Councillor Hardern, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure to be able to visit this most historic city again. In fact, Chester is the first city outside London that I have visited twice since I was posted to the United Kingdom last autumn. I first came here at the end of November to attend a tree-planting ceremony in commemoration of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, organised by the Chester Meeting of Friends. The whole experience was most memorable, and since then I have been looking forward to an opportunity to come back here to enjoy the historical sites in more detail. Thanks to your kind invitation to attend this event today, my wish has come true!
I am very impressed by the initiative of the Cheshire County Council in launching a Japanese Language Website. As the world grows ever smaller, the importance of deepening mutual understanding between peoples of different countries and cultures becomes increasingly clear for all to see. The act of launching a website in a foreign language by a governmental body is a clear declaration of a keen desire to enable speakers of that language to learn about the city, county or country sponsoring the website. It is therefore a most useful gesture in promoting mutual understanding.
In Japan, more and more local and regional authorities are now offering websites in English, and sometimes in other languages. By the same token, the Cheshire County Council, by establishing the service we are celebrating today, is issuing an unambiguous welcome to Japanese people to come and acquaint themselves with many attractions of this county. I understand that this initiative goes beyond anything made available by similar local bodies in the UK. I have visited the website myself, and it presents a very useful and informative picture of what Cheshire has to offer, both from a tourism and a business point of view. It must have taken a lot of hard work to set up, and keeping it up-to-date will be a challenging task. However, I think it is a fair bet that the website will lead to more Japanese people visiting Cheshire, so your efforts should prove worthwhile.
You are to be commended for the importance you are placing on enabling Japanese people to become acquainted with your county, and of course on encouraging them to come here. My colleagues and I at the Embassy are equally keen to demystify Japan in the eyes of the British people and to encourage more Britons to visit Japan. In this regard, may I encourage you to visit the Embassy website, www.uk.emb-japan.go.jp, which is a little cumbersome to remember but which I am sure you will find useful.
I know some of you have already been to Japan and I wonder how many more are contemplating going there, but I would like to suggest that this year is a particularly good time to do so. On the 25th of last month, Expo 2005 opened in Aichi, Central Japan - on the coast between Tokyo and Osaka. With the theme of "Nature's Wisdom", it aims to explore how humankind can coexist with Nature in a way that respects and protects the environment and helps to nurture the development of solutions to the most pressing issues facing us all. The Expo, which continues until the 25 th of September, features cutting-edge technology in robotics and a number of fields, and is a highly significant international undertaking. I am glad to say that the United Kingdom is playing an active part, and has a most attractive pavilion. Why not make a trip to Japan while Aichi Expo is on, and add this event to the list of things to do and places to visit while you are there? Of course, if you cannot manage to visit Japan during this period, I can assure you that our fascinating tourist attractions together with our delicious food will still be waiting for you even after the Expo is over!
Let me also mention here another important initiative for boosting mutual understanding. This year has been designated the EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges. Its purpose is to encourage grass-roots exchanges, thereby bringing our peoples closer together. A series of events has been organised in every EU country and Japan; around 100 have already been arranged in the UK alone, and the number is increasing steadily. The launch of the Cheshire County Council Japanese Language Website is obviously very much in line with the spirit of the Year of Exchanges. May I encourage you to participate in some of the events, and indeed to organise some of your own! My colleagues at the Embassy will be pleased to put you in touch with the right people in this regard.
In conclusion, may I congratulate you once again on your vision and ambition in launching this new website. It cannot fail to strengthen the links between Cheshire and Japan, thereby adding impetus to the already buoyant ties between our two countries and peoples.