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[Reprinted Article] The “Key” to Japanese Diplomacy Lies in Overcoming Current Challenges in Diversifying Values

Former Diplomat & Japan Rugby Football Union Director Naoko Saiki
Bank of Japan Policy Board Member Takako Masai
(The original article in Japanese was published in the Bank of Japan’s public relations magazine, Nichigin, no. 64 (Winter 2020). APIC is responsible for the English translation.)
[Reprinted Article] The “Key” to Japanese Diplomacy Lies in Overcoming Current Challenges in Diversifying Values

To protect Japan’s raison d'état. To establish Japanese sports culture. In order to boost women’s participation in society. There is no single path that leads to accomplishing all of these tasks and more, however; there is a baseline that links all of these goals. Naoko Saiki, who was on the frontline of Japanese diplomacy for 37 years and who is now using all her energy to promote rugby within Japan, and BOJ Policy Board Member Takako Masai converse on various topics below.

Thoughts through International Negotiations where Raison d’état Collide

Masai: You entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1982, and were active for a long time on the frontlines of diplomacy. I can imagine that at the time you were a rare presence as a female envoy; please tell me about why you decided to become a diplomat.

Saiki: I was interested in researching diplomacy as an academic subject, and was informally offered to work as a professor’s assistant at a university. At the same time, I also held a strong interest in working at the forefront of diplomacy, and I passed the diplomat exam and eventually started my path on to active duty.
 There are three reasons why I decided to enter the ministry. The first point is I wanted to work in an environment where there was no gender discrimination. The Equal Employment Opportunity Act was enacted in 1986, and even though my employment began before this date, work environments that were not prone to gender discrimination were limited to that of civil servants or specialized work in the legal profession. The second point is I held an overwhelmingly strong interest in Japan’s role and presence in the international arena when I was a child, and the idea of being able to work on the tangent line between Japan and the world was very appealing to me. The third point is the desire to work for the public. Although I might lack the power to do so, I was passionate about making tomorrow a more peaceful and prosperous day than today for Japan, and to make tomorrow a more stable and better day for the international community than today.

Masai: During your career as a diplomat, what are some of your most memorable episodes?

Saiki: I have uncountable memories, but there’s one from the past that stands out from when I was on my first overseas mission. While working at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations in Geneva, I was a negotiator representing Japan working on multilateral trade liberalization negotiations (the Uruguay Round) under GATT (General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade). The Geneva Permanent Mission was full of top-level civil servants from every ministry, so much that it was nicknamed the “mini-Kasumigaseki*”. There were a large number of government workers who came from Tokyo to work at the Geneva offices, making for a lively environment. I worked from morning till night, forfeiting weekends to run around on government business, but I had more motivation than my busy schedule would make it seem. Creating the new order of International economics to fulfill Japan’s raison d’état. Sharing this passion with fellow team members and joining forces to pool together our wisdom; this was a difficult to obtain experience, and a very important time which would become the foundation of my diplomatic life.

[* Translator’s note: Kasumigaseki is the area in Tokyo which houses the majority of government offices and ministries]

Masai: Do you still keep in touch with these “comrades” after your experiences together?

Saiki: I still keep in close contact with my boss and coworkers (including members from other ministries and agencies) from that time. There were also many opportunities afterward to work with the foreign governments that we negotiated with. In 2014 I became the Director-General of Economic Affairs Bureau, and from 2015 I worked on TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) negotiations as the Director-General of International Legal Affairs Bureau; there were ministers and chief negotiators from participating countries with whom I had worked with during my times in the Geneva mission, which made me aware of how connected we are.

Masai: You began your post as Director-General for Cultural Affairs in 2013, and I heard that you helped lead the Olympic Invitation to success as the responsible party of MOFA’s Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Invitation. I believe it’s not always possible to experience such a successful experience on the diplomatic stage; do you have any episodes of where things did not go as planned? If so, what are some points that you paid careful attention to, and/or revised in order to get back on your feet?

Saiki: To give an example about revision after a failure, I’d like to talk about the TPP negotiations. Japan and the USA took the initiative to create a well-balanced agreement with a high standard of ambition and comprehensiveness that all 12 participating nations agreed on. However, with the formation of the Trump administration came the USA’s decision to pull out from the agreement, which forced Japan to take leadership and put into effect “TPP 11” without the presence of the USA.
 Diplomacy is about what the other side has, and so things don’t proceed the way you hoped they would. There are no hierarchical relationships in diplomatic negotiations. In an international society which consists of equal, sovereign nations as structural units, Japan aims to devise solutions that are negotiation-based with each nation. Of course, Japan has its raison d’état, and other nations have theirs as well. There are times when the interests of both sides match, but most of the times they don’t, so it’s a continuation of hardships. Also, it’s impossible for a situation where Japan wins with 100 points, and the other side loses with zero points. The important point of diplomacy is that Japan and the other nation come to a compromise which they can both accept, and where Japan can find a way to keep its raison d’état from being damaged.
 Japan’s raison d’état is maintaining and strengthening the peace and happiness of its citizens, but another facet is creating a friendly international environment through international cooperation. Also, an important raison d’état for Japan is spreading its values-democracy, freedom, defense of basic human rights, rule of law, etc., throughout international society.

