“What didn’t I learn?” That’s how Lt. Rachael Baker responded when asked what she gained from attending an orientation program at the Japan Ministry of Foreign Affairs from Feb. 28 to March 3.
Baker currently serves as the branch office head for Region Legal Service Office (RLSO) Japan’s Kadena outpost, as well as the staff judge advocate for Commander, Fleet Activities Okinawa. “I volunteered to attend the orientation program when it was publicized in early January,” said Baker. “I was fortunate enough to be nominated as a candidate by my installation, with the support of RLSO Japan. Late January, I found out I was chosen to attend!” The orientation program featured a compilation of instructional courses and networking opportunities with high-ranking officials in the Japanese government. Throughout the week, in between lectures, the event hosts took Baker and her fellow participants to the Edo Tokyo Museum, to the Meiji Shrine and to a Kendo experience.
“The networking opportunities were the highlight of the week,” said Baker. “For one lunch, we were seated at small group tables with Diet Members from a variety of backgrounds. I had the pleasure of eating with Mr. Takashi Uto, a former Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) officer and now a member of the House of Councilors. Uto-sensei was particularly interested in the practice of military law and the JASDF's future use of lawyers.”
The courses focused on timely and important topics, including maritime security, Japanese politics, and Japanese relations with China and Russia. Each lecturer was either a government official practicing in the topic or an accomplished professor. Baker plans to use the knowledge, skills and contacts she acquired during the event to continue promoting community relations in Okinawa. She calls Okinawa an especially exciting place to be stationed. She constantly is engaged in foreign criminal jurisdiction cases and discussions over varying interpretations of the U.S.-Japan status of forces agreement.
“Although it may seem intimidating – stepping into an entirely foreign area of practice – the SJA community in Japan is very close-knit, despite the distance (and sometimes time differences) of our offices,” said Baker. “From day one, I have had a great support network of judge advocates.” And, she noted, the beautiful beaches outside her door certainly add to the already enriching experience!