Consul General Seiji Okada: looking to the past for new ideas
If you’ve attended a Japanese Canadian event over the past few years, chances are you’ve run into Consul General of Japan Seiji Okada. Very active in the local community, Consul General Okada has made himself popular through his warm and open personality and his willingness to take part in numerous activities including pounding mochi and performing saxophone on stage.
A career diplomat, Consul General Okada joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan in 1981, having graduated from Meiji University, Faculty of Law in 1979.
He was posted to Ottawa, to the Embassy of Japan in Canada, for the first time in 1982, then to the Embassy of Japan in Bahrain before returning to Ottawa in 1987.
Following these foreign assignments, Mr. Okada returned to Japan, serving first in the First International Organization Division in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo and then the Japan-US Security Treaty Division.
In 1997, he was posted abroad again, to the Embassy of Japan in the USA and then to the Embassy of Japan in South Korea in 2000.
From 2002 to 2007, he served in various departments in the Tokyo offices of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. These included Deputy Director of the Asia Europe Cooperation Division; Deputy Director of the China Division; Director of the Japan Korea Economic Division; and Director of the Second Africa Division.
In 2009, Mr. Okada was posted to the Embassy of Japan in Kenya as Deputy Ambassador and the next year held the position of Deputy Ambassador at the Embassy of Japan in Afghanistan. He was assigned the role of Consul General of the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver, in 2012. Consul General Okada and his wife have two sons.
You’ve been in Vancouver for a while now – what are you impressions of our city?
Vancouver as a city … well, Vancouver is such a beautiful and wonderful town, surrounded by beautiful nature – paralleled with a modern city environment. So I and my wife enjoy the wonderful city life and at the same time outdoor activities such as hiking, kayaking, skiing and many other activities. So in my experience, I have lived in many countries and places – and Vancouver is one of the best. Then, Vancouver as a society— I’m very much impressed with the demography of the Japanese and Japanese Canadians particularly in the area of culture. The Japanese Canadians, or Japanese who live here, really keep a strong identity as Japanese, maintain the traditions of Japanese culture and retain their modern culture. In particular one of the unique features is: when our office as a consulate organizes a cultural event—which is one of our most important roles – there are many groups or individuals who are doing something traditional from Japanese culture such as playing the koto, practicing Japanese dance, ikebana, tea ceremony, shigin etc. etc. So, our office can work with these people to introduce Japanese culture – that’s a unique feature – there are not many other places where we can work with local communities for these kinds of events. And, Vancouver as a business, there are many active Japanese businesses here. In particular these days, the relationship between Japan and BC is at a turning point. On one hand there is such a strong demand in Japan for energy imports such as natural gas, and BC on the other hand, features its natural gas export as a key issue for BC businesses. Therefore, our relation between Japan and BC is something indispensable, there is matching supply and demand for natural gas and the relation between us will become more and more important.
This is your third posting to Canada – it must feel like a second home to you.
What do you see as the similarities to Japan? And what are the differences?
Needless to say, Japan and Canada share the same values: democracy, human rights, rule of law—as social systems. So it’s not difficult to adapt and settle into Canadian society as a Japanese. But of course, we’re two different nations and there are some differences as well. Japan is a crowded, dense country and society, so naturally our life style will tend to be busier so that everything has to move precisely. For example, everything is on time; but here in Canada, life is more easy-going because of having more wide open space, so it seems people tend to be more relaxed. It may take time for Japanese to adapt to that aspect – a different time reference generally speaking. For example, in Japan one minute has 60 seconds, in Canada, one minute has 100 seconds. But still, when you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do, so we need to adapt.
You’ve been really hands-on in the community – attending many events and actively participating – do you enjoy getting involved?
Yes, very much. My job as Consul General here is to mingle with people as much as possible, and—as I said before—there are so many groups here; it’s a very good chance for me to get to know the groups and people here so that I can work with them and with many groups together.
This year marks the 125th year of the Consulate General of Japan in Vancouver and there are many activities coming up, including the Parallel Paths series. How did this series come about?
Our office is one of the oldest consulates in Canada with 125 years of history. The reason why we opened our office 125 years ago is because there were Japanese people living here. So I think the history of 125 years of our office is the history of Japanese who lived here since. Therefore, I consider it is very important to review our role as a consulate in the Japanese community, to review what our office has been doing for the Japanese community here or what we haven’t done for the community. I think it’s very important to know for the betterment of our future service to the community. There is an expression “on-ko-chi-shin” which means, review the past to get new ideas; that’s why I’m reviewing all our old documents.
You’ve been spotted playing the electronic saxophone at several events recently – playing Lady Gaga with a hip hop dancer no less. Do you lead a double life as a musician?
No, I’m not a musician just a music lover.
Seriously – tell me about your interest in music . . .
I like music and I play music and I enjoy music, just as a hobby. Music for me is to refresh myself and energize my life. Seriously!
It must be difficult in some respects to be a diplomat in that you just get settled in somewhere and then are posted somewhere else. Sometimes it’s quite a drastic change, like being posted to the Africa or Afghanistan. How do you deal with the transition, and do you ever feel like settling down in one place for an extended period of time?
I chose, myself, to be a diplomat; the life of a diplomat is to work with any issue between Japan and the rest of the world. I’m committed and ready to do that—ready to go anywhere in the world if there is a necessity for me to follow—regardless if it’s Afghanistan, Kenya, Somali, Sudan—if anything – wherever. Many people ask me if life in Afghanistan was harsh, difficult. Yes, but as a diplomat, the reason I was there was that there was the necessity for someone to be there. So in the future, I may go—I have no idea now—but go wherever there is a need for me to follow.
What has been your most challenging job? And what has been the most rewarding?
Life is always challenging, wherever you are, but challenge means, at the same time, stimulating. So I’m ready to accept any challenge. As for rewarding, if you always face a challenge – if you really accomplish what you have to do, that is the reward; achieving something is a reward. So for my stay in Vancouver, I have goals to accomplish as Consul General here in Vancouver. For example, to make our office an open office, open to everyone; to make close contact with many people; to help businesses here. So I’ll try my best to accomplish my goal, and I hope that ahead, I’ll leave something in the future. To see my goal accomplished will be my reward.