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Andrew Ou is a Political Officer at the U.S. Embassy Tokyo and an exchange diplomat at Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA). Below is an excerpt of his guest blog post in “Z Notes,” the official blog of US Embassy Tokyo:
When I first arrived at MOFA’s headquarters in Kasumigaseki in the summer of 2008, we were in the middle of “cool biz” season, which allows employees the option of wearing short-sleeved dress shirts without a tie, in order to rely less on air conditioning and save energy. This is something we don’t currently have in the U.S. government, except for here at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo. But then again, we also do not have gargling machines or washlets in our bathrooms, a branch of a convenience store chain inside our building, or elevators where you can “undo” a button if you pressed it by mistake.
At the State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C., the Secretary of State and other senior officials’ offices are on the top floor, while at MOFA, the Foreign Minister’s office is on a middle floor of the building. A Japanese colleague explained that was so the Foreign Minister’s office could be as accessible as possible to all employees. Other differences I noticed immediately include:
• Lunch breaks – At MOFA, lunch was strictly one hour from 12:30 to 1:30, while in the U.S., individuals have flexibility with both the start time and duration.
• Paperwork and detail – MOFA overwhelmingly has more paperwork than the State Department, and that paperwork is much more detailed.
• Career paths – At MOFA, diplomats are largely at the mercy of their personnel division on assignments, whereas U.S. officials are responsible for their own fates after the first two postings.
• Miscellaneous – Also, I could not help noticing some differences in interaction with our respective legislatures, concepts of leadership and management, sense of hierarchy and division of labor, and formulation and enunciation of policy.
Continue reading: Andrew Ou – MOFA Exchange
Biggest change so far: It’s been a total career change and I’ve had to adjust my perspective significantly. The State Department encourages intellectual independence — the Foreign Service truly places a high value on constructive dissent — but in the end, my job entails defending and supporting the policies of the United States 24/7.