Masai: Previously, I worked for a European bank for about ten years, and it was then that the Euro was put in place as the common currency. I also remember the “one nation one vote” system that was put into place which was triggered by the use of the Euro. Before, the EU used the weighted voting system for decision-making, and the intentions of the three countries with large economic scales (Germany, France, Italy) became those of the EU. Why did they go through all the effort to change that? At one time I thought that when problems are becoming more serious at an accelerated rate, the main countries must come together and quickly come to a decision to solve the problem. However, after listening to your thoughts and experiences, I understand current diplomacy is about sovereign nations as units who negotiate while respecting the other. At a glance it may seem inefficient, but it’s convincing that if both sides don’t consent, then sustainability cannot be secured.

Saiki: Although resolving matters with a few countries makes it faster to come to a decision, it can be considered efficient, but can it be considered valid is another matter. Oppositely, decision-making done by the one-nation-one-vote system may have a certain amount of validity, but is there certainty when it comes to the effectiveness of taking proper responses at the right time? How should validity and effectiveness be balanced? There is no one and only answer to this question. Starting with the Reform of the UN Security Council, various forms of effort are still continuing.

Establishing Rugby Culture and Aiming for the Victory of Japanese Team

Masai: On a personal note, I have been involved in making decision on financial policies during these past four years or so, but it’s been difficult to gain every citizen’s approval for macro policies including financial policy. What I most strongly feel since being in this position is even if we can’t get everyone’s agreement, repeated careful and detailed explanations are an important element in having both sides come to an understanding and start to move forward. I strongly feel that this is what you were talking about regarding the thinking about where the key of current diplomacy lies.
 By the way, after you retired from MOFA, you took up the position of Japan Rugby Football Union (Japan Rugby Union) Director. In 2019 when the Rugby World Cup was held in Japan, I heard from people involved in the games that the events did not happen as planned; several matches had to be canceled due to a typhoon, the first time such a thing had happened in the history of the world cup. However, the Rugby Union and Organizing Committee prepared carefully to help people from overseas understand Japan, and also to help trigger the revitalization of Japan’s regional areas; you came together to work towards that goal and carried it out, with the world cup being remembered by people for the years to come.

Saiki: Thanks to everyone’s help, the 2019 Rugby World Cup was a great success. Chairman Bill Beaumont summed up the 2019 RWC as “Japan 2019 will be remembered as probably the greatest Rugby World Cup. Japan did a great job as the host country”.
 The 2019 World Cup was a historical event, being held for the first time in Asia, outside of the traditional host countries. Japan is physically far from Europe and America, with time lags and a comparatively inferior rugby population to that of the powerhouse nations, but, with the example of the typhoon, what I think is the reason for the success of the world cup is that all those involved in the success of the games came together to discuss, and with their collective power overcame each and every obstacle that appeared. We were one team, in a sense. Furthermore, the games reached record-highs on various sides, such as ticket sales rates and economic effects etc.

Masai: Please talk about the upcoming goals for the Japan Rugby Union, which has seen such success in the past world cup.

Saiki: Our goal is to “bring the Rugby World Cup to Japan one more time, and see Japan win”. This is written in the Japan Rugby Union’s mid-to-long-term plan.
 To say the least, the success of the 2019 World Rugby Cup was given a push by the breakthrough play of the Japan team. In this regard, one of the things I want to put effort into working on is strengthening and training the Japan rugby team. Currently, myself and others are in talks about getting rid of the company rugby team league, (“Top League”), and creating a new domestic league in January, 2022. Just like how soccer has the J-league, basketball has the B-league, we want to turn it into a ‘sport business’, where rugby can attract viewers and make its business operations successful. It is vital to attract interest toward the sport, which can be done by the driving force of “strengthening and training the Japan team” and “expanding domestic leagues” as the wheels of the car to push this goal forward. Other goals include putting in an extra level of effort into women’s rugby etc. to make the sport more accessible and share what makes this sport so attractive without regards to gender or age.

The Importance of the Basics of Diplomacy in Times of Diversifying Values and an Uncertain Future

Masai: Going back to diplomacy, in the book titled “Taishi Kakka no Ryorinin”**, the author’s depiction of how food can have an effect on diplomatic relations left quite an impression on me. Having worked on the front lines of diplomacy, did cultural aspects such as food ever have a chance to display their power?

