Ambassador's Blog

VIP visits and remembrance of two World Wars

September 2014

For many people, July and August herald a more relaxed work environment and long-awaited holidays.  However, there is generally no let-up in the work of the Embassy. In the last two months we have had a variety of events, including visits from four Cabinet Ministers and a number of Diet Members.

After visits by two Cabinet Ministers earlier in the month, on 17 July the Embassy hosted an International Wine Challenge (IWC) Award Sake-Tasting Event to celebrate the growing popularity of sake outside Japan. The IWC, with its 30-year history, is now the world’s largest in terms of the number of wine entries, and its seven-year-old sake section is also the most extensive international sake competition outside Japan, with 725 entries this year. 

The IWC also honoured me with an award for my role in promoting the delights of sake in the UK, though I regarded it more as a tribute to the efforts of the many people who have shown such dedication to this cause.  The guests were able to sample the winning offerings, including the 2014 Champion sake from Gifu Prefecture, and not surprisingly viewed the event as a great success.

With Andrew Reed, Managing Director of the IWC

Between 21 and 23 July we played host to Ms Tomomi Inada, Minister of State for Regulatory Reform, who also has a range of other responsibilities, including those of Minister in charge of the “Cool Japan” strategy.  This latter aspect of her duties comprised the topic of a lecture she delivered to a Japan Society luncheon on the second day.  In her remarks, she outlined the strong international appeal of Japanese popular culture, including cuisine, music, film, anime, video games and fashion, and how promoting these vibrant aspects of Japan could not only contribute to the revitalisation of the Japanese economy but, through the creativity of the people involved in these sectors, could help find solutions to problems such as the ageing of society, which Japan is currently facing but which many other counties will have to tackle sooner or later.

On the morning of 30 July, Justice Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki arrived in London for a three-day visit.  Later that day he attended a meeting on education and training for ex-offenders with officials of the Bounce Back Foundation.  They exchanged views and shared experiences on approaches to helping people who have completed sentences to find work and thereby avoid the perils of reoffending.  The following day, Mr Tanigaki held a bilateral meeting with the Secretary of State for Justice Chris Grayling to discuss the justice and correction system, particularly prison management.  During his stay he also visited Peterborough Prison and had a meeting in London with senior Home office officials.

In addition to these Ministerial visits, we also looked after several official delegations of Diet Members, who met with their counterparts or government officials to discuss and learn about various political, economic and social issues in the UK.  One of the delegations even went on to Edinburgh to witness developments in the run-up to the referendum on Scottish independence.

In this two-month period I participated in three events to remember past conflicts.  The first two were related to the centenary of the beginning of World War I in 1914.  On 17 July I was invited to attend the launch of the exhibition dedicated to the Great War at the reopened Imperial War Museum. The opening ceremony was attended and addressed by HRH The Duke of Cambridge and Prime Minister Cameron, with both of whom I reflected on the Japanese involvement in the war, particularly the role the Japanese Navy played in the Mediterranean based on the bilateral alliance with United Kingdom and the ultimate sacrifice made by a number of Japanese servicemen.

On 4 August there was a service to mark the centenary of the actual outbreak of the First World War.  HRH The Duchess of Cornwall, representing HM the Queen, was among the two thousand dignitaries and servicemen present.  The congregation, all holding a candle, contemplated the events which led up to that enormous tragedy and the lessons they have for us a century on.

The following day saw an event of a completely different nature, when two groups of boys and girls, one from the UK and one from Japan, visited the Embassy.  The reason was the 23rd World Scout Jamboree to be held next year in Kirarahama, Yamaguchi Prefecture (my home prefecture, as some of you may recall!).  The quadrennial youth festival will be attended by 30,000 young participants from more than 160 countries. The Japanese youngsters were junior high-school students from Hikari city in that prefecture, and they were accompanied by the Mayor, who gave a presentation for the benefit of the British group of boy scouts and girl guides who will attend the event next year.  The visitors from Japan enjoyed their tour of the Embassy and the chance to exercise their English language skills with their British friends, while the latter were left in no doubt of the warm reception they will receive in Japan next year.

On 17 August I visited the majestic Canterbury Cathedral to attend another war-related occasion in the form of a service of international friendship and reconciliation between Japan and the United Kingdom following the hostilities in the Second World War.  The service was followed by a tea party during which the many participants mingled, making or renewing ties of friendship. It is particularly moving that, almost 70 years after the conflict ended and as the people who experienced it get steadily older, this annual event is still so well attended.  The positive and forward-looking tone of the occasion testifies to what has been achieved by the many tireless campaigners for reconciliation in both our countries.

I hope you have had an enjoyable summer.  Revitalised by my own (all-too-short) break, I am looking ahead to the autumn, which promises to be as busy as ever for us at the Embassy.

Keiichi Hayashi

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