U.S. Embassy in Japan useless for the ordinary American here?

Charge d’Affaires Zumwalt’s blog “Z Notes”

For the past couple months, I’ve been a reader of the above-linked blog, which details some of the events that Mr. Zumwalt, as a kind of acting-ambassador, has been doing. (We are waiting for President Obama’s pick, John V. Roos, to arrive in Tokyo.)

As a four-plus year resident in Japan, it’s given me some time to put some solid form to opinions I have about the different American organs here. And, you know, it’s the good, the bad, and the ugly. Or however the saying goes.

Re: the American Embassy here, I realize that these people can’t walk on water and solve everyone’s personal qualms. But what I am amazed at is the lack of specific concern to any of the multiple concerns an average citizen would have here.

Some of this simply reflects the Bush Administration and its notion that government itself is bad (unless it is keeping rich and powerful people rich and powerful.) And so therefore, obviously, U.S. embassies under Bush like here in Tokyo aren’t going to focus on very much other than taking care of the well connected. And anything else an embassy might do is against the governing principle that government shouldn’t do anything.

If this was the Bush Administration’s goal, the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo did a fantastic job. In the few times I ever had to use its services or just visit, there is a whole hurdle of security to go through—even on the sidewalk down the block. The staff is very helpful for the basic things like getting a notarization or for people to get their passport renewed. But you get absolutely no sense that the Embassy is engaged in any way whatsoever about the lives and livelihoods of Americans living in Tokyo, or the rest of Japan.

The Embassy seems to excel at what amount to photo opportunites and pretty words. Yes, this is one function of a country’s embassy. But it’s really supposed to watch out, in a positive way, for the citizens of the home country that sent it, in that host country. That is: watch out for Americans’ interests in Japan.

This Embassy seems to operate on the notion that:

– if you take care of the power people and institutions connected with them in the home country


– you flatter the host country at every opportunity,

then you’ve done “a heck of a job!”

So the Embassy has plenty of contact and socializing with ACCJ (American Chamber of Commerce in Japan), major law firms, major multinational corporations based here, Temple University Japan, and maybe even, through an annual picnic, the military rank-and-file.

But not much concern for the ordinary American—the one they’re “always available to renew a passport for if it’s expiring!”

I have an interesting story about this and a group at the Embassy called “OSAC” that I’ll share on another post.

All of the talk coming through this end of the Pacific, about how the Obama Administration will mean “no changes” to the U.S.-Japan relations is in some aspects a little scary. There are some aspects that do indeed need a great deal of changing—particularly, in shaking up the Lordship of the Pacific Elite in this town.

I would hate to think that “Change You Can Believe In” somehow translates as “Business as Usual” in Japanese.