Changing stereotypes of South Carolina
April 8, 2005
I had an enjoyable and educational visit yesterday with Mr. Masataka Okano, a Counselor in the Political Section for the Embassy of Japan in Washington, D.C. Mr. Okano stopped by the campus of Bob Jones University for a few hours yesterday to learn more about the institution. More than that, he was here to visit the Upstate and South Carolina.
For years, according to Mr. Okano, the Japanese have viewed the Northeast as the primary center for politics, education and religion. When the Japanese government sends diplomats to the United States for language training, they invariably send the students to the Midwest. (Actually, that isnít a bad idea since the middle-American accent is considered the more pure dialect.) When they are looking for the schools best representing American education, they send them to the schools of the Northeast.
The times they are a changiní. The Japanese Embassy is now turning more focus to the South and in particular, South Carolina. Why? They are beginning to see the state as a leader in national politics and a center for conservative religious values. Mr. Okano expressed the thought that for too long his embassy had stereotyped the political, religious, economic and educational influence of the South. His mission is to compare the stereotypes to reality.
Iím glad to say he got off to a good start.
His first visit to South Carolina was to the campus of Bob Jones University. I received him and took him on a tour of the campus giving him statistics and historical tidbits along the way. He learned that the campus has 4800 students with nearly half of those students hailing from outside the southern states. The student body and faculty better represent a national rather than a regional institution. He was impressed to know that fifteen Japanese students were members of the student body.
After a short tour, he sat down with Bob Taylor, the Dean of the School of Arts and Science as well as a member of the Greenville County Council and the Greenville Area Development Corporation. Dr. Taylor shared with him some insights into South Carolina politics Ė including those early days when men such as Dr. Taylor and Lee Atwater worked to move the South Carolina Republican primary to its now strategic position. He also sold the Greenville area quite effectively.
He then had lunch with some students and I joined him for a meeting with Stephen Jones (who will be installed as president of the school in May). At that meeting I gave him a copy of a World History textbook printed at the BJU Press. It was significant for Mr. Okano in that the large volume was completely in Japanese. It is a representation of several works that Bob Jones University has been cooperating with a Japanese entity to publish.
After a further visit to the archive room for some history, I drove the very gracious man to Main Street to show him our beautiful city of Greenville. I dropped him off at 101 East Washington for a meeting with Senator Lindsey Grahams staff. Today, he is in Columbia continuing his discovery of our great state. As I pulled away from the curb, I felt pretty good about his first experience in our state. I trust that it will be the first of further visits in the future.
It was also enjoyable for me to have a guest on campus that was not a reporter. Mr. Okano wanted to find positive things. It was emotionally cathartic to hear him comment on the beauty of the campus, the deportment of the students and the incredible value of the tuition cost. Reporters donít normally comment on how their perceptions (stereotypes) have changed upon actually experiencing the campus.
I kind of chuckle that the Japanese Embassy first thought of Bob Jones University when they wanted to visit South Carolina. When we mentioned the proximity of Clemson University to Greenville, he asked for clarification of exactly what Clemson was. Iím sure for some people in South Carolina, the thought of BJU being considered a leading institution makes their skin crawl! But donít worry. I really think we did South Carolina proud.