|Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very pleased to welcome you all to the Embassy this evening to celebrate the achievements of Japanese musician and composer Joji Hirota.
Cultural exchange is a very important aspect of Japan-UK relations. People are often inspired to take an interest in another country through exposure to its arts, music, fashion and the suchlike. Accordingly, as Japanese culture has become more accessible to British people over the years, the number of people in this country eager to learn about Japan has grown steadily. Taiko is a particularly powerful and impressive manifestation of Japanese culture, and for many Britons it has proved an irresistible taster of Japan, leaving them hungry for more.
Joji Hirota is an internationally-renowned percussionist. While his repertoire embraces a number of instruments, he is particularly well known for his performances of taiko drumming. I understand that he played on various occasions during the Japan 2001 festival. My wife and I were fortunate enough to witness Joji's talents at performances in Leicester to mark the inauguration of the local Japan Society in 2002 and at the Japan Day held in Peterborough last June. His compelling style and presence made a huge impact on us – and indeed on everyone who attended those performances.
London has been Joji's base for well over twenty years, and collaboration with British musicians is at the heart of his professional endeavours. A core principle driving Joji is that of fusion – between different instruments, different musical forms and different musical traditions. For Joji, music is genuinely and unquestionably a powerful force for transcending artistic and cultural boundaries.
Joji's dedication to conservation is a matter of record, and everyone who has sampled the delights of Kew Gardens is in his debt. When the Japanese gate ( Chokushimon ) was in need of restoration he composed a special piece of music and organised a concert to promote that cause. It is now several years since the restoration was completed, and Joji can be proud to have helped to develop the momentum which made it happen.
A few days ago Joji and his Taiko Drummers completed their inaugural US tour, which I understand was very successful. I hope they have had a good rest as they have promised to perform for us this evening! But before they do so, it is my great pleasure to award Mr Joji Hirota the Ambassador's Commendation for his longstanding commitment to UK-Japan cultural exchange and especially for his participation in various grass-roots activities to introduce Japanese culture to British people.