Ambassador's Blog

A busy month at the Embassy

April 2014

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.

Speech at Ceremony of Remembrance

okiagari koboshi display
The day after the event at the Embassy was devoted to UK-Japan cooperation in the field of energy.  I first visited the Houses of Parliament for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Japan’s New Energy Development Organization (NEDO) and the UK Government on a Smart Community Project in Manchester, which will feature Japan’s heat pump and IT expertise and is set to make a major contribution to energy conservation and the development of a low-carbon society in the UK.

Later that day the Embassy hosted a Seminar on UK-Japan Cooperation and Investment Promotion in the Energy Sector. Attended by around 130 people, this event featured a number of stimulating presentations by eminent speakers on a diverse array of topics including smart communities, low carbon innovation, offshore wind and other renewables and intelligent energy, as well as government policy on energy in both the UK and Japan. A networking reception followed. Both the ceremony at the Houses of Parliament and the seminar at the Embassy left me in no doubt that there is great scope for the UK and Japan to build on their fruitful cooperation in this important area.

The third of my three events was a piano recital by Ms Marina Koka on Thursday 13 March to launch the Green Park Youth Concert Series. This initiative is intended to showcase talented young Japanese musicians.  Western classical music was only introduced to Japan around 150 years ago. Although it was initially welcomed as a novelty in line with people’s yearning for Western-style modernisation, Japanese people have really taken it to their hearts. These days Japan boasts a significant number of gifted young musicians, many of whom come to European cities such as London to pursue their studies.  Ms Koka is currently studying the piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and her exquisite performance clearly illustrated why her professor there had recommended her to us so strongly. We hope to host further recitals or concerts featuring promising young musicians from time to time in the months ahead.

Pianist Marina Koka
The events I have described all took place against a backdrop of extremely cordial and forward-looking relations between our two countries and peoples.  At each of them I witnessed the interest in and friendship towards Japan exhibited by British people from all walks of life.  What I saw made me all the more eager to see our ties become stronger still in the future.

Keiichi Hayashi

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