Ambassador's Blog

London welcomes a host of Japanese dignitaries

November 2012

The last month has been quite hectic for me and my Embassy. On 17 and 18 October Foreign Minister Koichiro Gemba visited the UK on the second leg of a three-nation tour of Europe. Japanese Foreign Ministers have visited the UK many times, but often to attend multilateral conferences like G8. In fact, before the visit by the then-Foreign Minister Matsumoto to London in May of last year, the previous bilateral visit by a Japanese Foreign Minister dated back to 2003. It is not just that I am lucky to have been Ambassador when the UK received a Japanese Foreign Minister two years in a row, but that such an occurrence is wonderful for the UK-Japan relationship. What is more, this time Mr Gemba and Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs William Hague held the first Japan-UK Foreign Ministers’ “Strategic Dialogue”, as agreed during Prime Minister Cameron’s visit to Japan in April.

First Japan-UK Foreign Ministers' Strategic Dialogue at the British Foreign & Commonwealth Office
As he told me later, Mr Gemba was extremely satisfied by the depth of the discussions he held with Mr. Hague for a full three hours, part of which took place over a working dinner at the Foreign Secretary’s official residence at the historic Carlton Gardens. The two ministers exchanged frank views from a broad perspective on a number of crucial issues, with the emphasis on the situation in the Asia-Pacific region as well as events in the Middle East. On the economic front, a particularly important topic was the question of a Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA). The two countries concur on the need for the early conclusion of such an agreement as it will encourage a greater two-way flow of trade and investment between Japan and the EU.

With the UK set to assume the presidency of the G8 in 2013 and Japan preparing to host the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V), Mr Hague and Mr Gemba also discussed development issues, particularly as regards Africa and the post-Millennium Development Goals (post-MDGs). They agreed on the importance of synchronising their efforts in regard to these two summit meetings. Other topics on their agenda included bilateral co-operation focusing on the defence and nuclear sectors, in line with the Japan-UK Joint Statement issued when Prime Minister Cameron was in Japan in April. The ministers confirmed the progress made so far and agreed on the need for continued co-operation.

Roughly coinciding with Foreign Minister Gemba’s visit, a delegation from the leading Japanese business organisation Keidanren (the equivalent of the CBI) spent two days in the UK, from 16 to 18 October, as part of a tour of major European capitals. The issue of a Japan-EU EPA was high on its agenda. In fact, the Keidanren mission, too, was visiting the UK for the second consecutive year, as compared with its usual practice of doing so once every three to six years. The delegation, led by Chairman Hiromasa Yonekura and assisted by five Vice-Chairmen, who themselves are all leading businessmen, had a meeting with Prime Minister Cameron and Business Secretary Vince Cable. I was impressed with the force and conviction of Mr Cameron about the need for the early launch of the negotiations for a Japan-EU EPA. He pledged to do his utmost to press his European counterparts on this issue at the EU Council Meeting scheduled for the following day.

Keidanren meeting with Prime Minister Cameron at 10 Downing Street

From 31 October to 2 November, former Prime Minister Naoto Kan was in London as a member of a High-Level Panel to advise on the global development agenda beyond 2015, or the post-MDGs. The panel’s three co-chairs were Prime Minister Cameron, Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Mr Kan emphasised the Japanese Government’s willingness to co-operate with the Panel’s work so as to help ensure that its progress report could be published as expected next May.

The UK has also played host to two prefectural governors from Japan recently. First Mr Keiji Yamada, Governor of Kyoto Prefecture, arrived with a 25-strong delegation. Their main purpose in visiting the UK was to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the twinning arrangement between Kyoto and Edinburgh, which they did in Scotland on 14 October. They then visited London as part of a mission to promote Kyoto cuisine. On 19 October they co-hosted, with the Embassy, an evening featuring Washoku produced by Master Chef Yoshihiro Murata at his newly-opened restaurant in the City. Mr Murata has already won seven Michelin stars for his three restaurants in Japan. I was among around 80 lucky people who were able to enjoy his exquisite creations at the event in London, and offered some opening remarks to inaugurate the occasion.

Finally, on 12 November the Embassy was the setting for an event to showcase Miyagi prefecture, which was one of the areas worst hit by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. As a co-host, I opened the occasion with a speech to the 150 invited guests and introduced the Prefectural Governor Yoshihiro Murai, who then made a forceful presentation on his region’s recovery programme and reported on the progress made so far. I was very impressed by Mr Murai’s clear vision about how to proceed with the task of reconstruction in the face of daunting challenges such as the need to dispose of millions of tons of debris as well as to build new, viable and sustainable communities in safer locations. The audience were reminded that much more work still needed to be done and that, in order for British people to continue offering the devastated region their much-appreciated support, they could simply enjoy more of the prefecture’s renowned food products and make a point of visiting its attractive sightseeing destinations, including the stunningly beautiful Matsushima islands.

The guests were later able to sample sushi and top-quality sake made from Miyagi rice. Disappointingly, I was unable to enjoy this treat as I had to move on to another event. However, based on my personal experience of visiting Miyagi, I can vouch for its delicious food as well as its spectacular scenery. I hope you, too, will get a taste of Miyagi for yourselves before too long!

The reason for my premature departure was that I had to attend the inauguration banquet hosted by the new Lord Mayor of London, Roger Gifford. Next year he plans to pay a visit to Japan – still, we should remember, the world’s third-biggest economy and the largest creditor nation. My Embassy will closely co-operate with the Lord Mayor’s Office to make sure that the visit proves successful.


Keiichi Hayashi

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