2005 Student-Faculty Fellows: Southwestern University
Political Leadership in Japan
Mentor: Alisa Gaunder, Political Science
Students: Christopher Bailey, ’07; Tyson Berger, ’06; Sarah Morris, ’07; Martha (Lissa) Terrel, ’06; Grace Webster, ’07
The ASIANetwork Freeman Research trip was an extremely successful one for the Southwestern University research team. We spent three weeks in Tokyo, Japan researching political leadership from various perspectives. The team set up a total of 15 interviews with academics and politicians. We met with the primary subject of two of the students’ research projects-Doi Takako, the first female party head and speaker of the Lower House in the Japanese Diet and Hatoyama Yukio, co-founder of the Democratic Party of Japan and former party head. We interviewed five other sitting politicians including Moriyama Mayumi, former Justice Minister in the Koizumi cabinet and Fukushima Mizuho, current head of the Social Democratic Party. I was amazed by the positive reception the research team received. Politicians seemed to be intrigued by a group of U.S. college students researching political leadership in Japan. This intrigue certainly added to our success. Our intense three weeks of interviewing increased my own understanding of qualitative interviewing as well as enhanced my ability to instruct others on how to conduct interviews with political elites. These interviews also provided me with information relevant to my own work on prime ministerial leadership and female leadership in the Diet. While helping the students negotiate the language barrier and cultural differences proved challenging, overall, I found the experience to be extremely rewarding in terms of exposing the students to how social science research is conducted, as well as furthering my own research agenda.
Japan has always been a country that has fascinated me. My love and interest in Japan started at a young age through the martial arts. As I have gotten older my attraction has grown to include many other facets of Japanese society, especially the political culture. This trip allowed me to tie both of my passions together. My research focused on Prime Minister Koizumi and his effectiveness in regards to foreign policy. By interviewing both politicians from several parties and international relations professors, I gained an incredible insight into Japanese foreign policy. Another key piece of our research was discussions with a political science class from Sophia University who held class seminars to address each of our topics. When our research and interviews were finished, I spent my free time searching Japan for museums and martial arts demonstrations. One major impression left by this trip is that it will not be the last.
Over the course of my life I had never previously left the United States for any lengthy period of time. This alone made my trip abroad to Japan an extremely unique opportunity. While many of my personal expectations were met some of my expectations were proven false. For example, before we left I had expected that the success which our group would find research-wise would be interviews with four or five professors and maybe one politician who would have his office give us a tour of the Diet building. Once we got to Japan, however, we met with eight professors and resident experts on Japanese politics and seven politicians, one of whom gave us a tour of the Diet building personally. This same Diet member also introduced us to Hatoyama Yukio, one of the key figures in my research, and given more time would have tried to introduce us to Kan Naoto, the other leader I have done extensive research on. In this area what I had expected was blown out of the water.
I was completely unsure of what to expect on my first, and extremely long awaited, venture outside the United States. My time in Japan left me with a distinct impression of the paradoxical enormity and smallness of the world. Lacking the ability to read or understand the Japanese language encouraged the observation of the sights and sounds in a way I never fully managed at home. As I spent my days soaking everything in and watching people interact I came to the conclusion that human nature, despite broad cultural differences, is essentially the same everywhere. Spending time with students at Sophia University reinforced this conclusion. Despite the vast distance between us, so great that even day and night are reversed there, I enjoy knowing that there are students going about their daily lives a lot like I am. Observing and scrutinizing my surroundings to a higher degree than normal has proved an invaluable experience, encouraging me to maintain an international focus in my studies and hopefully go abroad for graduate school.
Japan exceeded my every expectation. I never thought I would get to interview the central figure in my research project, Doi Takako, the first female party head in Japan. This interview along with other interviews with female politicians such as Fukushima Mizuho, the current head of the Social Democratic Party and Moriyama Mayumi, former Justice Minister in the Koizumi cabinet, provided a window into female leadership in the Diet. While I was worried that the interviews would at best simply confirm information that I was already aware of, I was pleasantly surprised to receive entirely new information. Overall, the process of interviewing taught me that no matter how prepared you are, you can never be completely prepared. Each interviewee presented a variant level of unpredictability, requiring active listening and follow-up questions. Interviews taught me the necessity of preparation but also that of flexibility and gave me experience in an area invaluable to my future plans to attend law school. The experience has helped me to grow as a person by becoming more aware of both the positives and negatives of my own environment as a result of exposure to another one.
The opportunity to spend three weeks researching in Tokyo is without a doubt the defining event of my academic journey. Japan’s unique amalgamation of traditional and modern elements is in stark contrast to the fast-paced suburban lifestyle that I have long been accustomed to. Japan’s rich history of art, literature, and architecture is still present in the urban jungle of Tokyo. In order to fully understand the cultural context in which our research took place, our group attended several joint seminars at Sophia University and presented our research to undergraduate students and asked for their comments. Interacting with Japanese college students gave me the opportunity to debate and discuss controversial current events and gain a different perspective on international affairs. Hearing their views on politics in addition to interviewing numerous political scientists and prominent politicians gave me a clearer understanding of the issues that Japan is facing today. The research experience that I acquired on this trip will continue to benefit me for years to come. My work focused on the influence that civil society groups have on the policy-making process. Learning about the growing citizens’ movements in Japan strengthened my desire to get involved in international non-profit organizations and enlightened me to the obstacles that they face around the world. This experience has enabled me to more clearly define my own career goals and their significance on a global scale.