Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,
It gives me a great pleasure to see so many people here today in St John ' s Wood Church. I would like to welcome you all to this UK-Japan Music Society Requiem Concert, dedicated to the memory of the late Ambassador Katsuhiko Oku.
I am most appreciative that the UK-Japan Music Society, conducted by Mr. Jonathan Gregory, has chosen to celebrate, with this concert, the life and work of Ambassador Oku who sacrificed his life so suddenly and tragically, in Iraq, at the end of November last year.
Just over one year ago, Katsuhiko Oku was sent to Iraq from London, as the Japanese Government ' s liaison with the Coalition Provisional Authority and to identify potential projects to provide humanitarian and reconstruction aid to the Iraqi people. He visited schools, hospitals and many other kinds of institutions in the country. His total dedication to his mission shone through in all of his endeavours in Iraq and was evident in the regular postings he made on the Foreign Ministry ' s website.
For many of us here, Katsuhiko Oku ' s memory will live through the considerable energy he invested in the promotion of grass-roots exchange between the British and Japanese peoples after he arrived in the United Kingdom during the last few months of Japan 2001. As Director of the Japan Information and Cultural Centre at the Embassy of Japan, he particularly focused on the promotion of Japanese culture to younger people. He often stressed the importance of outreach, taking to the road in person to visit schools around the United Kingdom, encouraging hands-on experience and actively participating in various cultural workshops with talks, calligraphy and origami classes.
He was also a portsman, with a special passion for rugby. He played at Waseda University, was the first Japanese national to play for the Oxford University Blues XV during his time in Oxford and he made considerable efforts to support exchange between the United Kingdom and Japan in the field of sports. For those of us who were privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Katsuhiko Oku, I think it is the memory of his strength, energy, sociability and sense of fair play that will stay with us.
We are all very proud of the outstanding contribution he made to his country throughout his diplomatic career, on and off the pitch, so to speak. And his accomplishments continue to develop: many of the foundations he laid are the basis of the work that the Japan Information and Cultural Centre continues to carry out today. His successor, Mr. Futao Motai, is the new Director of the JICC, and has recently arrived in London and is already working energetically towards further mutual understanding between Japan and the United Kingdom. On this occasion, let us remember Ambassador Oku ' s dedication, outstanding work and the support he gave to so many organisations and individuals who continue to be committed to strengthening the ties of friendship which bind our two countries together.
Thank you very much.