Ambassador's Blog

“Unbelievable!” and much more

October 2015

At the beginning of September the UK and its friends celebrated Her Majesty The Queen’s achievement in becoming the longest-reigning British monarch.  The month then turned out to be an extremely exciting and bountiful one for Japan-UK relations, with a range of events embracing the political, economic, educational, scientific and cultural spheres.

On 2 September I was at the British Museum to attend the opening of Manga now: three generations, celebrating the works of three celebrated artists.  Manga, now globally established as a rich contemporary art form, has had a tremendous impact on the outside world, comparable with that of Ukiyo-e woodblock prints in an earlier era.  By way of sharp contrast to the museum gathering, the following day I attended the opening of Hitachi Rail Europe’s train manufacturing facility at Newton Aycliffe in County Durham.  I very much appreciated the presence of Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor Osborne and Transport Secretary McLoughlin on that occasion, testifying to the huge significance of investment by Japanese companies in the UK, which has created numerous jobs and has been a pivotal force in underpinning our bilateral ties.

The annual UK-Japan 21st Century Group Meeting took place between 3 and 6 September at London and Ditchley Park, Oxfordshire, overseen by The Rt Hon. Lord Howard of Lympne, UK Co-Chairman, and the Hon. Seiji Kihara, Acting Japanese Chairman.  It was a valuable opportunity to discuss the political and economic issues affecting the two countries as well as to exchange views on climate change, energy policies, defence and security, and cooperation in science and technology innovation.  Another important event occurred on 7 September in the form of the first meeting of the “Japan House” project in the presence of Parliamentary Vice-Minister Kentaro Sonoura from Tokyo, who was able to discuss with the members of the Steering Committee the plans for the opening of the facility in 2017.  Later in the month, from 21 September there was a two-day conference held at the Chatham House entitled “The Future of Capitalist Democracy: UK-Japan Perspectives,” which was the third in the series.  In my address, I reviewed the developments in Japan-UK relations over the 20 years since I was first posted to London in 1996, and related the tremendous progress achieved in that time to our cooperation on the global scene based on our shared values of a strong commitment to democracy and the rule of law.

During the month we hosted four gatherings at the Embassy, the first two in the field of science and technology.  On 8 September the UK-Japan Regenerative Medicine Symposium took place, attended by British and Japanese academics and representatives from cutting-edge medical industries active in the relevant fields.  Two days later it was the turn of the Japan-UK Nuclear Research Symposium, with participants from both governments, academics and industries taking advantage of the opportunity to share knowledge and best practices and to lay the groundwork for further cooperation.  Other events at the Embassy included a reception on 24 September to celebrate the second year of the Sasakawa Japanese Studies Postgraduate Studentship Programme, which supports Japanese Studies in the UK by enabling a group of outstanding young people to pursue their studies in Japan.  The following day there was another reception, this time at the conclusion of the UK-Japan Geological Society’s symposium, which focused on deepening our understanding of tsunamis by bringing together research on both seismic and non-seismic tsunamis.  Both countries can boast an advanced body of knowledge in this field, and our collaboration can clearly make a real contribution to human wellbeing around the world.

As for cultural exchange, on 19 September we held the 7th Japan Matsuri at Trafalgar Square.  We were honoured to have with us at the Opening Ceremony former Prime Minister of Japan Yoshiro Mori, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt and former Deputy Mayor of London, Lady Borwick, MP.  The Matsuri in September is now one of the staples of the London cultural calendar.  This year, apart from the usual culinary and other attractions, we commemorated the 150th anniversary of the arrival in London of a group of students from Satsuma (modern-day Kagoshima Prefecture), whose experiences in the UK did so much to contribute to Japan’s modernisation.  We were treated to a performance of traditional dance by the Izaku Drum Dancers from the same region.

A topic on most people’s minds in September was, of course, rugby.  On the 13th, September, the Oku Memorial Trophy Rugby Tournament was held at Oxford University as part of this year’s University World Cup, featuring a match between Waseda and Oxford, both of which can count the late Ambassador Oku as an alumnus.  The result was a little bitter for Waseda, though the match was full of incident and richly entertaining.  It was followed by the Parliamentary Rugby World Cup matches, including a special encounter between Japan and the Commons and Lords Team at Richmond Athletic Ground on the 17th.  These spectacles certainly got us in the mood for the Rugby World Cup, which started the following day with England’s victory against Fiji.  The next day saw a match which has been widely described as the biggest upset in the history of the sport, when Japan defeated the mighty South Africa.  It was a feat described as “unbelievable!” by the media the next morning, and will long be remembered rugby fans not just in Japan but all around the world. The competition will continue for a few more weeks, and we wish the Japanese Brave Blossoms team all the best. But the Japanese team has already won many friends through its impressive efforts on the field and raised interest in  the next Rugby World Cup in 2019, which Japan will host.

Keiichi Hayashi

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