Spotlight on: Minister Plenipotentiary Motohiko Kato

Last month saw the arrival in London of Motohiko Kato to take up the important post of Minister Plenipotentiary. We interviewed him about his life and career, and a summary of the conversation follows.

Why did you join the Foreign Ministry?

First of all, when I was a little boy, I loved to study English. One day I met with a wonderful American English teacher (not a British English teacher, I’m afraid!) who encouraged me to take part in an English speech contest held in Japan. I practised diligently and she helped me a lot. I received third place. But the English speech contest gave me a great impetus to study English hard. And what’s more, I was able to learn a lot about many countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Although it was difficult to travel abroad at the time as air tickets were very expensive, I had a keen interest in learning about foreign countries and their history. So I decided to join the foreign service, and fortunately I passed the necessary examinations.
When I was a new diplomat, I studied at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, a small but excellent college. There I was able to learn many things about the United States, including the value they place on debating and volunteering, which are skills I have found very useful. After Swarthmore, I took up my first diplomatic posing in Singapore.

What are some of the highlights of your career?

Between 1993 and 1995 I was assigned to Iran, which was particularly memorable. My children, a son and a daughter, were still little, but my family had an exciting time.

Minister Plenipotentiary Motohiko Kato
We were able to visit many places, not only elsewhere in Iran but other neighbouring countries, such as Uzbekistan, Syria, Jordan and Egypt. Even now my children still talk about their experience in Iran. There’s a Japanese school in Tehran with roughly 60 or 70 children, so they studied there. My children spent a few years in a totally different atmosphere and encountered different cultures, so it was a good experience for them.

And during that time my family had a week’s holiday in London, a great city. My children were very excited about visiting the Sherlock Holmes Museum. I’m a history buff, so I visited Portsmouth to see HMS Victory, I wanted to learn more about Nelson. We also enjoyed going to the musical Starlight Express, near Victoria.

What other assignments stand out?

In 2004 I volunteered to serve in Afghanistan. I spent three days consulting with my family about the mission, as they were concerned for my safety, before deciding to go there.  It was a really challenging mission, which lasted one and a half years. But  there’s a small international community in Kabul with many energetic diplomats from most of the major countries, and also officials from the United Nations and NATO. We all worked together in order to contribute to the reconstruction of that country. That was an unforgettable experience.

To be frank with you, Kabul is a difficult place, and when I went out I always used a heavily armoured vehicle.  But with so many committed diplomats there, we felt a great sense of community. In fact, the British Embassy was just next door to our mission, so we enjoyed a wonderful friendship and a collaborative relationship with our British colleagues. All of us in Kabul worked hard to attain our common goal.  Unfortunately, though, the situation there is still very challenging.


Where did you serve before coming to the United Kingdom?

I was most recently the Japanese Consul General in Nashville, Tennessee, with the five states of Tennessee, Kentucky, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas under my jurisdiction. There’s a lot of Japanese investment in that area, so of course my life there was very hectic.  Nonetheless, I was able to enjoy the music, the whiskey and the famous Southern hospitality.

What are your aims for your assignment here?

Of course, first I have to support Ambassador Hayashi, that’s very important, that’s my mission. Japan-UK relations are excellent, and I’ll do my best to help make them even better. On top of that I’ll try to make as many friends as possible and try to learn more about the history of this great country. As soon as I arrived in London, I had the opportunity to visit Stratford-upon-Avon and took part in a festival. It’s a great place, a wonderful place for relaxation, and all the buildings are so well-preserved.  And I like Shakespeare.  In fact, if he were alive today, he’d be 451 years old! 

So there will be plenty to keep you occupied during your time in London?