Vol. 2, No. 17 (December 6, 2006)
The opinions and materials contained herein do not necessarily represent the views or policies of the Government of Japan.
Japan-U.S. Summit Meeting And Japan-U.S.-ROK Summit Meeting
As part of the APEC Summit in Hanoi, Viet Nam, Prime Minister Abe and President Bush met for the first time on November 18. This was followed by another meeting between Prime Minister Abe, President Bush and Republic of Korea's President Roh Moo-hyun.
|The panelists at the Nov. 1 discussion: (L-R) Sonni Efron, Susan Gundersen, James Miller, Naveen Rao and Jennifer Thompson|
How to cook with chopsticks, communicate with ambiguity, survive 12-hour workdays, and navigate Tokyo's crowded streets and often inscrutable decision-making process...These are among the lessons learned by four former participants of the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme (JET) and the Mike Mansfield Fellowships.
On November 1, 2006, the Japan Information and Culture Center and the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation co-sponsored a panel discussion, "Life After Japan: Lessons Learned From Local and National Government Exchanges." Ms. Sonni Efron, editorial page editor and former foreign correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, moderated the discussion that featured Susan Gunderson, James Miller, Naveen Rao and Jennifer Thompson as participants. Each of the participants shared their personal reflections on the years they spent teaching English in Japan, coordinating international programs and working inside the Japanese government, and the impact these experiences have had on their personal and professional lives.
Noting that neither JET nor the Mansfield Fellowship Program existed when she first traveled to Japan as a university exchange student, Ms. Efron observed that as a foreign journalist who spent four years living in and reporting on Japan, she would have benefited from the insights these programs' made possible.
Coincidentally, the four panelists each grew up in relatively small towns in Kentucky, Kansas and South Dakota. Seeking opportunities to have a non-Western cultural experience, study Japanese and gain professional experience in Japan, the four panelists embraced a wide range of experiences in Japan that have influenced their career choices and world view.
Susan Gunderson, a native of Kentucky participated in the JET programme immediately after graduating from DePauw University, where she majored in East Asian Studies. Although she expected to stay only one to two years, she "fell in love with Japan" and stayed for four and one half years working on Hokkaido and in Tokyo. Back in the United States, her Japan experience led her to pursue a career in international education and international exchanges. Although JET influenced her career choice, the program's most significant impact was on Susan's personal growth. She says she became more confident, independent, open-minded and flexible, personal characteristics that continue to serve her well personally and professionally.
A participant in both programs,
James Miller said "the ability to experience a Japanese task in a
Japanese environment is invaluable." Acknowledging the size and diversity
of the United States, James observed that "there is huge value in
learning new things and how people in another country live" even
though Japan and the United States share much in common. JET offered James
a "midwestern experience" in Japan. The native Kansan, who grew
up in a small town of 2,500 people, felt right at home among the rice
fields of Kanazawa, Ishikawa-ken. Serving in a bureaucracy as a Mansfield
Fellow did not feel completely foreign either. Working inside Japanese
government agencies, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communication
and the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, James came away with
a higher level of Japanese language proficiency and a strong network of
Curiosity about Japan motivated Naveen Rao to pack his bags after college and travel to Japan to teach English in Fukuoka Prefecture. A desire to strengthen his Japanese language skills and build on his JET experience led Naveen, now an attorney with the Department of Transportation, to return to Japan on the Mansfield Fellowship. Naveen's experience in Japanese public education and in the Japanese government gave him an appreciation for the United States education system that affords individuals second chances to re-enter either the education system or the government. Naveen expects to apply his Japan expertise and continue working with his former colleagues at the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau in his new position as Counselor to the Assistant Secretary of Transportation for Aviation and International Affairs.
Like her fellow panelists, Jennifer Thompson found herself in Japan pursuing her first job after college. Seeking a cultural experience in Asia where she could study the Japanese language, Jennifer returned home with an appreciation for other cultures and lifestyles. She realized that "my way is not necessarily the best or only way" and says she also learned the value of dedication to work that has impacted other aspects of her career. Her observation sparked a lively discussion among the participants about the notoriously long work hours of the Japanese people.
Long work hours can be like a double-edged sword, with advantages and disadvantages. Working into the night together on a group project can help build strong professional relationships, friendships and an esprit de corps. Naveen Rao acknowledged the strong work ethic among Japanese people, but wondered "whether it translates to working harder." Naveen recalled waiting as late as 10 or 11o'clock at night with colleagues from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport for questions to come from the Diet that needed to be answered by morning. At METI, James Miller had a similar experience, which raised questions for him such as "is failure viewed the same [in the United States and Japan], and how much polish is required?"
