January 22, 2018

A Conversation With a Former Japanese Ambassador

This evening, there was a walk-in talk on Japanese-American relations presented by the College of Business and the Japanese Department. Amongst several very interesting speakers was Ichiro Fujisaki who was Japan's ambassador to the United States from 2008-2012. (If I'd have known there was going to be an ambassador there, I'd have worn my suit!). His talk touched on several things but stressed the fact that Japan has greatly relaxed its work visa and immigration policy, albeit only for people with needed skills. 

At the dinner afterwards, he ended up sitting across from me for a time and I asked him a few questions. He graciously answered all of my questions. I did not have a notepad so this from memory.

On the demographic situation: I asked if there was an estimate of where/when the current trend was expected to level out. There are certain groups in Japan like the so-called "Freeta" that are having kids well above replacement levels, but they are small in number, still, the future belongs to those who show up. His response was that the official goal was to keep the population from going below 100 million, but this would be a challenge as projections do not show any leveling off in the near future and longer term projections are fraught with assumptions and incomplete data. 

On the repeal of Article 9: Despite some breathless press reports on this side of the Pacific, political opinion in the country is still very divided on this point. Currently its polling about 50/50.  He did not expect any changes before 2020. Amending their constitution has even more hurdles than ours. 

On re-starting the nuclear plants: While several nuclear plants are being re-started out of necessity, the political will seems to be firmly against fission. 
When I brought up the fact that Japanese companies like Toshiba are leading the world in safe 3rd generation nuclear reactors as well as small limited risk designs he pointed out that while many of the new Japanese designs were inherently safe, the public had been told this about the old boiling water reactors like Fukishima Daichi as well. Additionally, Fukishima's reactors were kept in service far longer than they should have been. Thus trust between the public and the nuclear industry is shot to hell. He also pointed out that Japanese law made NIMBYism very powerful, so that when someone got an area zoned for Nuclear, the company kept cramming new reactors on that small plot, with the result that a localized natural disaster could cause issues with multiple reactors (which is what happened at Fukishima). 

One bit of information he mentioned that I was unaware of; When the U.S. decided recently to start building nuclear plants again they had to contract Japanese technical advisors as we no longer had the expertise. 

On the Japanese language programs that gave the best results. I didn't ask this, he brought it up to my Japanese teacher. He said that the American who spoke best Japanese he'd ever met had not been from the State Department but rather a woman he encountered whose fluency was so good that he had inquired where she'd gone to school.As it turned out, her  instructor had not stressed writing and grammar at all, just conversational Japanese. Once she had that, the was able to teach herself the Kanji. He seemed to think that American's are trying to learn Japanese backwards.

Anyway, I again want to thank Ambassador Fujisaki so patiently and graciously answering my questions over dinner. 

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 12:54 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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