I hope you have had a relaxing time during the holiday season and have embraced the New Year with energy and optimism. According to the Oriental zodiac, this is the Year of the Sheep. Following on from the Year of the Horse, it might present a more sedate or subdued image. However, there is much to look forward to this year, too, commencing with visits to London by the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Fumio Kishida, and the Minister of Defence, Mr Gen Nakatani, to hold discussions with their respective British counterparts in a so-called “2+2” format in order to enhance the bilateral framework for security and defence cooperation. This is a historic development in our bilateral relationship as it will be the first time for the four Ministers to get together. Furthermore, His Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge will visit Japan next month. Both countries will strive to make the visit a great success, and I am sure it will be.
Last year there was no shortage of occasions for strengthening our bilateral ties. There were a number of eminent visitors from Japan, not least Prime Minister Abe himself, who was here at the beginning of May. He and Prime Minister Cameron held fruitful discussions on a number of issues and developed a solid friendship – as was evident from the warmth of Mr Cameron’s congratulations when he telephoned Mr Abe immediately following the ruling parties’ victory in the general election last month. One of the fruits of Mr Abe’s visit in the spring was an agreement for the UK and Japan to cooperate on hosting major sports events. With England due to host the Rugby World Cup this year while Japan prepares to stage the same tournament in 2019 followed by the Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, the next few years should provide plenty of opportunities for our two countries to collaborate and share experiences. No doubt these events will boost tourism in both directions, leading to more people-to-people exchanges and deeper mutual understanding.
This year marks the seventieth anniversary of the end of the Second World War. Since that tragic period Japan and Britain, thorough the efforts of many people at all levels, both inside and outside government, have worked tirelessly to bring about reconciliation and have succeeded in restoring and advancing our longstanding ties, which began to flourish in earnest in the late nineteenth century. Both countries can legitimately be seen as major actors in the international community; we have similar views on most of the major issues and share basic common values and social systems such as democracy and the rule of law. For Japanese people, the UK is a country that engenders extremely positive feelings. I believe the Japan-UK relationship is a strong and important factor for stability and harmony, and that our collaboration can make a real contribution to the achievement of enduring peace and prosperity in the world. As the Ambassador of Japan to the UK, I will continue my efforts to make Japan and its culture even more accessible to the British people, thereby helping to make our warm and robust friendship ever closer and more deeply-rooted.