Jul 11

Best of JQ: Pride of the Yankees (Far East Edition) (Summer 2008)

JET alum George Rose with Yankees captain Derek Jeter after winning the 1998 World Series

By Stacy Smith (Kumamoto-ken CIR, 2002-03) for the JETAANY Newsletter

JET Alum George Rose (Fukushima-ken, 1989-91) has mingled with Japanese royalty, interpreted for two baseball superstars named Hideki (Irabu and Matsui) and cur­rently heads Yankee operations in Japan. How did this New York native manage to accomplish all this in his post-JET life? The JETAANY Newsletter had a chance to talk with George about his past exploits and his present position. Here are some excerpts from Stacy, who is collabo­rating with George to lead Japanese tours during games at Yankee Stadium this summer.

What was your post-JET career path?

I was going for my MBA at Co­lumbia when I had the opportunity to become the interpreter for the new Yankee Hideki Irabu, so I took a leave of absence and worked with him from ’98-’99. When he got traded, I resume my studies and after graduation worked on Wall Street. When Hideki Matsui came over, I did a bit of interpret­ing for him such as at his opening press confer­ence. Because at the time I had my own business I wasn’t able to do this full-time, but I did help with the interview process for his interpreter. Then last year the Yankees asked if I was interested in help­ing out with the opening of their office in Tokyo, and I went over last summer.

 Can you tell us a little bit about the Yankees operations in Tokyo?

Well, it’s just me, myself and I! I work in a flex office where there are several women (one of whom is my wonderful secretary) who help out several companies in the building by answering phones, etc. My title is Director of Pacific Rim Operations and I com­prise the company. My job is half baseball opera­tions and half business development. The former involves compiling information and reading ar­ticles and sending what I gather back home. I also make sure the Japanese scout gets where he needs to be and that his reports get where they need to go. I am not qualified to be a scout, but I do supervise scout activities. The latter responsibility involves searching for sponsorships for the new stadium, particularly from the luxury sector. I’m generating business development and always looking for new ideas and opportunities. The President of the team will often ask me to check into something, so that is also one of my responsibilities. Basically I’m just keeping my ear to the ground looking for poten­tial business opportunities for the Yankees in Asia.

I can imagine the Yankees are a hot com­modity in Japan. How do people react when they find out that’s who you work for?

Yes, the fact that the Yankees are so big in Japan is what makes my job so in­ teresting and exciting. Everyone loves them! They’re one of the most well-known brands in Japan and the world, and people are especially crazy about baseball here. No matter who they are, everyone wants to talk about the Yankees! In this respect, finding sponsorship is relatively easy.

What’s been the most challenging aspect of your job?

The need to be on call 24/7. Be­cause I am communicating with ev­eryone back home, I get a lot of phone calls from NY at midnight and other late hours. Very often I have to work on their schedule. I came here with my family so in a way this can be tough. My son is two and half so I’ll see him for dinner and then go back to working once he goes to sleep. I think it’s harder for my wife because she doesn’t speak Japanese so when I am busy it can be a bit isolating for her.

 What is it like being back in Japan after all this time?

Well, it had been 19 years ago that I last lived here so it was a real hiatus! But I love being back. The people are nice and it’s an easy place to live, let alone the food being awesome! When I was in the States I spoke Japanese and worked for Japanese companies, but it is still not the same as being in Japan again and being immersed in the culture here. To tell the truth, I am really into the o-warai (comedy) TV genre and watch all those goofy TV shows. They are slapstick and stupid, but I really enjoy them. My favorite celebrity used to be Beat Takeshi, but now I’m into popular comedian Yoshio Kojima who appears in a small bathing suit saying “Sonna no kankei nee!” (“What does that matter?”). I also like Down­town. But if you think about it, o-warai talent are the same as the convenience store onigiri here. You can find new flavors every week!

Are you in touch with any JET alums?

In Tokyo I do tend to see many former JETs. For example, the other day I gave a presentation at the American Chamber of Commerce that had been orga­nized by the young professionals committee, which is headed by two former JETs. In addition, when I was done speaking, about four or five people in the audience came up to me and introduced themselves as former JETs. So you never know where they are going to appear! It’s great to have that connection.

You were one of the initial JETs when the program first started in the late ’80s. What was that like?

I was in a very small town in Fukushima and there had only been one guy there before me. Being in the countryside gives you a lot of opportunities to speak Japanese! I’m not sure what it’s like now, but at the time I was the only American. Before I went on JET I was actually a teacher at a public middle school in Brooklyn, so working in Ja­pan was my second job and I spent two years there. Japanese people are great, because as you know they invite you out all the time. I literally could have been doing something every night of the week! Back in the day, there were about 35 JETs scattered around the prefecture. But thinking about it now, we were really limited in terms of hav­ing no Internet, no cable TV, and there was barely even satellite. As a result, I watched a lot of Japanese TV, which helped my language skills. However, even though I limited my calls home to only a couple of hours a month, due to KDD’s monopoly on phone service my bill was always somewhere around $350! I chalked that up to the cost of living in Japan, but communications were few and far between compared to today.

What was it like when you returned home after finishing JET? Did JETAA exist in New York yet?

It did and I was president of the group in the early to mid-90s. Thanks to JETAA, we all became friends after getting back home, and we did many of the same things you enjoy today like nomikai. The annual softball tournament with Japanese companies is something we started in the early 90s! I heard JETAA finally received non-profit status. That application process was something I started back then though we weren’t officially recognized at the time. The highlight of my tenure as president was when Japan’s emperor and empress visited NY and there was a reception for them at Japan Society. About 40 JETs were invited to attend, and they held the function in the room off the lobby. I got to greet them at the door as I was President, so that was pretty thrilling. At the reception there was a por­tion called, “What Are JETs Doing Now?” and we had made a slide show for that. After the usual speeches we made a reception line which the Emperor and Empress went down and chatted individually with each person.

Read Stacy’s WITLife columns at http://jetwit.com/wordpress/category/wit-life.

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