Japanese Ambassador Stresses Importance of Communication

Whether promoting English language fluency among Japanese citizens or stressing the importance of clear, straightforward presentations, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the U.S.A. Ichiro Fujisaki cited effective communication as a top priority in an interview with The Crimson Tuesday.

“If you don’t like to communicate with people, then don’t [go into diplomacy]” he said.

Remembering one particular anecdote, Fujisaki said that a Japanese politician recently attempted to convince him that language capabilities were unimportant in many cultural exchanges so long as a skilled interpreter was available.

“I said, ‘You’re wrong, sir,’” Fujisaki recalled. “We pretend it’s just as good, but we can’t really develop the same level of communication always using an interpreter.”

In this vein, Fujisaki has been involved in what he calls the “Reverse JET Program,” which allows newly-minted Japanese English-language teachers to journey to the U.S. for an immersive cultural and linguistic experience. This program is based on the well-established Japan Exchange and Teaching program, in which Americans move to Japan to teach English and fulfill ambassadorial roles.

Fujisaki said he hopes Reverse JET will not only improve the English-language skills of these teachers, but also facilitate “a more international view, and if they can continue contact, they can teach students how Americans or other countries are seeing Japan.”

Fujisaki noted that both American and Japanese education systems feature “some fundamental flaw” in their language programs. As a result, he has tried to promote study abroad and language immersion programs between the two nations. Fujisaki, who studied in Seattle during high school, said that teaching children to learn the languages of neighboring nations may sow seeds of peace.

“You have to try to make it optimistic,” he said. “If people get nasty and have a rather bad feeling about other countries and become nationalistic, then people get even more exclusive,” he said.

He hopes that that optimism also spills over into economics. If people think the economy is suffering, Fujisaki said, they will not invest, but if people are optimistic, the economy will grow.

Fujisaki will return to Japan after the U.S. presidential election as his ambassadorial term comes to a close, but he said his optimism is unlikely to fade.

“81.9 percent of Japanese [individuals] feel an affinity towards Americans, and 84 percent of Americans think of Japan as a trustworthy partner,” he said, citing data from the Cabinet Office and Gallup. The basis for cooperation, he said, is “quite solid.”

Fujisaki later spoke at a well-attended lecture in Tsai Auditorium. The lecture was moderated by Susan J. Pharr, a government professor and the director of Harvard’s program on US-Japan Relations.

“He is terrific,” said Merry I. White ’63, an anthropology professor at Boston University who focuses on Japanese Studies, about Fujisaki. “He’s kind of a new wave diplomat, and more relaxed in global environments.”

Fujisaki urged young scholars to consider careers in diplomacy only if they were excited about the prospect of juggling my hats. Being an ambassador, Fujisaki said, involves a balancing a reporter’s affinity for finding out what is new, a professor’s ability to analyze deeper meanings, a politician’s communication skills, a hotel manager’s logistical capabilities, and cultural sensitivity.

“Ask yourself if you’d like to do all that juggling at the same time,” he said. If the answer is yes, then “diplomatic life is good for you.”

—Staff Writer Julie R. Barzilay can be reached at jbarzilay13@college.harvard.edu.

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