Susan Roos champion of balance

by Masami Ito

Susan Roos wears many hats. A mother of two and the wife of U.S. Ambassador John Roos, she is also a partner at Cook Roos Wilbur LLP in San Francisco, where she practices as a labor law attorney.

And since her husband took up his post in Tokyo in August 2009, Roos has divided her time between Japan and San Francisco as a full-time mother, lawyer and ambassador’s wife.

At a recent international symposium titled “The Next Stage: Families that Work!” organized by the Soft Landing Task Force of the American Chamber of Commerce Japan’s Corporate Social Responsibility Committee, Roos said she didn’t want to make a choice between having a career and having a family — she “wanted to have it all.”

“I understand what a challenge balancing career and family can be,” Roos said at the conference hosted by The Japan Times and its parent company, Nifco Inc. “But with the support of family, laws and policies that help women in the workplace, it is possible.”

In Tokyo, Roos spent the past year e-mailing and teleconferencing with clients, and putting her son through his final year of high school, all while attending diplomatic soirees with her husband and traveling throughout Japan.

In September she joined her husband on a visit to Nagasaki. President Barack Obama has shown leadership in aiming for a world free of nuclear weapons, and the ambassador made history in August when he became the first U.S. representative to attend the annual ceremony commemorating the atomic bombing of Hiroshima.

In an interview with The Japan Times, Roos recalled her visit to the Nagasaki Atomic Bomb Museum. “It was a very moving experience for me and going to the museum really opened up my eyes to the devastation and brought home how destructive nuclear weapons can be,” she said. The trip “reinforced what President Obama has said — that we should work toward a world without nuclear weapons.”

And inspired by Obama’s popular wife, Michelle, who planted a garden outside the White House to bring attention to America’s problems with obesity and diabetes, Roos started a vegetable garden at the embassy, planting various fruits and vegetables, including tomatoes, eggplants, beets, cucumbers and blueberries.

Michelle Obama “is trying really to deal with obesity and obesity issues in the United States,” Roos said. “I know that is not an issue here in Japan . . . but I think it is important to just raise the consciousness of everyone . . . how to eat more fresh vegetables and fresh fruits.”

One of the Obama administration’s key issues with Japan is getting the country to join the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. The treaty, signed by all of the Group of Eight countries except Japan and Russia, is aimed at preventing children from being wrongfully taken out of their country of “habitual residence” by a parent.

Roos’ husband, along with ambassadors from other countries, including Australia, Canada, France and the United Kingdom, has urged Tokyo to sign the treaty, but the government has yet to give a straight answer.

During a recent interview with The Japan Times and other media outlets, newly appointed Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara declined comment on whether Japan will sign, but he did say there were strong voices in Japan against it. Roos pointed out that most developed countries have joined the convention, and she sees no reason why Japan can’t.

“I’m a firm believer that children should have the love of both of their parents and so I feel that it is important for these international couples to be able to have both the fathers and the mothers see their children,” Roos said. “I personally think it is a very important issue, and important for Japan to be part of the international community so that both parents can see and raise their children.”

Her husband’s appointment came just before the historic 2009 Lower House poll in which the Democratic Party of Japan knocked the Liberal Democratic Party off the throne of its postwar dominance.

With the DPJ in power, Japan-U.S. relations were strained in the past year over the contentious relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which the new government tried and failed to move out of Okinawa.

But Roos expressed confidence in her husband, pointing out he is a good listener and has the ability to put himself in other people’s shoes. She stressed that her husband is here to deepen the U.S. connection with Japan, which ranges from cultural and educational ties to scientific and business relationships.

“We are so connected to Japan. It’s our most important ally,” Roos said. “So, (my husband) is here to build on those strong connections to develop and continue to develop this friendship that we have with Japan.”