Ambassador's Blog

Decorations, music, beef and dolls

July 2014

Since my last message, there have been a number of events at the Embassy and my Residence reflecting different aspects of Japan-UK relations. These occasions have included the decoration of three Britons by the Government of Japan for their contributions to friendship and mutual understanding between our two countries, three concerts featuring Japanese musicians, a gathering to promote Japanese cuisine and an unusual exhibition at the Houses of Parliament.

On Tuesday 3 June, in a ceremony at the Embassy I bestowed the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star upon Mr Roger Godsiff MP, who has chaired the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group for the past 15 years. During this period he has visited Japan many times and has done much to assist his fellow MPs in deepening their understanding of Japan’s political and economic situation as well as its culture and technology.

Exactly two weeks later there was a similar celebration at my Residence, this time for Professor Janet Hunter, who was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon in recognition of her longstanding academic work in the field of Japanese economic and social history, especially gender issues. She was also commended as one of the driving forces in the Suntory and Toyota International Centres for Economics and Related Disciplines (STICERD), established by those two companies at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) in 1978. 

At the third such gathering at the Embassy, on Thursday 26 June I conferred the same decoration upon Sir John Beddington to honour his tremendous contribution to Japan-UK cooperation in the field of science and technology. As Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA) and Head of the Government Office for Science between 2008 and 2013, Sir John played a hugely significant role in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami of 11 March 2011 by reminding the British community in Japan as well as the wider public of the need to react to the crisis with cool heads on the basis of scientific data, facts and figures rather than emotion, fears and rumours. Sir John’s actions helped very much to calm people’s emotions and prevent panic.

As well as presenting these highly merited decorations to their worthy recipients, I was involved in three musical events last month. Firstly, on Monday 9 June the Embassy hosted the second in The Green Park Youth Concert series. The evening featured performances by three talented sopranos, Mrs Eri Kose, Ms Sakiko Shibata and Ms Kiyoko Tachikawa, who had been studying at the Royal Opera House since last autumn on scholarships awarded by the Japanese Agency for Cultural Affairs, although they had already made their professional debuts as opera singers in Tokyo. As well as performing some famous arias beloved of opera aficionados around the world, they delighted the audience with three lovely Japanese pieces.

The second musical occasion, also at the Embassy on Friday 20 June, was a koto recital by the renowned Matsumoto Ayako and her group. Mrs Matsumoto is a direct disciple of the late Miyagi Michio, who lost his sight at the age of seven, then started to play the koto and at 22 was awarded the title Dai-Kengyo (“Grand Master of Koto”). He composed many pieces which have stood the test of time and is celebrated for his blend of traditional and contemporary musical styles. 

Finally, on Wednesday 25 June, in a pre-dinner recital we were entertained by an exquisite performance from Mr Daichi Fujiki, widely regarded as Japan’s best countertenor. Having made his debut only last year after winning the first prize at the 81st Music Competition of Japan, he has already made his mark and this spring was listed as one of the guest singers of the exalted Wiener Staatsoper.

On Monday 30 June I hosted a very different event. With Mr Yasuhiro Ozato, Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, in attendance, there was a gathering to celebrate the launch of authentic Wagyu beef in the UK and elsewhere in the EU.

After a seminar led by experts from Japan, the guests enjoyed some exquisite Wagyu dishes prepared by the executive chefs from three renowned London restaurants as well as my own two chefs, with premium Japanese sake and beer making the occasion even more pleasant. The event was part of the Japanese Government’s efforts to promote Japan’s quality food products overseas.

The final event of the past few weeks was a one-day exhibition of Okiagari Koboshi at the Houses of Parliament, arranged with the kind assistance of Lord Howell of Guildford. Okiagari Koboshi are traditional dolls from the Fukushima region containing a weight inside the bottom so that they return to an upright position when knocked over. The dolls are thus symbols of resilience. For this exhibition in London, as many as 65 celebrities and public figures from around the world, including Prime Minister Abe and Lord Howell himself, had decorated their own dolls to be displayed as a means of showing solidary with the victims of the earthquake and tsunami. The dolls will be sent to Fukushima in due course.

Photographs courtesy of the Fukushima London Shakunage-Kai

Keiichi Hayashi

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