I cannot start with anything other than the Great East Japan Earthquake that struck the Tohoku region exactly two months after my appointment. I would like to express once again my appreciation to the British Government and people for the generous assistance extended immediately after the disaster, including the dispatch of a rescue team, and for all the other help so willingly given over the ensuing five years. When HRH The Duke of Cambridge visited Japan for the first time in March of last year, he made a point of visiting and spending a night in the Tohoku region. His kindness and genuine interest in witnessing how the people there were rebuilding their lives was much appreciated and will be long remembered.
There have been a number of visits in both directions by leaders and policymakers from our two countries. In April 2012, Prime Minister Cameron made the first official bilateral visit to Japan by a British prime minister for nine years. This was followed by an official visit to the UK by Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress of Japan to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen.
The following year, 2013, the UK hosted the G8 Summit at Loch Erne, Northern Ireland. Prime Minister Abe attended that important gathering and held a bilateral summit with Prime Minister Cameron. During his brief stay he also met Northern Ireland leaders in Belfast and stopped in London to deliver a major speech on his economic policy to an illustrious – and appreciative – audience in the prestigious setting of London’s Guildhall.
The top-level contacts continued in May 2014, when Prime Minister Abe paid a bilateral visit here. He and Prime Minister Cameron held fruitful discussions that resulted in a robust joint statement which encompassed far-reaching agreements ranging from much deeper defence collaboration to sports cooperation on the basis of our shared values of democracy, the rule of law, human rights and open and transparent markets.
Afterwards Prime Minster Abe attended a ceremony at UCL to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the arrival in the UK of the Choshu Five, a group of brave young pioneers who came to study in the University so that they could contribute to the modernisation of Japan. They all did so, and in fact one of them became Japan’s first prime minister while the others became respectively the first foreign minister, the father of Japan’s engineering, the founder of Japan’s railway system and the first director of the mint.
As a follow-on to the PM’s visit, a particularly significant event occurred in January 2015 in the form of our first ever bilateral Foreign and Defence Ministerial (‘2+2’) Meeting in London. Taking part were Foreign Minister Kishida, Defence Minister Nakatani, Foreign Secretary Hammond and Defence Secretary Fallon, who issued a joint statement that laid out the framework for closer bilateral defence and security cooperation.
This January, the Second Japan-UK Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting was held in Tokyo. The participants welcomed the progress in defence and security co-operation to date and agreed to further enhance the dynamic strategic partnership between the two countries. At this Second ‘2+2’ Meeting the UK described Japan as its “closest security partner in Asia” and welcomed Japan’s Legislation for Peace and Security enacted last autumn.
And just a matter of days ago Mr Hammond visited Japan to attend the G7 Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in Hiroshima, a historic gathering in the city which was the first to experience human suffering caused by an atomic bomb. The seven foreign ministers issued a strong and unanimous message calling for stepped-up efforts to bring about a world free from nuclear weapons. Their visit to the Peace Park facilities highlighted the significance of the occasion.
And what about the softer side of Japan-UK relations? What stands out in my mind is the extremely impressive London 2012 Summer Olympics. I hope we can learn from the UK’s experience so that the 2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will reproduce and even surpass the tremendous excitement and international goodwill that were evident in London. More recently, around six months ago England hosted another iconic sporting event, the Rugby World Cup 2015. Many of us still recall with pride Japan’s historic three victories in the pool stage, which gave us tremendous encouragement as we are hosting the next Rugby World Cup in 2019.
Another source of satisfaction for me consists of the various events the Embassy has hosted to promote cooperation in some highly significant areas. These have included seminars for promoting direct investment from Japan to boost the UK economy as well as events encouraging educational/scientific collaboration and academic exchanges, always combined with a touch of Japanese culture, such as the provision of Japanese food and sake. In the area of cultural exchange, too, I am happy to see the success of the Green Park Youth Concert Series I launched two years ago to showcase talented young Japanese musicians who are studying in the UK or otherwise based here.
In the month ahead much of our attention will be focused on the G7 Summit which Japan is to host next month. This gathering, in the beautiful and historic location of Ise-Shima, will be the first G7 Summit in Asia since the one in Toyako, Hokkaido in 2008. It will be a valuable opportunity for the leaders of the major industrial democracies to discuss the most pressing issues confronting the world, including the slow-down of the global economy and the issue of counter-terrorism.
As I prepare to leave the United Kingdom before the end of May, I will miss the historic moment of the EU referendum to be held on 23 June. It is surely a matter to be decided by the British people, but I do believe that Japan is also a stakeholder in the outcome as one of the largest foreign direct investors in the UK and as such strongly prefers to see an influential UK continue to be part of a united, outward-looking EU.
I will also miss the opening by the end of fiscal 2016 of Japan House London, which will showcase Japanese soft power to a wider audience.
But I am leaving in the firm belief that our two countries, bound by the common democratic values of freedom and human rights and the shared principle of the rule of law whether on land or sea, will continue to work together as a force for good in the world.