Wednesday, January 30, 2013

A Visit to the Consulate

Today, we had the pleasure of visiting the U.S. Consulate in Osaka. We had a fantastic discussion with Patrick Linehan, Consul General, Gregory Kay, Public Affairs Officer, and Nicholas Fietzer, Vice Consul. We were originally scheduled for a 1:30-3:00 meeting, but the discussion was going so well that the Consulate folks extended it for another 45 minutes. What a fantastic opportunity for us!

The Osaka-Kobe Consulate covers 17 prefectures in western Japan including major cities like Hiroshima, Kobe, Osaka, Kyoto, and Nara. (we've been to all of these places except for Hiroshima)

We learned a bit about what activities happen at the Consulate, all essentially focused on promoting peace, profitable trade and protection for U.S. citizens in Japan.

The Consul general talked a little bit about Costco in Japan. Previously, big box stores were banned by law in Japan as they were seen as threats to the smaller business that flourished and enabled the ongoing economic success in the country. But more recently, stores like Costco are being used to supply those same smaller business, thus reducing supply chain costs for the mom & pop entities. Likewise, neighborhoods will coordinate shopping and save money by using Costco as their supplier. As we first started hearing about Costco, I wondered how in the world an organization like that could be successful in a community that shops for the day because there is no space to put things like 50 rolls of toilet paper. But then when I heard that they are used by the small businesses and neighborhood groups, it made sense to me.

Someone in the group asked what the main social issues were that Japan was facing today. To answer this question, the Consul General shared about 4 main topics.

1) The first thing is something we've explored at length before we came and since we've arrived -- Gender equality. He generalized by stating that Japan is about where the U.S was in the 60s and 70s regarding gender equality. They know it, they're trying to address it, but it remains a problem.

2) Japan sees themselves as an ethnically homogeneous society. Because of this, there are social issues surrounding ethnic and racial equality. Groups like the Ainu (indigenous race of northern Japan), Korean, Chinese, Burakumin (outcasts or "untouchables" from ancient Japanese culture but still remaining today) are discriminated against socially.

3) GLBT -- although Japan is opening its eyes to the possibility that some of its citizens are part of the GLBT community, there is still a long way to go. The Consul General shared that he is a married gay man and the Japanese government recognizes his husband as someone to which a diplomatic visa could be granted -- although not marriage status, this is a step in the right direction in his opinion.

4) Immigration. Moving BACK to Japan is something that the Japanese government continues to encourage. Perhaps opening up possibilities for new immigration to Japan should be considered more thoroughly as there a declining population and thus concern for long term sustainability in certain markets and roles (farming was mentioned as a concern for sustainability).

Overall, the discussion was informative, intellectual, interesting, and to some, exciting enough to lean more about seeking employment as a foreign service officer! I think some of my classmates would be excellent foreign service officers!

I have only 2 pictures to share from the day. There are no cameras allowed at the Consulate, although I didn't realize the outdoor pics were also banned before I took these so consider the good fortune to have even these two:

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