Ambassador's Blog

A busy month for Japan-UK ties

April 2013

On Tuesday 9 April I went to Heathrow to welcome Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida, who was visiting London to attend the G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting over the following two days. The Ministers covered a wide range of international issues including the security situations in Somalia and Mali as well as Iranian nuclear development, Syria, the prevention of sexual violence in conflict, cyber security and climate change. But above all, the meeting took place in the context of the North Korean threat to launch a long-range missile in defiance of successive UN Security Council resolutions.

The Ministers were united in their condemnation of North Korea’s threatening and destabilising behaviour. In addition, they expressed concern at the regime’s appalling human rights record and emphasised the need to address humanitarian issues, including abductions.

While in London, Foreign Minister Kishida conducted a number of bilateral meetings with his counterparts, including one with Foreign Secretary William Hague, in which the two sides followed up Prime Minister Cameron’s official visit to Japan last year. They particularly looked forward to building on their defence and civil nuclear cooperation and welcomed the fact that negotiations on the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement would begin soon. Mr Kishida also held bilateral discussions with his opposite numbers from Russia, the US and Canada.  The Japan-Russia meeting took place at my official residence for historical reasons, as that was where the initial negotiations for restoring diplomatic relations between Japan and the then-Soviet Union had been held in 1955-56.

A week after the G8 meeting, on Wednesday 17 April, I had the solemn duty of accompanying the Japanese Government’s Special Envoy, former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, to the funeral of Baroness Thatcher.  After the very dignified proceedings at St Paul’s lasting around one hour, Mr Mori was invited to a reception at Mansion House hosted by Foreign Secretary Hague, where he met Prime Minister Cameron and many other dignitaries.

Lady Thatcher was a great leader who stood up valiantly for the values which underpin democratic societies at the time of the Cold War. Crucially, she helped to bring about the resurgence of the British economy by transforming it into a bastion of openness and free trade. In this connection, she encouraged direct investment from Japan, which gave rise to the dynamic, mutually-beneficial economic ties our two countries enjoy today.

Although she probably revelled in the epithet “Iron Lady” by which she was known around the world, I recall an occasion when I saw the softer, more homely side of her. When I was serving as Political Counsellor of the Embassy in London during the mid-1990s, I visited Lady Thatcher’s office in Belgravia to join my Ambassador in a private meeting with her. As it happened, I arrived there well ahead of the Ambassador and had to wait inside for his arrival. A few minutes later, suddenly none other than Lady Thatcher came out to say, “You are waiting for the Ambassador, aren’t you?”, then made me a cup of tea and offered me a newspaper to read while I waited. She thus displayed a very endearing human quality that some people overlook when they talk about her. I was touched and honoured by this encounter – as well, of course, as by the more formal meeting that followed. I sincerely mourn the passing of the great Lady.

Between the G8 Foreign Ministers’ meeting and Baroness Thatcher’s funeral, on Sunday 14 and Monday 15 April, I made my first visit to the Isle of Wight. During my initial stay in the UK as a young language student in the early ’70s, I had been fascinated by what I had heard about the legendary Isle of Wight Festival. Well, at least I have now visited the island, although I have yet to savour a pop extravaganza there! The primary reason for my trip this time was to open an exhibition at the impressive Carisbrooke Castle Museum marking the centenary of the death of the renowned seismologist John Milne.

In the late 19th century he served as a foreign adviser and professor of mining and geology at the Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo, went on to establish the Seismological Society of Japan and gained the reputation of ‘father of seismology’ there. While in Japan, he was also accorded the honour of being awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by Emperor Meiji as well as the title of Professor Emeritus of Seismology by the prestigious Tokyo University. He even acquired a Japanese wife! After 20 years in Japan, Professor Milne returned to the UK with his wife and settled on the Isle of Wight. He died there on 31 July 1913.

During my trip I met a number of dignitaries and was treated most hospitably.  I also had the opportunity to take in some of the island’s attractions, including Osborne House and Ventnor Botanic Gardens.

Thus April turned out to be a busy month for Japan-UK relations, and the trend is set to continue in May.

With Mrs Judi Griffin MBE JP DL, Chair of Trustees and Dr Mike Bishop,
ex-Curator of Carisbrooke Castle Museum

The impressive Carisbrooke Castle Museum


Keiichi Hayashi

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