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Speech made by Ambassador Orita on the occasion of the 15th Sir Peter Parker Awards (Japanese Speech Contest) at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London

10 February 2004

Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

I feel very small after the fascinatingly good performances of finalists this afternoon and excellent speeches made by Mr. Kakebayashi and Professor Bundy. I am trembling in front of the chairman of highly imposing judges, Sir John Whitehead. I am afraid that my speech will not be up to the standards of Sir John and other judges tonight, but I hope that they will not make too low marks of me.

First of all, I'd like to express my congratulations to all who have made tremendous efforts for the success of the Sir Peter Parker Awards contest. Today's occasion is the 15th anniversary. It is wonderful to see a speech contest continue for 15 years. I am sure that Sir Peter is watching us from somewhere high above and is delighted at the excellent quality of the speeches this afternoon. Sir Peter still contributes a great deal to the promotion of mutual understanding between Japan & the UK, as many people continue to treasure his memory.

To promote mutual understanding between the peoples of different cultural backgrounds is absolutely essential and I always feel that language is the most important gateway to the understanding of other cultures. Everybody, perhaps except the French, regards English as the common international language of the world, and wherever you go in the world you can more or less communicate with the local people in English, although you may sometimes may get OLost in TranslationO. But I strongly believe that English speaking people should learn other languages, especially difficult ones like Japanese, to understand much deeply different cultures and different ways of thinking, perhaps without getting OLost in TranslationO . As all the contestants for Sir Peter Awards must be feeling, to learn another language will open a new door for you to learn something different and more exciting.

Together with many people in UK, I am concerned about the debates surrounding foreign language education in this country. I am particularly uneasy about the state of Japanese language education and Japanese studies. Some higher education institutions have withdrawn Japanese studies from their range of courses. Furthermore, it seems that the study of a foreign language at secondary school level becomes optional . All these will inevitably have an adverse effect on the numbers of students persevering with Japanese language education.

On the other hand, the number of students studying Japanese is on the increase. Approximately 2,600 students are studying Japanese at university level and over 10,000 British secondary school students are studying the Japanese language. This is about 5 times the number it was ten years ago. It is in this context that the Sir Peter Parker Awards are so important. Every year they produce outstanding efforts of the candidates and, irrespective of who actually wins, their very existence must surely be a source of inspiration and encouragement to numerous young people who are keen to upgrade their spoken Japanese skills. I really appreciate the importance of Sir Peter Awards

To learn a foreign language may not give you immediate benefits. But at the same time, new opportunities appear to be rising for Japanese speaking young people. Look at the Japanese economy. It seems to be steadily recovering on the basis of solid development of new technologies. I encourage you to look much more positively to the Japanese economy. It may be a good time for you to think about starting something new. There is another area where I want to see the relations between Japan and UK strengthened. It is in the field of tourism. The Japanese government decided to set the official target of doubling the numbers of foreign tourists into Japan by 2010. The UK is one of our most important targets. We will start what we call the "Visit Japan Campaign." We hope that people will become much more interested in visiting Japan. There exists again good opportunities for Japanese speaking young people of the UK.

After the Awards Ceremony, I am very happy to be hosting the reception . Please join us. I am looking forward to talking with you all, especially participants in the contest, this time perhaps in Japanese.

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