The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

INTERVIEW | EMBASSY

JANUARY 2015

A Diplomat and a Scholar

Deputy Chief of Mission Jason Hyland


By Brandi Goode

While linguistic ability is highly desirable for all diplomatic posts, for Deputy Chief of Mission Jason Hyland, language is a passion. Now in his fifth posting in Japan, Hyland serves as the second in command at the Embassy of the United States in Tokyo.

“Even after all these years, and all the many other aspects of Japan that are so appealing, I remain completely fascinated by this marvelous language,” he told the ACCJ Journal in an interview.

Though Japan has featured prominently in his diplomatic career, Hyland’s assignments have been vast in both their geographic focus and mission scope. From Azerbaijan to Guatemala, and most recently his role with the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, Hyland has had ample opportunity to indulge his love of languages while serving his country.

A scholar, film buff, and avid reader with a deep reverence for culture, Hyland is optimistic about what lies ahead for this country and US–Japan relations.

ACCJ Journal: What drew you to Japan and has ultimately brought you back so often?

Hyland: While I was studying at Berkeley, I decided to take a Japanese course, even though I had had no prior connection with Japan. That class literally changed my life, and led to many of the decisions that followed, including taking a break after graduation to spend a year in Japan, and studying at Stanford University’s Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies. From there I went on to study international relations at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and to join the Foreign Service.

What has been your most formidable role thus far?
Serving as Provincial Reconstruction Team Leader in Mosul, Iraq, during the Surge in 2007–’8 was definitely challenging. I developed a deep appreciation for the Iraqi people. We did a number of projects in collaboration with Iraqis in Ninewa Province, including restarting Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) flights—a dream for Muslims in that region—after more than a dozen years.

How has your time abroad shaped your hobbies?
Language has remained a passion for me. I remember fondly studying Ukrainian in Kiev and enjoying that beautiful language—especially its rich literary traditions—and studying Azerbaijani, which is close to Turkish.

It was interesting to see how aspects of Azerbaijani speak to the linguistics of Japanese. There is something intriguing about looking at the first page of a textbook in a completely unfamiliar language and discovering a new world of thought.

I am also a great fan of films, and was pleased to discover that my cable service includes 24 hours of Japanese classics. The old classics are great, but I am especially drawn to more recent Japanese films that give insight into changing Japanese society and prevailing ways of thinking, namely films from the 1970s or later.

Stories that provide background on people and places are intriguing. For example, I recently saw a film from 2007 called Bizan, set in Tokushima City. I enjoyed learning more about that area’s history and traditions.

What is the greatest achievement in your career to date?
I played a small role in Project Sapphire, a once-secret, now-declassified project to move to the United States 600 kilograms of highly enriched uranium from a remote and less-than-secure site in Kazakhstan.

The project is marking its 20th anniversary, and I was proud to be part of an international collaboration that made the world safer.

I was also proud to be part of the first US Embassy team that entered Kobe after the Great Hanshin Earthquake in 1995.

When the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake occurred, I was Deputy Chief of Mission in Canberra, Australia. I immediately put up my hand to help, but there were already many volunteers, and my duties in Australia made it difficult for me to leave for an extended period. My heart goes out to all who suffered in that tragedy, including the many people who are still endeavoring to recover.

What diplomatic skills do you feel translate best to business?

If you are going to operate effectively in a foreign environment, you need to have a deep understanding of the culture and history, how people think, and what matters to them.

The same is true whether you are a diplomat or a businessman.

This also applies to contemporary matters. I am a devoted watcher right now of NHK’s morning drama Massan, as this keeps me in contact with daily life. Watching that program, I’m sharing the experience with thousands of Japanese citizens and developing a mutual point of reference. I think that cultural appreciation is absolutely essential.

What are your hopes for the future of US–Japan ties?
I am constantly amazed by how natural and enduring is the friendship between Japanese and Americans, even though we are different in so many ways.

Maybe those differences, which have emerged against a background of trust further developed over the last 70 years, are what make our relations so dynamic.

I think we should rededicate ourselves to working closely in all fields, particularly in the areas of science and research collaboration. During my time here, I’m committed to strengthening these partnerships, as both Japan and the United States are so technologically advanced. Together we can make meaningful contributions to the world.

What is your message to foreign businesses here and US firms looking to the Japanese market?
I would say that this is the world’s third-largest economy with an ambitious vision for being even more international, a country with the rule of law and democratic values.

Compared to when I first visited, Japan has become more global in its attitude toward doing business with foreign partners. Societal factors such as employment structure are also changing, and we’ll be looking into even more transitions in this area. The links between American and Japanese businesses are stronger than ever.

Japan is going to be a crucial part of Asia’s exciting future, and I hope American businesses—whether they have international experience or not—will all take a serious look at this market.

Brandi

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Brandi Goode

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