The people issues Ambassador Roos should focus on

Last week, President Obama’s Ambassador to Japan, John Roos, arrived in town.

I saw bit of the newsflashes on TV, and read about it on the internet.

Most of international news coverage is on the relations between Japan, as a sovereign, and the United States. But to me that discussion is a little boring and always slightly off-topic.

In the era of intercontinental ballistic missiles, Japan and the United States are really border countries. Like the U.S. and Canada.

The U.S. and Canada have a joint air defense command called “NORAD”. (NORth American Air Defense)

If the old Soviet or today’s Russian missiles ever came across the North Pole, the idea was to stop them up in the Bay of Fundy and not Pennsylvania.

Likewise, U.S. military defense of the Japan and North Pacific requires some sort of involvement by us here in the Japanese archipelago. Any new party coming along that would kick America out, well . . . If they have phone service after the first nuclear exchange between the other Asian powers, give us a call and let us know how it’s going.

So what the Embassy really should focus on is not defense relations but how well or badly Americans in Japan fare.

The prior Republican administrations were tone deaf on this issue. And worse, they clearly favored the executive business class here around Tokyo. Everyone else from back home was just “somehow here in Japan! Why are you here?!” Like that. But Japanese Americans ironically, don’t get this question put to them as much. It really makes me wonder, (as you should, too.)

I am sure that the local power barons within the American expat community are already chumming up to John Roos, and “indicating” how he can make a success out of his ambassadorship here. You know, this will mean doing whatever the lords of the expat community want. Right?


Well, I know the President is being given a real hard time back home on this health insurance reform project. Unfairly. And what “Change We Can Believe In” really was supposed to mean. But I do know what it could mean here in Tokyo.

So for here, I can think of the Top Five things where the Embassy should work for change:

Number Five: Why is the place so remote? It’s sitting right there in downtown Tokyo, Toranomon, but it’s surrounded like some kind of compound. The Canadian embassy, you just walk right in off the street. Same with England and New Zealand. Australia looks pretty accessible. How come we can’t at least have “passive defense” built into ours? It’s like you’re visiting the inmates.

I realize that half the Americans here are military. But why does our Embassy have to come across as a military installation or a penitentiary?

Number Four:
What exactly does OSAC (Overseas Security Advisory Council) do in a country where there really aren’t serious threats to American persons?

I appreciate getting the warden’s notice by e-mail, about how bad guys (or girls) can like date-rape drugs into your adult beverage in Roppongi. And then pick your pockets. But other than that in the last four-plus years, I don’t see where OSAC is necessary in its current form in Japan.

Other countries, yeah, there’s a risk that terrorists will kidnap the Big Exec or his family for ransom. But that just isn’t Japan.

Please tell me that that Roppongi drink thing happens more than ten times a year, I would be surprised. It’s a country of 123 million people.

I’ll have more to say about OSAC another day.

Number Three:
The Embassy should look at any business involving Americans taking advantage of other Americans here, and question if it isn’t just a con. Or some bad exploitation.

I’m thinking in particular the whole English instructor racket. ALT, as it’s known, or assistant language teacher in Japanese schools. And the Eikaiwa industry. A sizable part of that industry went bankrupt in 2007, but the tactics and reputation do not seem to have improved since then.

There is a firm out there called “Interac” (parent-based in Utah) that seems particularly of concern. Interac is a subsidiary of Selnate USA, which is headquartered in Provo Utah. They do a strong business staffing Japanese public schools with foreign English teachers. For this, Interac takes a cut of the money that the school board would be paying those youngsters. Something like $5,000 a head on a $25,000 salary.

When the Republicans ran Washington, I could see that Utah being a big Republican state, the powers would look the other way. But Barack Obama was not elected by Utah. So what exactly is Selnate/Interac doing with the Japanese education establishment? Just curious.

[Update: the deeper I dig on the ALT Dispatch industry, it turns out that there are far worse offenders than Selnate. For example, check the issues delineated by the Fukuoka General Union: “the ALT scam” I can see a firm doing dispatch getting a cut for lining up the job–although that seems a bit of an inefficient way to handle it. But some of these outfits sound like they are just trying to bleed money out of both ends. And if they are somehow tied to America, the EEO rules do apply!]

There is another growing concern whether major United States corporations realize that Americans working for them are covered by the 1991 amendments to the Civil Rights Act. Again, another post.

Number Two:
There is no special unit to cover contract and labor issues that Americans come across in Japan. When I participated in an OSAC presentation earlier this year, one of the commentators in the audience was an FBI attache. I think the topic was labor relations in Japan, and he seemed to be up on whether there was labor-friendly (management-restricting) proposals coming from the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan).

I am still surprised at this. It’s nice that our FBI agents are broad-minded enough to be following prospectively the legislation in the Japan Diet. But I fail to see where any of that would connect to crimes! Which is what the FBI is supposed to focus on. Crime. Not whether Manpower might not be able to place temporary staff in manufacturing positions at Toyota or another big manufacturer. That’s not FBI! It’s people doing criminal things, and maybe some of these tax cheats around who don’t file, and hide money.

I would like to see an Ombudsman at the Embassy to collects information about Labor and Contract (things like real estate leases, etc.) issues that Americans face in Japan, and bring these concerns to the attention of whoever ends up running Japan in September.

To me, that is a much better use of resources than having the Embassy politick on behalf of Milwaukee-based Manpower, and having the FBI attache get all worked up about legislation that might impact Manpower’s global bottom line.

And, of course, the Number One issue: Other than registering with the Embassy and getting the Warden’s e-mail about Roppongi, why is there no coordinated outreach by the Embassy to resident expat Americans?

The civilian population of expat Americans here in Japan (whole country) is about 40,000 52,000. [Slightly more than the] The size of Bridgewater, New Jersey, my hometown. It would be very easy for the embassy to have a community outreach program.

I don’t think I need to elaborate on this one. One purpose of an Embassy is to look after the interest of the citizens living in the receiving country.

Can the average American here honestly say that the U.S. Embassy has been doing this the last several years?