Leo Melamed Honored by the Government of Japan

At a Glance

  • CME Group Chairman Emeritus has developed strong bond with Japan throughout his life

When CME Group Chairman Emeritus Leo Melamed was a child, his family fled the Nazis in World War II and received life-saving transit visas to seek refuge in Japan.

That trip to Japan would be the first of many connections to the Asian nation for Melamed, who received this week the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, from the Government of Japan. The recognition is one of the highest awards Japan’s government can confer on someone who is not a head of state or royalty, and is comparable the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The Order of the Rising Sun was established by Emperor Meiji in 1875 and is given to people who have demonstrated notable achievements in international relations, advancements in their field, promotion of Japanese culture and developments in welfare or preservation of the environment.

Japan’s government is recognizing Melamed for his pioneering work as the founder of financial futures markets, for his contribution to Japan-U.S. relationship, and for promoting recognition of Consul General, Chiune Sugihara’s life-saving deeds during World War II.

Suighara was the Japanese Consul General to Lithuania, and gave Melamed’s family the transit visa to come to Japan. Their odyssey to flee the Nazis took two years, starting in Bialystok, Poland, spanned three continents, six languages, the Trans-Siberian railroad, and Japan before arriving in the U.S. in 1941. Sugihara was widely credited with helping thousands of Jews flee Europe during the Holocaust.

First Financial Futures in Japan

Melamed’s other direct tie to Japan was creating the country’s first financial futures market in the 1980s. After creating CME Group’s currency futures in the 1970s – with the Japanese yen being one of the original currencies listed – Melamed was part of helping the exchange launch other financial futures contracts including interest rate and stock index futures. The success of those paved the way to the CME opening an office in Japan in 1987.

“I am both honored and humbled to be bestowed the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star decoration by the Emperor of Japan,” said Melamed.  “My ties to Japan run deep.  And it was at my urging that CME Group set up its first Asian office in Tokyo exactly thirty years ago.  Since then, we have been working very closely to further the development of Japan’s futures markets.”

That first Japanese financial futures contract was the Nikkei 225 futures contract launched at the Osaka Securities Exchange. It was a big step for the exchange, Melamed said in 2008 in remarks on the 20th anniversary of the Nikkei’s launch.

“I applauded the OSE for its courage in embracing this new risk management tool, since the concept of stock index futures was barely six years old,” he said in 2008. “At the time of its launch, the Nikkei 225 contract served as clarion call to the financial world that Japan was evolving from its insular past.”

Debbie Carlson has focused on commodities for much of her writing career. She spent more than a decade at Dow Jones covering the Chicago-based futures exchanges. As a Dow Jones editor, she worked closely with The Wall Street Journal and Barron's in planning commodities coverage.

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