Ambassador's Blog

Another good year in store for Japan-UK ties

December 2015

Well, another year has flashed by in the twinkling of an eye. We can look back at a number of events which were significant in their various ways for the warm friendship between Japan and the United Kingdom.

Early in January, the first bilateral Foreign and Defence Ministerial (‘2+2’) Meeting was held in London. The two sides took the opportunity to discuss a number of weighty issues of mutual concern. They featured prominently in the UK’s new Strategic Defence and Security Review unveiled in November, which describes Japan as “our closest security partner in Asia” in defending global shared interests and the rules-based international order. From late February to early March the Duke of Cambridge visited Japan, and his decision to travel to Fukushima and Miyagi which was affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami in 2011 was very much appreciated. On a contrasting note, the autumn brought us the Rugby World Cup, including the unforgettable performances of the Brave Blossoms. We in Japan intend to keep the momentum going when we host the Rugby World Cup in 2019 and the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020.  Shortly before the Rugby World Cup we had celebrated Her Majesty The Queen’s achievement in becoming the longest-reigning British monarch. At that time the longevity of the British monarchy and of Japan’s imperial system was widely recognised as an undoubted factor behind our robust friendship. It is worth noting that His Majesty the Emperor of Japan is the only reigning monarch in the world to have attended the coronation of Her Majesty in 1953.

The autumn furnished a number of occasions for bilateral cooperation. In the academic arena, on 10 November we hosted the Japan-UK Dementia Symposium 2015 with King’s College London and on the 18th I delivered a lecture to students organised by the UCL International Relations Society in which I described Japan’s positive role in contributing to the security and prosperity of East Asia. As for events of a different nature, on 16 November we held a seminar at the Embassy to promote agricultural products from Narita City, attended by Mayor Kazunari Koizumi. A week later we celebrated the awarding of the International Maritime Prize to Mr Yohei Sasakawa, and a week after that I organised the farewell reception for the outgoing Secretary General of the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), Koji Sekimizu, at the Embassy. That latter event resonated with many of the guests who were here in London in the 70s and 80s, as the IMO’s headquarters used to be located in our building until 1982. Meanwhile, culture was by no means overlooked in the autumn. On 3 November I attended the opening of the newly refurbished Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art in the V&A Museum, and on the 24th we hosted a concert of traditional Japanese music featuring the Koto, Sangen and Shakuhachi, led by Maestro Shoin Hagioka. The event was in part a celebration of a new agreement to initiate a major series of innovative collaborations through joint projects and exchanges of professors and students between the Royal Academy of Music and the Tokyo University of the Arts, or Tokyo Geidai.

On 3 November the Government of Japan announced the 2015 Autumn Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals, opening the way for us to celebrate the achievements of three friends of Japan who were respectively awarded the Order of the Rising Sun. On 27 November we held an event for Captain Robert Guy LVO, former Executive Director and latterly Consultant of the Japan Society, in recognition of his longstanding contribution to the strengthening of friendship and mutual understanding between Japan and the UK.  On 7 December it was the turn of Mr Graham Peter Hardman, former Chairman of the Japanese Garden Society and current Honorary Vice-President of the Japanese Garden Society, honouring his significant contribution in introducing and promoting Japanese gardens in the United Kingdom. A week later we hosted a similar event for The Lord Rees of Ludlow, Kt, OM, FRS, former President of the Royal Society, Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge and current Astronomer Royal, in acknowledgement of his sterling endeavours in strengthening and developing relations between Japan and the United Kingdom for many years.

The climax of our diplomatic calendar is normally a reception in honour of the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, which this year took place on 10 December.
Among the eminent guests to wish His Majesty good health were the Rt. Hon. Baroness D’Souza, Lord Speaker, and the Rt. Hon. Hugo Swire, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, as well as the Rt. Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. As Japan will host next year’s G7 summit and the accompanying Ministerial Meetings in a variety of locations in 11 prefectures, we served 11 different types of sake from the localities concerned, along with Japanese beef (Wagyu), which the EU began importing in June last year, as well as that  classic of Japanese cuisine, sushi. In addition, guests passing through the foyer were able to take in an exhibition of the achievements of certain Japanese companies, and the national anthems of both countries were performed by Ms Sakiko Shibata, a young Soprano singer who had previously studied in the UK and who also participated in one of the Green Park Youth Concerts at the Embassy last year.

With Rt. Hon. Hugo Swire, Rt. Hon. Baroness D'Souza and Ms Sakiko Shibata at the Reception in honour of the birthday of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan

The guests clearly enjoyed the proceedings and their buoyant mood as they departed augurs well for the future of Japan-UK relations. On this happy note, may I wish you all an enjoyable festive season and a Happy New Year.

Keiichi Hayashi

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