Ambassador's Blog

From cricket to the weightiest global issues

May 2013

The hectic pace of events in Japan-UK relations has shown no signs of letting up in recent weeks. However, it has not been “all work and no play”, and on Sunday 28 April I was present at a most enjoyable event that I could scarcely have imagined when I took up my present post in London.

The event was a special cricket match between the MCC and Japan at Lord’s Nursery Ground as part of the Japan Cricket Association’s Tour to the UK to mark the 150th anniversary of the first cricket match played in Japan. That was a match between British merchants in Yokohama and the Royal Navy in June 1863 – a turbulent time in Japanese history, when foreigners were under threat of expulsion from Japan. Although cricket is still in its infancy in Japan, in recent years it has started to develop modest roots, partly thanks to the MCC, which conducted tours there in 2005 and 2009. The 150th Anniversary Tour, to London and Scotland, marked the first time for both the men’s and women’s national teams to be involved in such a venture together.

I witnessed part of the men’s match, which was an exhilarating experience, clearly enjoyed by the roughly 1,000 spectators. In my remarks over lunch I referred to the origins of cricket in Japan as well as to other key historical events in the emergence of the ties between our two countries. I paid tribute to the MCC for supporting the development of cricket in Japan. At the same time, I took the opportunity to express anew my appreciation of the support and assistance extended by the British people following the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, referring also to the notable role of the Japanese Cricket Association in providing support and bringing joy to many children in the affected region through its Cricket for Smiles charity.

In front of the famous Pavilion at Lord's with MCC President Mike Griffith

The Japanese men's team in action against the MCC on the Nursery ground

From 2 to 5 May, the UK-Japan 21st Century Group (formerly the UK-Japan 2000 Group) met in London and at Wilton Park, West Sussex for its 30th Annual Meeting. The Group, set up in 1985 by the then-Prime Ministers Yasuhiro Nakasone and Margaret Thatcher, comprises leaders from industry, finance, academia, the media and government.  Meeting once a year, alternately in the UK and Japan, it discusses a wide range of issues facing the two countries, including political, economic, social and cultural matters, from both bilateral and international perspectives.  A summary report and recommendations based on the Group’s deliberations are submitted to the prime ministers of both countries.

This year’s meeting was attended by over 40 senior Japanese and British leaders, ably led by co-chairs Lord Howard of Lympne, former leader of the Conservative Party, and Yasuhisa Shiozaki, former Chief Cabinet Secretary. The Japanese delegation paid a courtesy call on Foreign Secretary Hague, with whom its members held a most worthwhile discussion about the UK-Japan relationship. In the subsequent two-and-a-half-day conference over the long weekend, the British and Japanese participants covered, among other topics, economic and political developments in both countries, including the progress of ‘Abenomics’ and the prospects for structural reform in Japan, geopolitical issues in the Asia-Pacific region, climate change and energy policy, the Japan-EU relationship and UK-Japan cooperation in the field of international development.

UK-Japan 21st Century Group meeting

A number of recommendations resulted from the deliberations. (For the details of what transpired at the meeting, please click here.) From my own perspective, the most salient points include the recommendations on the following matters: cooperation for the acceleration of the negotiations for a Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement; the establishment of a government-private sector forum for collaboration in the renewable energy sector; and exploring the synergy between the G8 and TICAD V as well as  opportunities for cooperation between the UK and Japan both at government and private-sector level in development projects in Africa and Myanmar.  At the same time, the Group expressed concern about the proposed change to the English national curriculum that would negatively affect Japanese language education at both primary and secondary school levels, despite the fact that the number of Japanese language students in the UK has increased by more than 60% over the past decade.

This last topic was taken up by Japan’s Education Minister, Mr Hakubun Shimomura, who paid a brief visit to the UK in parallel with the above meeting.  While his primary purpose in visiting here was to meet with members of the Japanese community to discuss matters related to Japanese schools in the UK, he also emphasised that, for the benefit of our bilateral relationship, which has been buttressed by the huge volume of Japanese inward investment into the UK that has created more than 130,000 local jobs, everything must be done to maintain the availability of Japanese as a subject for study in British schools.

On Wednesday 8 May I attended the State Opening of Parliament, an event unrivalled for its colour and pageantry.  After that it was business as usual as I resumed my busy schedule and turned my thoughts to the upcoming G8 Summit in Northern Ireland. No doubt I will have something to say about that gathering in my next message.


Keiichi Hayashi

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