planned on ending up at USACE.  In fact, he hadn’t planned on really doing much office-style work at all. However, following a recommendation from a friend, he entered a DoD CO-OP intern program with Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in 1991, where he got a taste for what the government had to offer.

“It was my first office job. I couldn’t use the fax machine, I couldn’t figure out how to reload paper in the copier. People looked at me like, ‘you don’t know how to use this?!’, Fujimoto reminisced. “I was always an outside person. I had worked in a warehouse, or whatever. I didn’t know how to file!”

Working as a personal property clerk, Fujimoto began to develop a work ethic that sometimes stood in contrast to what he perceived in his peers.

“I was very industrious and everything, and all of the old-timers kept saying ‘Hey, slow down, man! Job security… job security,’ Fujimoto said. “… but from the get-go my supervisor and peers – they knew I wasn’t going to stay at a GS3 for my career.”

From there it was on to service desk at the Department of Public Works. Then a move to the DPW Safety Department, where he had an involved supervisor who believed in him. It was also here that he discovered his calling in the safety business.

“After they picked me up, my boss there took interest in me and said that she was going to give me all this training to build me up, to mentor me to be a safety person,” he remembered. “And I kind of liked what I was doing because you’re helping people and kind of solving problems – you have that authority to make change. That was rewarding.”

That work experience was also Fujimoto’s gateway to USACE.

“In 2001, I applied for a job with USACE in Korea and that’s how I got my feet wet with the Army Corps of Engineers,” he explained. “And I fell in love with the Army Corps! Because USACE as a whole… it’s a different world if you think about it! We do everything from civil works… we even have park rangers! And the best part of the Corps that I really liked was that we’re a contingency organization. We support contingencies in the states and we also supported during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; so we’re very dynamic.”

Now, 15 years later after his initial Korea tour, Fujimoto’s now on his second USACE tour in Japan. Being half Japanese, it was a bit like coming home. Although, he’s the first to admit the connection to Japan is more of the heart and less of the mind.

“I can’t speak Japanese. My parents are very disappointed because of this,” Fujimoto sheepishly admits. My parents [have] visited. They came up. My dad is from [the] Iwakuni side and my mom’s relatives are from Fukushima. I’m 4th generation Japanese – on my dad’s side, I’m 3rd on my mom’s side. But I just can’t pick up Japanese. I’ve been to classes, I’ve listened to tapes but I just can’t pick it up. It’s a mental block.”

Ability to speak the native language aside, Fujimoto says he feels he’s really found a home at JED, and at USACE as a whole. He’s quick to point out how dynamic and challenging the workload is, which makes it a good pairing for his work ethic – as well as his inclination to evolve.

”My work ethic has never changed. I’ve always been looking for new ways to do things. And one thing I’ve learned from the government is if you can be a leader and an innovator, people will follow,” he emphasizes. “[Others are] not trying to go outside the box – they’re trying to stay inside their lanes. And that’s fine for them, but not me. My box [job] is this but I’m trying to make it better.”

Fujimoto emphasizes that making an impact on someone else’s life is the ultimate reward.

"The reward is just seeing people remember, ‘Hey, you’re the safety guy,’” he grins. “Good or bad, at least they know who I am. That’s a positive!”

Though 30 years of federal service is quite the milestone, Fujimoto appears to have just gotten started.

“I’d like to continue doing what I’m doing,” he said, stopping to reflect. “I’m 54, so I’ve got another 10 more years to go. What I tell people is that if I still enjoy my job and I still love what I’m doing - I’ll continue to work.”