Saiki: It can be said that diplomacy is about changing your words in order to increase your allies throughout the world. As you are aware, the American political scientist Joseph Nye has written extensively on the subject of “smart power”. Nye states that a comprehensively-formed strategy which, comprises hard power such as military and economic power, and soft power such as cultural and political values, and diplomatic policy is important. It is crucial to make an effort for people of every nation in the world to have positive feelings toward Japan, correctly understand Japan, and support Japan, which can be done through using the allure of Japan’s soft power-culture and sports. The emotions that culture and sports bring to people directly affect each person’s soul, and this holds an extremely strong power. This goes back to proactively using food as a way push diplomatic relations forward. Who isn’t happy when eating delicious food?

Masai: Japanese traditional food culture, washoku, was created over a period of hundreds of years. Similarly, it would be great if rugby culture could find its place in Japan in 20, 30 years, and future generations could propel it even further into Japanese culture. I believe it’s our generation’s responsibility to take under our wing areas that can be used as soft power.
 Lastly, I want to ask you about the empowerment of women as a female diplomat who worked at the forefront of diplomacy: looking at the rank of female Diet members, Japan is in last place out of all OECD nations. There is the argument that in order to change this situation it is important to have an awareness of the problem at hand. What are your thoughts on this?

Saiki: I believe that awareness is very important. At the same time I also believe that the institution plays an important role. For example, in Scandinavia, the percentage of female lawmakers and corporate executives is set by law; however, in Japan, there is no such legal obligation. The problem of women’s participation in society is not only about awareness, it’s about what degree the institution can be reflected onto the problem. It’s about how solid of a groundwork we can build in order for women to participate in all aspects of society. This is what is being asked of us right now.
 I constantly believe that in diplomacy, it is of upmost importance to gain the understanding and support of citizens through sufficient discussion, decision-making, and comprehensible explanations in relatable terms. I think this relates to your comments on financial policies and the importance of repeatedly building precise and careful explanations upon each other, and how to promote women’s empowerment. I believe this stance will become increasingly important as values are diversifying and the world is becoming increasingly divided.

Masai: Thank you for sparing time for today’s talk.

[** "Taishi Kakka no Ryorinin", written by Mitsuru NISHIMURA, is an essay based on his experience as the official residence chef of the Embassy of Japan in Vietnam which is located in Hanoi. The essay was serialized in a comic magazine, with NISHIMURA as the original author. (Paperback edition, 13 volumes in total.) The story is about the official residence chef supporting a Japanese diplomat with his “taste”. 1.9 million copies of the comic have been sold, and won the Excellence Award in the Japan Media Arts Festival's Manga Division (2002).]

Former Japanese Diplomat, Japan Rugby Football Union Director

Born in Tokyo. After graduating from Tokyo University Faculty of Law in 1982, Saiki entered the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs. After serving as Director of International Peace Cooperation, Foreign Policy Bureau; Director of Second North America Division, North American Affairs Bureau; Director of Legal Affairs Division, Legal Bureau; Director of Economic Policy Division, Economic Affairs Bureau; Director of Financial Affairs Division, Minister’s Secretariat, and Deputy Press Secretary, Saiki started her position as Director-General for Cultural Affairs in June, 2013. Starting from July 2014 she worked as Director-General of Economic Affairs Bureau; from October 2015 became the Director-General of International Legal Affairs Bureau, and in July 2017 she became the Director-General of the Foreign Service Training Institute. She left the Ministry in January 2019, and currently serves as Director of the Japan Rugby Football Union, while simultaneously holding posts as a visiting professor at The University of Tokyo Graduate School of Public Policy, Outside Director at Sojitz Corporation, Outside Audit and Supervisory Board Member of Development Bank of Japan, and Council Member of Japan Sports Agency.

MASAI Takako
Bank of Japan Policy Board Member

Born in 1965 in Ehime Prefecture. Graduated from Jissen Women’s University Faculty of Humanities in 1988. In November the same year began work at Scotiabank; in 1989 started working for Toronto-Dominion Bank; in 1998 began post at Crédit Agricole Indosuez, and in 2004 with Calyon Corporate & Investment Bank. After obtaining her Master’s at Hosei University Graduate School of Business Administration in 2007, Masai entered Shinsei Bank, Ltd. Positions included General Manager of Capital Markets Department, in 2011 Director of Market Sales Department, in October the same year became General Manager of Markets Sub-Group, and in April 2013 appointed Executive Officer of Shinsei Bank, Ltd. Starting from June 2016 Masai has held a position as Bank of Japan Policy Board Member.

Original article (in Japanese):

齋木 尚子 元外交官・日本ラグビーフットボール協会 理事
政井 貴子 日本銀行政策委員会審議委員

「にちぎん」No.64 2020年冬号 対談/守・破・創 [PDF]

*Note: this article was edited for this website based on the copyrighted work of the Bank of Japan.


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