Raw Japan

Slices of Japanese business, politics and life

Frog diplomacy

September 15, 2009

When he met Japan’s incoming prime minister, a football helmet was the catalyst for conservation . Then Washington’s envoy in Tokyo bonded with the next foreign minister over a frog.

GOLF-OPEN/Katsuya Okada, who is expected to be appointed as Japan’s next foreign minister this week, is a policy maven with a “Mr. Clean” image. He is also known in Japan as an avid collector of frog-related knick-knacks such as miniatures and soft toys.

When the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, John Roos, found out about Okada’s predilection for all things froggy, he clearly thought it would be an excellent icebreaker for a meeting between the two…although he stopped short of taking an actual frog to the rendezvous.

“I explained to him how I had started collecting frogs on my trip to Jerusalem and how I have been buying them whenever I see them on overseas trips,” Okada said.

“But I told him that I hadn’t found any decent frogs in the United States, and that I’d found only one frog when I was in Washington.”

So while it seems Americans are not quite as frog-crazy as Okada, Roos made a promise.

JAPAN-ELECTION/“Then he (the ambassador) told me he would find a good frog while he’s in office and give it to me as a present,” Okada said, adding that he would like to keep working closely with the ambassador.

When Roos visited Japan’s new leader, Yukio Hatoyama who led his Democratic Party to a landslide election victory on Aug. 30, their meeting began with a chat about American football at their common alma mater, Stanford University, while Hatoyama displayed a red and white helmet inscribed with an “S”.

But whether Roos finds Okada a suitable frog knick-knack or not, Okada will need to form strong ties with the U.S. envoy to allay concerns in Washington about the U.S.-Japan security alliance given the incoming government wants to spawn a more equal relationship.

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