Ambassador's Blog

Tohoku remembered

May 2015

This year marked the fourth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, and we had a commemoration event at the Embassy on 11 March.  On that occasion, we screened a film, The Piano in the Shed, which was attended by Mr Yuto Kitsunai, its young producer, and Mr Yoshio Mitsuyama, who was given on the day the Ambassador’s Commendation for  his tireless efforts to support Fukushima as President of the UK Fukushima Prefectural Association.  The film is a story about a teenage girl who lives in Fukushima with her family and whose grandfather runs a peach farm.  It shows how their lives have changed since the natural disaster and the subsequent nuclear accident and the challenges they have to cope with. Four years on, we in Japan remain grateful for the warm, generous support extended by our friends around the world in the aftermath of the catastrophe and is committed to sharing the lessons we learned in the process.  In this context Japan successfully hosted the Third United Nations World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction in the Tohoku city of Sendai.  By the same token, the Government of Japan is doing its best to help the people of Nepal tackle the devastation caused by the recent earthquake there.

When the UK ordered a fleet of Hitachi Class 800 series trains for its Intercity Express Programme (IEP) two years ago, that marked a milestone in Japan-UK railway cooperation.   I thus had great pleasure in visiting  the Port of Southampton on 12 March to witness the arrival of the first few carriages of the batch of 76 being produced in Japan. The ceremony was particularly memorable as the carriages were manufactured in and transported from Yamaguchi Prefecture, which produced the “Choshu Five”, a group of five young men who came to study in the UK 150 years ago, subsequently making a huge contribution to the modernisation of Japan.  One of them, Masaru Inoue, became known as the father of Japan’s railways.  What is more, it was none other than Southampton where they first landed after a tormenting voyage lasting several months.  Hitachi’s recent decision to appoint the CEO of Hitachi Rail Europe as the head of its global rail business in furtherance of  the project to build a train manufacturing facility in the North East of England for the construction of the  remaining 790 IEP carriages  shows its commitment to having the UK reborn as the heart of the European rolling stock industry.

Another, more recent technology-related event was the Japan-UK Robotics Seminar to promote collaboration in the sector, which took place at the Embassy on 22 April.  Robotics is set to play an increasingly important role in contributing to economic growth in ageing societies, and our two countries are well equipped to support research and to come up with practical applications in this field.  The seminar was thus most timely and useful.

Meanwhile, progress is under way concerning the so-called “Japan House” project after the Parliamentary approval was given on 9 April.  This new facility in London, designed to showcase Japan’s attractions in all their manifestations, is due to open within two years.  It will aim to present the British public with the “Best of Japan” – from traditional arts to ultra-modern technology, from performing arts to Japanese food and drinks, and from snowy Hokkaido to subtropical Okinawa.

Before closing my remarks, I will go back a few weeks to a sad event.  It was the passing on 25 February of Mr George Housego, a former prisoner of war, at the age of 93.  He miraculously survived the sinking of the transport vessel carrying POWs including him and the atomic bomb while interned in Nagasaki.  Despite the poignant and painful experience, he played a prominent role in the movement to bring about reconciliation with Japan in the post-war era. It is sad that he did not live to see the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, which we will mark later this year, squarely facing the past.  However, we commemorated during his funeral on 16 March his efforts which were instrumental in helping to bring about the warm, forward-looking relationship that Japan and the UK enjoy today.

And on that positive note, let me add a postscript.  This is to offer my warm congratulations and those of everyone in Japan to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on the birth of their lovely daughter, Princess Charlotte on 2 May.  The enthusiasm with which the joyous news was greeted in Japan testifies to the warmth with which we view the British people.  I for one look forward to the day when the Duke and Duchess, Prince George and Princess Charlotte make their visit to Japan as a family.  Meanwhile, we all wish the new Princess a healthy and happy future.

Keiichi Hayashi

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