Sonni Efron agreed that the Japanese work style can be difficult on families saying she "found it difficult to be a mother and work in Japan." Despite the challenge to finding work-life balance, Sonni admitted that there is a tremendous benefit for individuals and their families to embark on an overseas experience: "Whatever cultural discomfort you have, you learn from it."
The Governments of Japan and the United States have made substantial investments in providing opportunities for Americans to experience Japan at the grassroots and national levels. Shared policy interests, interrelated economies, and democratic values underscore the importance of engaging with one another at all levels of government and society. For these reasons, Mike Mansfield argued that there is no substitute for being there. According to Susan Gunderson, it was the "best decision of my life."
*Paige Cottingham-Streater is deputy executive director of the Maureen and Mike Mansfield Foundation and directs the Mike Mansfield Fellowships, a congressionally-funded government-to-government exchange between the United States and Japan. She was an Assistant Language Teacher in Mie Prefecture and founding member of the JET Alumni Association.
Robin L. White
Japan-America Student Conference
|JASC participants in front of the San Francisco Civic Center|
This series features Japan-related organizations in the Washington, DC area: about who they are, their activities, and their efforts to bring further understanding of Japan to the American community, and strengthen Japan-U.S. relations on a local level.
JASC 1935 discussion topic: Has Japan Gone Fascist?
JASC 2007 discussion topic: Nationalism: Patriotism or Xenophobia?
No one could accuse the student delegates to the Japan-America Student Conference of shirking the tough topics...
Yet the Conference has evolved from its early days, when painful geopolitical issues divided the countries, to today, when the focus is on how the two great allies can work together on global issues. For example, other topics for 2007 include "Innovative Approaches to International Development," "Creating a Global Citizen: Education Focused on International Concerns," and "Eastern and Western Popular Art: Who is Imitating Whom?"
Now in its 73rd year, the Japan-America Student Conference (JASC) is the oldest bilateral student exchange program between the U.S. and Japan. In 1934, Japanese college students concerned about the relationship invited American counterparts to Japan for a summer of discussion and cultural interaction. The experience was so positive that the Americans invited their counterparts to the West Coast for the next year's Conference. For six years, they continued to exchange visits, debating the hard issues and forging bonds that endured despite the war.
JASC was recreated during the Occupation and continues to be a major force in deepening understanding among young people. It differs from traditional exchange programs in that 40 American and 40 Japanese college students live, work and study together for one month, leading to very intense intellectual and personal experiences. As a 2005 delegate said, "I never expected the kind of friendships that formed. I learned a lot during my roundtable about cultural differences that I didn't pick up in a year of living in Japan because we were actively talking about them."
JASC is student-run. The 8 American and 8 Japanese leaders on the Executive Committee, elected at the end of each Conference, plan the program for the next year. They choose 7 roundtable topics, select the next year's delegates, invite speakers, arrange visits to businesses, set up field trips and make sure there is time for recreation and great traditions like the talent show and ethnic cooking evenings. With a formidable array of logistical arrangements to consider, the Executive Committee learns leadership, cultural sensitivity and communication skills.
JASC Inc., a small non-profit, assists the students with administrative arrangements, provides continuity, and handles fundraising from foundation, corporate, individual and alumni supporters.
The program alternates between Japan and the U.S. In 2006 JASC visited Cornell University, University of Oklahoma, Washington, D.C. and San Francisco. In 2007 they will be in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Kyoto and Akita.
Held in English, the program attracts many American students already interested in Japan or Asia studies, but it also brings in the computer science major, filmmaker, architecture student, business major. These delegates will retain strong ties to Japan throughout their careers, regardless of the directions they take.
Japanese students are also of diverse backgrounds and majors, and like their American counterparts they come from universities in all parts of the country. The sharing of cultural differences among students of each country is an added benefit, as is the geographic diversity of sites.
Our alumni say that JASC is a life-changing experience. A strong alumni network keeps the ties strong, and JASCers are happy to mentor their younger colleagues. Among the prominent JASC alumni are Prime Minister Kiichi Miyazawa and Mrs. Miyazawa, Secretary Henry Kissinger, Fuji Xerox CEO Yotaro Kobayashi, and NSC Asia Economic Director Kurt Tong.
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