Ambassador's Blog

Another memorable Matsuri at Trafalgar Square

October 2014

On 18 September, the momentous Scottish referendum took place. The extremely high turn-out of voters in the wake of the fierce and boisterous campaign reflected the importance of the decision to be made. A clear majority of the Scottish people voted against independence, thereby ensuring the United Kingdom would remain united. This was, above all, a victory for democracy. We hope it will generate certainty and stability.

The arrival of autumn has seen no let-up in the pace of significant events for relations between Japan and the United Kingdom, particularly since the second half of last month. On Tuesday 16 September the Embassy hosted the third in its series of Green Park Youth Concerts, this time featuring Ms Yuka Matsumoto, a promising violinist based in London.  A graduate of the Royal College of Music, Ms Matsumoto performed with the cellist Frederique Legrand, her duo partner, and the pianist Natsumi Ikenaga, with whom she took part in a charity concert at the Royal College of Music after the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011.  At the end of the concert, those present had the extra treat of being able to savour some authentic Wagyu, the renowned succulent beef from Japan.

On Saturday 27 September one of the most eagerly-awaited cultural events in the Japan-UK calendar took place, the Japan Matsuri 2014.  Once again it was held at Trafalgar Square, and despite the overcast skies it attracted a bumper attendance.  As befitting a traditional matsuri, or the festivities to offer thanks for a good harvest, it started with a procession around the square comprising an Omikoshi (portable Shinto shrine) being carried by dozens of high-spirited students from Teikyo High School in the morning and ended with taiko drums in the evening.

Among the highlights this year was a performance by Tsumura Reijiro, a Noh actor designated as a Living National Treasure, who presented a piece inspired by the reconstruction of a sake brewery in Tohoku from the devastation inflicted by the 2011 Earthquake and Tsunami, together with two young Japanese ballet dancers who had studied in the UK.

Phograph courtesy of Mr Bryan Valencia, Japan Matsuri Volunteer photographer

Meanwhile, under the guidance of a special athletic team from Japan many thousands of visitors joined in Radio Taiso (radio exercises), stretching their muscles in the time-honoured manner which has kept the whole nation fit over the past 80 years. Other attractions included a Manga Wall, where visitors took part in a competition to create their own manga.  One of the winners of the Embassy’s Manga Jiman contest was also present, creating manga portraits.  In addition to the usual plentiful supply of delicious Japanese cuisine, festival participants this year were able to enjoy Wagyu as well.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable day.

Two days later Baroness D’Souza, the Speaker of the House of Lords, flew to Japan on the first leg of a tour of the Far East.  She spent four and a half days there, meeting a number of senior politicians, academics and other eminent citizens.  Highlights of her visit included meetings with Mr Masaaki Yamazaki, President of the House of Councillors, Mr Bunmei Ibuki, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a group of female Members of the Diet.

On Thursday 2 October the Embassy hosted a Japan-UK Tourism Symposium.  The distinguished Keynote Speakers were Sir Hugh Robertson MP, former Minister of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Minister for the 2012 London Olympic and Paralympic Games, and Mr Ryoichi Matsuyama, CEO of the Japan National Tourist Organization.  In my address, I pointed out the tremendous boost to Japan’s economy from the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964, including a substantial rise in the number of foreigners visiting Japan. The Tokyo 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games should, I declared, have a similarly positive impact – achieving, I hope, the Government’s target of 20 million visitors by 2020.

With Olympians Tomoko Fukumi and Mara Yamauchi
I referred to the lessons for Japan to learn from London 2012 as regards stimulating tourism and to the considerable scope for Japan-UK cooperation in this sector.

Many of the symposium participants were from the tourism sector or active in Japan-UK relations, and the audience played a keen part in the Q&A Panel Session.  The day also featured the presence of two Olympians – Ms Tomoko Fukumi, one of Japan’s top judo practitioners who performed at London 2012, and Ms Mara Yamauchi, a leading British marathon runner who took part in both the Beijing Olympics in 2008 and London 2012.  Their contributions to the proceedings provided eloquent testimony of the tremendous power of sport.

The arrival of autumn is heralded by the annual party conferences.  These gatherings were especially vibrant this year because a general election is just months away.  Whatever happens next May, we can be confident that the cordial Japan-UK partnership is here to stay.

Keiichi Hayashi

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