I would like to extend my warmest greetings to you and share my feelings and thoughts as the newly-elected President of SIETAR Japan. I have had the honor to support President Eriko Machi as Vice President from 2009 to 2012, after working as Internal Director from 2006 to 2008.
When thinking about my career in this field, it is impossible to begin without mentioning the relationships with SIETAR JAPAN members. After graduating University as an English and American Literature major, I worked for Fuji Xerox as a translator dealing with in-house documents and manuals from Japanese to English. It was hard for me, as a person who was born in Japan, and educated in Japanese schools, to translate the Japanese engineers’ documents into English. My English was always heavily rewritten in red by a native speaker of English. At the time, I sensed that the problem was not only the language but something behind it. The first time that I heard the words “intercultural communication” was when I joined a workshop provided by Fuji Xerox for representatives overseas. The coach was Dianne Hofner Saphiere, one of the pioneer intercultural trainers. It was an extremely provocative and interesting experience for me because the workshop was very learner-centered, in an experiential style with a lot of interactions among participants and trainers. I wanted to learn more about communication and culture, and I was able to contact Shoko Araki, one of the founders of SIETAR JAPAN, who kindly introduced me to Dr. Dean Barnlund at San Francisco State University. After finishing my MA at SFSU, I joined SIETAR JAPAN, back when Dr. Kichiro Hayashi was leading the organization as President. It was very enjoyable to have discussions with the Steering Committee members at Dr. Hayashi’s office at Aoyama Gakuin University.
The field of intercultural communication has continued to gain importance, but we also recognize some new tendencies and criticism. Since I resumed my studies, this time at the doctoral course in Psychology of Ochanomizu University in 2000, I have learned about the paradigm shift in the field of social studies and humanities. When I studied Speech Communication in the 1980’s, culture was considered to be contained within the boundaries of a nation. Each culture was thought to have unique characteristics, which could be differentiated from others and quantitative research methods were mainly used to examine the unique characteristics of each culture. However today, due to the progress of globalization, we cannot ignore diversity and complexity within a culture, and qualitative analysis becomes more important than before to examine such variety within a culture. Intercultural communication used to mean communication between people of different cultures, which often meant different nations, but more and more frequently now means different subgroups within a culture.
In addition, there has been criticism that communication theories are produced in Western countries and then applied to non-Western cultures. Demand for theories based on the reality of the local field has justifiably grown. By increasing recognition of such new ways of understanding cultures, we must redefine our mission as the leading organization for intercultural communication. I would like to present three missions I would like to pursue as President of SIETAR JAPAN.
First, it is important to understand culture locally. By “locally” I mean that we need to understand reality as it is understood by its participants, rather than borrowing our predecessors’ theories and conceptions. I think it is important to understand the “local” reality of intercultural contacts rather than using prepared theories, and apply this understanding to solve problems within the actual context.
Second, it is important to promote understanding of culture at a macro level. Our life is impacted by culture in so many ways, and influenced by our history as well as the present social systems. I am always astonished to find that my university students lack knowledge of the modern history of Japan, especially our history with our neighboring countries. Understanding different people of different cultures is based on the knowledge of history and its larger social context.
Third, it is vital to find a way to increase recognition of global citizenship, which is the consciousness that we live in the same space of the earth in the same time period and we need each other’s cooperation to survive together. I think it is most effective to increase awareness as global citizenship before beginning to teach differences of different cultures.
The strength of SIETAR JAPAN is the practical application of theories and practical skills to training and education. In order to further promote the above three missions based on our accumulated experiences, I would like to cooperate together with other SC members and SIETAR members as well as the outside individuals and groups, who have the same vision as our SIETAR JAPAN.
Akiko Asai, President of SIETAR JAPAN