U.S.-Japan Relationship: the View from Washington, D.C.

Date April 10, 2006
Speaker TADA Yukio(Chairman, Center for Professional Exchange (CEPEX))
Moderator KIMURA Hidemi(Fellow, RIETI)


BBL Report: Nurturing the next generation of American experts on Japan

Yukio Tada, a long-time resident of the United States who worked for former Nissho Iwai Corp., is now serving as chairman of the Center for Professional Exchange (CEPEX), a nonprofit organization he founded based in Washington, D.C. "This NPO is meant to be a sort of international Hello Work office, a job placement service provider. We are worried about the prospect of the diminishing pool of young Americans well-versed in things Japanese, whom we hope to become the next-generation of leaders in the U.S.-Japan relationship," he said. "Because of this concern, we are taking actions to nurture competent American experts on Japan and I hope for support for this cause."

Diminishing pool of Japan experts because of diminishing attractiveness of Japan?

Tada said the sense of urgency he felt about a sharp fall in the number of "Japan experts" in the U.S. led to the establishment of CEPEX in May 2005.

"Kent Calder, Ed Lincoln and Mike Mochizuki are among these Japan experts. All of them are from the baby boomer generation and were engaged in U.S. policymaking with Japan, either within the government or at think tanks in the 1980s through the '90s, a period in which U.S.-Japan trade friction was a huge issue," Tada said. "But when we look at those in the succeeding generations, we see a very thin layer of Japan experts. The situation is troubling because this thin layer seems likely to get thinner in the coming years."

There are several reasons behind the sharp fall in the number of American experts on Japan, Tada said. The relatively good relationship between Japan and the U.S. in recent years may be one reason, he said. But the greatest reason, he said, lies in the fact that there have been very few captivating issues between the U.S. and Japan which would call for the involvement of Japan experts, as compared to between the U.S. and China. The situation makes it difficult to get involved in U.S.-Japan issues and make it a profession or a business, he explained.

China and South Korea providing an array of seminars to attract U.S. interest

In the meantime, China, Taiwan and South Korea have been actively trying to lure U.S. interest by organizing seminars on Asia and various other issues. In particular, China stands out by organizing seminars that are 10 times greater than those by Japan both in terms of scale and number of attendees. This, according to Tada, is another indication of Japan's visible decline in prestige, which leads to a further decrease in the number of American experts on Japan.

Considering the future of the U.S.-Japan relationship, he thought, it is time that Japan seriously thought and found ways to nurture the next generation of American experts on Japan. Investigating the possibility of a joint initiative among the government, private sector and NPOs, Tada approached each party concerned and presented his idea. He discussed the idea with senior officials of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other government agencies as well as with business leaders, including Kakutaro Kitashiro, Chairman of the Japan Association of Corporate Executives ( Keizai Doyukai ), who was visiting the U.S. to attend the Japan-U.S. Business Conference. As a result of sharing the sense of urgency with them, Tada decided to establish CEPEX.

CEPEX supports Americans interested in Japan and engaged in research on Japan at a university, graduate school or research institute, with an aim of nurturing "next-generation Japan experts" who can be expected to play an active role in the future as members of U.S. government agencies or international organizations. To this end, CEPEX decided to work closely with the Japanese government, corporations and universities to provide these young talents with opportunities to be engaged in education and/or research activities at a Japanese university or to work for a Japanese company.

JET Program alumni as a hopeful reserve force

As to where to find candidates, Tada points to the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program, noting that those who used to be in the program can form a good reserve force.

The JET Program -- organized under a joint initiative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications -- invites overseas university graduates to assist in foreign language education in Japan. Under this program, about 3,000 Americans are invited each year to teach English in junior high and high schools in Japan for one to three years. The program was launched in 1987. Since then more than 40,000 Americans have taken part.

Tada thought it would be a good idea for CEPEX to support those who already know about Japan through their various experiences in Japan in the hopes that they will eventually take up a post - either in a U.S. government agency or international organization - where they can work on Japan-related policy. Thus, as a pilot plan, he asked Teikyo University to establish three new posts for accepting overseas researchers.

Then, he reached out to Americans who have been in the JET Program, encouraging them to take this challenge and apply for the post. In doing so, CEPEX clearly expressed its intention to extend support for 10 years. As it turned out, however, CEPEX was only able to recruit one researcher.

During the BBL seminar, Tada called for greater cooperation, quoting Ryozo Kato, Japan's Ambassador to the U.S.: "The Japan-U.S. relationship is in good shape today. But unless we continue to water and sow the seeds, this tree of the relationship will wither. A program for nurturing Japan experts must be created now because when the tree has withered, it will be too late."

Some JET alumni are set to enter the political arena

Following his presentation, Tada was asked by an audience member for a more detailed explanation about the diminishing number of American experts on Japan. "Frankly speaking," he responded, "because there are no big issues between Japan and the U.S., researchers are unable to obtain research grants for doing studies on Japan, whereas they can get funds if they take up the U.S.-Japan relationship in a way that provides some sort of linkage with China or South Korea. It seems very difficult to provide any added value in doing research solely on the U.S.-Japan relationship."

Meanwhile, another audience member suggested that it would be more effective to target young politicians, that is, nurture Japan-specialist politicians in the U.S. and U.S.-specialist politicians in Japan. Tada replied he has no intention of excluding politicians from his target. "Among the JET Program alumni," he mentioned, "there is a promising young candidate trying to enter the political circle in Washington. He is planning to run in Chicago, Illinois' 10th Congressional district, and used to teach English at a high school in Ageo, Saitama Prefecture. When more people follow suit and enter the political arena, I think things will begin to change."

>> Original text in Japanese

*This summary was compiled by RIETI Editorial staff.