America’s Ambassadors to Japan

I’ve heard rumors that House Speaker Denny Hastert has had enough after six years as House Speaker. He’s been named as a possible successor to Howard Baker as ambassador to Japan. But what does Hastert know about Japan? Who cares! It doesn’t matter to the Japanese leadership. They want someone seriously connected in Washington, and who more so than Hastert?

Check out this list of US Ambassadors to Japan from the past 30 years and their old jobs:

  • James Hodgson, 1974-1977 : Secretary of Labor
  • Mike Mansfield, 1977-1989 : Senate Majority Leader
  • Mike Armascott, 1989-1993 : Ambassador to the Phillipines
  • Walter Mondale, 1993-1997 : Vice President
  • Tom Foley, 1997-2001 : House Speaker, House Majority Leader
  • Howard Baker, 2001-present : Senate Majority Leader
  • Five of six were in Washington’s top posts, four of them in [the] top legislative positions. Why did they go on to become Ambassadors to Japan?

    Believe it or not, Japan doesn’t want East Asian experts like Edwin Reischauer, who served in the position during the Kennedy and Johnson presidencies from 1961-1966. Born in Japan in 1910, Reischauer was fluent in Japanese was apparently pretty popular in Japan. But when it came down to real hard politics, he had no political connections in Washington and was never effective at getting clear channels of communication for the Japanese leadership. Starting with Mike Mansfield (who was appointed by Carter but who Reagan kept on), Japan realized that the secret to getting the message through to Washington was having a vetetran politico at the helm.

    So if you want to be ambassador to Japan (Saru? Adamu?), it’s best to be in a top legislative position, not (just?) an expert on Japan.

    About Curzon

    Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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    5 Responses to America’s Ambassadors to Japan

    1. Saru says:

      You might be happy to learn that beginning January, I will restart Chinese classes, and with any luck hope to find myself studying intensive Chinese in Beijing sometime within the next two years. We all know that unless you’re a lawyer, an investment banker, or a lame-ass gaijin tarento, there isn’t much future in a Japan-oriented career. As for a top legislative position, especially in Washington – count me out.

    2. Adamu says:

      Sorry for the belated comment. Your entry made me think, because many people, not knowing any better, have suggested I could become Japanese ambassador after hearing I lived in Japan and speak the language. I’ve never wanted to be an ambassador or even a member of the Foreign Service, much to the dismay of my mother. The job is often thankless and doesn’t offer me the freedom I need in a my work.

      It only makes sense that the Japanese would want a connected Senator or whatever to get their voice heard in Washington, and it similarly makes sense for us to give such a person the job with all the prestige and high living that come with it. But where does that leave us “Japan experts”? Are we doomed to be relegated to the position of assistant or academic, filling in the blanks for the smarter people who have neither the time nor patience to learn the finer points of Japanese language or culture? Right now I can’t help but agree with you and Saru and say that as things go, striving to become another Reischauer at this moment in time doesn’t look all that attractive. Neither does becoming a legislator.

      I don’t agree that there’s no future in a Japan-related career, though. You may have given up, Saru, but I won’t. China will never have food as delicious as Japan’s.

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