Last month I was involved in three very different events at the Embassy in the space of just two days. Each was significant for UK-Japan relations in its own way.
The first was a gathering on Tuesday 11 March, attended by 121 guests, to mark the passage of three years since the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which started with a minute’s silence. I then outlined the progress of the reconstruction efforts and Prime Minister Abe’s vision of a “New Tohoku”, based on the creation of “vibrant regional communities that will become a front-runner for tackling such pressing national-level issues as the shrinking and ageing of the population and the transition to a more sophisticated socio-economic model of a post-industrialisation society”. At the same time, I emphasised Japan’s determination to share with the international community the lessons learned from the disaster, referring to the several gatherings Japan has hosted on the subject.
The guests were then treated to two very different presentations. First we heard from Ms Hannah Sumpter
, who had been based in the village of Iitate in Fukushima Prefecture as a participant of the JET Programme when the disaster struck. She gave a poignant account of her recollections of that fateful day and of her involvement in the subsequent relief efforts, paying tribute to the courage and resilience of the survivors. Then there was a video presentation by Mr Yoshihiro Murai, Governor of Miyagi Prefecture. He recounted the steady progress of the reconstruction efforts and expressed his gratitude for the help his prefecture had received from the British Government and people. Following his presentation, the London-based violinist Hakase Taro beautifully performed two of his compositions, Smile for You
and Together We Walk
The ensuing reception featured sushi made with rice from Fukushima and sake from Tohoku. In one of the rooms adjacent to the reception area, there was a display of okiagari koboshi
(the region’s traditional dolls, which right themselves when knocked over and have thus become a symbol of recovery), all of which had been painted by well-known people, including one by Prime Minister Abe.