My latest SNA VM column 44, which came out today, is an interview with Jon Heese (pronounced Hayes), a naturalized Canadian-Japanese and elected Tsukuba City Councillor of twelve years. A Caucasian Visible Minority of Japan, Heese has long been advocating that other Non-Japanese Residents naturalize and run for office in Japan like he did. This interview took me more than a decade to secure, as I first invited Jon to interview back in the early 2010s. This time he contacted ME for the interview, so I felt less guilty about serving up some non-softball questions. Excerpt:
Debito Arudou: Hi Jon. Please introduce yourself as you’d like to be seen by your voting and non-voting public.
Jon Heese: Obviously I would like them to see me as a combination of Brad Pitt and Nelson Mandela. But I would be satisfied if they only see me as someone who is doing his best. I’m left of center on social issues and a fiscally conservative social democrat. This means freedom for people to be who they are within the structures of society. Businesses should also be free to function within a social structure. And I underline social. Businesses function within society. They are not entities unto themselves. It is the community that is educating their workers, building their infrastructure, and protecting their property. Businesses need to pay their taxes and stop trying to privatize profits while socializing risks. Fundamentally, governments should be in the business of regulating, not competing with legitimate businesses…
Debito Arudou: Woah, woah, woah. I asked how you wanted us to see you, and you’re starting to give us us your personal philosophy of government. Okay, but I was asking more: “Where are you from, and what do you do?” Let’s back up a sec and get into that.
Jon Heese: Silly me. As a good politician I’ll blame someone else for my misunderstanding. Okay. So, who am I. I’m a small town boy from Wymark, Saskatchewan, Canada, population 175. If you’ve ever seen Dances with Wolves, that’s pretty much what the area looks like. I’m from a family of eleven kids (six adopted). My family moved around a lot due to my father’s career as a Mennonite preacher. I spent about two years as a kid in central Kansas, and after high school I went to Europe for two years to see a bit of the world. I then attended the University of Regina and graduated with a Bachelor of Music Education. In 1991 I landed in Narita looking for one of those sweet English teaching jobs I’d heard so much about. I got a bunch of crap jobs, but they paid the bills. Eventually I ended up in Tsukuba, Ibaraki, a city about 60 kilometers north of Tokyo with a population of about 150,000 at the time. Eventually I understood that students didn’t really want to learn English so much as have an hour of entertainment with one of them movie star types. In the end I lasted about six years in the English biz. By ‘97 I was burned/bummed out and could already see the writing on the wall. The Bubble was bursting. Pay was in decline and finding students was getting harder. Besides which, after six years I had hardly learned any Japanese. I knew I needed to find a job where I would be forced to speak Japanese. I opened a bar and ran that for seven years. Then I opened an import company to supply the many foreign researchers in Tsukuba and rewrite papers for the Japanese researchers. I also did a bunch of acting for TV and movies. Eventually I got into politics at the city level.
Full interview at https://shingetsunewsagency.com/2023/03/20/life-lessons-from-a-naturalized-japanese-politician/