Remarks by Ambassador Thomas S. Foley America-Japan Society Welcome Dinner

January 23, 1998

Hotel Okura, Tokyo, Japan

(as prepared for delivery)

Ambassador Okawara, distinguished guests. I am very warmed by the turn out for this "welcome dinner" for the new U.S. Ambassador to Japan. I was very flattered to learn that there was actually a waiting list for this event, that more people wanted to attend than could be accommodated in this room. However, I know that this turn out is not for me personally, but honors the U.S. Ambassador to Japan, who is the steward of what Ambassador Mansfield correctly termed, "the most important bilateral relationship in the world, bar none." I am very honored to wear the mantle of my dedicated predecessors.

I am pleased to accept, Ambassador Okawara, the position of honorary president of the America-Japan Society, a position the U.S. Ambassador to Japan has held since your society was founded in 1917.

I have heard about last year's gala dinner held to mark the Society's80th anniversary. The presence of their Imperial Majesties, the Emperor and Empress, at this dinner underscored the importance of our relationship. Last year, Ambassador Okawara wrote that in the post-Cold War era, close cooperation between the United States and Japan is essential to maintaining stability and stimulating economic growth in the Asia Pacific region. His words are as true today as they were last year. As Prime Minister Hashimoto him self said last year in Kuala Lumpur, the most effective contribution Japan can make to Asian recovery is a vigorous economic recovery based on domestic demand-led growth.

I have been on the job for some two months now and can report that I find it as stimulating a job as I have ever had. I thought this evening, however, that I would address a "made-in-Japan" phenomenon I find curious and puzzling. The longer I am in Japan, the more perplexed I become on this phenomenon called "Japan passing."

While I was preparing to come here, I read a great deal about current attitudes, paying special attention to what the Japanese were writing and saying about the United States. I wash of course, familiar with the term "Japan-bashing." This unpleasant phrase usually surfaced in commentaries and discussions of particularly acrimonious trade disputes. However, the more I read, the more I came across the term "Japan passing." Distinguished commentators and journalists and essayists and editorialists were writing lengthy pieces expressing regret that the United States was abandoning Japan for China. Their argument went something like this: America could see that its future market in Asia was in China and there fore increasingly turned its attention to China at the expense of its relationship with Japan.

Nothing could be further from the truth. When Defense Secretary Cohen was in Tokyo earlier this week, he noted that the four" pillars" of U.S. security policy in Asia were led by strong bilateral relations with Japan. "Engagement" with China was third. As Asia's financial crisis unfolds, it is clear that Japan is a key player in its resolution. It is equally clear that America's major market in Asia is Japan. Let me try to put this in perspective. Here's a fact I used in response to a question after my speech at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan earlier this week. China's GDP, that is the country's total economic output for one year, is the equivalent of the non-performing loans held by Japanese banks.

I'd like to retire this phrase "Japan passing" from the lexicon employed by commentators on U.S.-Japan relations. Some statistics may help. Did you know that in America today, more American students high schools and universities all over the country - study Japanese than any other foreign language with the exception of Spanish? Yes, Japanese is Number Two!, not Chinese or French, German or Portuguese. Japanese is the second foreign language taught. Not only that, but the latest annual survey of Japanese language teaching in the United States shows an increase in the number of students taking Japanese.

The Japan-U.S.  Friendship Commission recently commissioned a study of Japanese Studies at the university level in the United States. Its findings should help give the term "Japan passing" a decent burial. There are more students enrolled in these centers than ever before. The survey also reveals that of those currently  yen rolled in Japanese Studies Centers in America, over 10 percent are foreign students. An interesting portrait of what happens after students graduate emerges from the study. Initially, these Studies Centers were viewed as training grounds for a new generation of scholars of Japan to succeed to such illustrious scholars as Edward Reischauer, Marius Jansen, Edward Seiden sticker and Ezra Vogel. However, over one third of the graduates enter the professions and the business world. Clearly, journalism, law, business and finance see that those who have studied Japan and its language bring valuable expertise to their companies.

None of this can be described as "Japan passing."

I understand that despite a robust economy, the Japanese Government's "JET" program still attracts large numbers of young Americans eager to come to Japan. The number of American JET alumni now exceeds 10,000. These young people are a tremendous resource for my country and here in the Embassy, there are several JET alumni among our staff. Last year was the first year of an ambitious new program, also funded by the Japanese Government, the Fulbright Memorial Fund, which brings hundreds of American school teachers to Japan each year for a program which sends them to small towns and cities in every prefecture. I am told that these teachers leave Japan with a tremendous enthusiasm and that electronic links are already being forged between the teachers' schools in America and the schools which host them here. The fact that thousands of American teachers apply to participate in this program should help lay "Japan passing" to rest.

These programs prove an important point: cultures don't meet, people do. It is these personal encounters which teach one to be wary of stereotypes and to be aware of the diversity.

These past two weeks have been very busy ones for us at the Embassy. Four U.S. Senators, 11 members of the U.S. Congress and eight Congressional staff have been in Tokyo getting briefed on the current state of the U.S.-Japan relationship. My over worked staff is probably wishing there were more 'Japan passing", but as I tell my former colleagues, we welcome visits from the U.S. Congress because it is these personal encounters which dissipate the stereotypes and deepen understanding.

This is the important role which this society and its counterparts in the United States play. I am happy to report that Japan-America Societies in the United States are about as robust as the U.S. economy. Since 1990, there have been 12 new societies established. These new societies are in such areas as New Mexico, San Diego-Tijuana, Georgia and Nevada. These diverse locations are are markable example of how the importance of U.S.-Japan relations has spread beyond the confines of New York, Washington and the West Coast to the entire country. If the relationship wasn't important, then we would not have Japan-America societies in the American heartland. In Nevada, Georgia and San Diego-Tijuana, the societies sponsor programs which educate their communities about Japan, encourage greater understanding between our two countries and provide fore for open and informed discussion of U.S.-Japan relations. I think the meeting in May in Fukuoka where the America-Japan Societies of Japan will discuss joint programming initiatives with their American counterparts is an important step forward.

I applaud all of you who have made such strong commitments to our relationship. You have made a significant contribution to this partnership which plays such an important role in global peace and prosperity. The most important resource we bring to this partnership is the relationship between the people of our two countries. Your society has made a signal contribution to expanding those relations. I pledge my cooperation with your efforts to expand and deepen such relations during my tenure as Ambassador.

Thank you very much.