State Department’s Kevin Maher Part 2: How is the American public supposed to find things out?

More on the flap that Kevin Maher created by pointing out how consensus in the Japanese culture is–from time to time–used as an excuse to seek a better bargaining position against an opponent in a negotiation.

It’s been pointed out to me, that it’s a valuable thing to have a State Department that speaks with one voice. Fair enough. I think the general public, at least the ones who pay attention, have a high regard for Hillary Clinton. So the policy being formulated at the top regarding Japan is probably well thought out, and you don’t need a one-man Wikileaks out there making real-time brouhahas. Especially about the military bases in Okinawa, which should not be controversial in light of what the U.S. offers Japan, but have been controversial (for other reasons) nonetheless.

Again, to defend Kevin Maher: how the heck is the general public supposed to be able to come to any understanding of U.S.-Japan relations, if the expectation is that even low-level officials can’t be candid about the negative stuff that goes on? When you only read positive–and there is much positive in the relations between the two countries–it does make you wonder what’s really going on.

That’s why I enjoy the Z-Notes, the blog put out by Charge d’Affaires Zumwalt. Even though each and every post is sunny, it also does confirm some things that are very clear about the U.S. mission in Japan.

As an aside [and the rest is just some random thoughts]: on yesterday’s blog post, someone decided that it was an occasion to make a personal attack or a slur, and I let it through–against policy–because it’s very instructive.

Some time ago, Zumwalt had a feature about the Japan Exchange Teachers program, and he reported that many of the alumni of this exchange deal for young people from English-speaking countries often end up in diplomatic positions, either heavy or lightweight, in the U.S. embassy or consulates.

The JETters themselves are, almost as a rule, young Japanophiles, and the terms and conditions they get are pretty good for a starting job: 3,600,000 yen a year, plus benefits that they don’t have to fight for or pay by coupons. Depending on the assignment, they become a bit of a commodity in the locale–especially rural JETs.

As yet another aside: it’s a program that some in Japan’s Democratic Party (DPJ) think is a bit of a boondoggle, especially the vast recruiting structure for it in several different countries. So Diet senator Renho feels the program should be evaluated.

In the meantime, there are these private-business dispatch services who send out, well, young foreigners, to teach English. They do it for a lot less money–primarily by cheating their workers out of health and pension benefits. It’s the Japanese doing it, but since Americans made a nice business out it, there is that lovely shade of gray that the Japanese often seek to introduce into less-than-honorable situations.

So back to the matter: the point I got from Mr. Zumwalt was that one “feeder” to our embassy system in Japan is the very program that gives young Americans a sweet deal (as compared to the dispatch system) for their time in Japan. I say this as “bought off”—and it’s only partly tongue and cheek.

The reason it’s partly tongue and cheek is because there is the unpleasant, un-sunny, aspects of our dealing with the Land of the Rising Sun. I know regular readers know that we have been over these time and again. Debito works hard on a couple of the issues, and the people affiliated with Tozen, Nambu and the Osaka and Fukuoka General Unions point them out regularly. These go to labor and contract issues in general. Also, domestic relations in bi-cultural families.

The embassy is finally getting in gear about the child kidnappings, but I think it’s taken some time, plus a push from Congressman Smith in New Jersey.

So how do we find out about these sorts of things, without someone, either stateside or a the Embassy, saying something?

The embassy’s had near dead silence about the labor law stuff, and I think it has to do with the clubby relationship Toranomon maintains with the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan, which you could also glean from a Zumwalt post.

But on these other, heart-of-the-matter, er, matters, like:

Do you respect us?

who, from the Embassy, is reporting back? How do we, the average Americans who aren’t close into the trans-Pacific honey pot, know that our contribution into the bilateral relations is a fair deal? That we’re not being looked at like fat fools who are easily squeezed by the power structure that was left in place in Japan? How do we know this stuff, one way or the other?

The simple fact is, the average American does not pay attention to Far East Asia matters. They buy their solid car, they get the electronic gadgetries, they moan about “losing jobs to China” as they shop online for the next low-price product out of China. But they do not pay attention to whether we are being respected in the region, especially by our purported allies.

Some percentage cannot find Japan on a map. Others think it’s part of China.

Few people with a nice connection to Japan are very honest about what the true state of relations is. Which, yes, is good; but not always in all ways.


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