September 1, 2016
Celebrating our historic ties, with a summer festival to boot
There have been two events recently which bring to mind the longstanding nature of Japan-UK ties. Firstly, on 30 July Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Taro Aso, following a visit to Paris, attended a special service in Hendon. The occasion was to mark the 80th anniversary of the establishment of the Hendon Japanese Cemetery in 1936. Mr Shigeru Yoshida, who was Japanese Ambassador to the UK at the time, later served as Prime Minister and was, moreover, the grandfather of Minister Aso, presided over the unveiling ceremony with a group of Japanese residents all those years ago. As this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the Japanese Residents Association, I was very honoured to attend the ceremony with the Mayor of Barnet, Councillor David Longstaff. The gathering brought home to me the valuable role of the Japanese Residents Association, whose members have been taking care of the site, and of the local government and other organisations who have been very supportive of the Japanese community. We should never forget the great contribution of Japanese citizens who lived in the UK to the warm friendship between our two peoples, the indispensable foundation of our robust bilateral relationship both now and, of course, in the future.
The other major occurrence I want to mention involved JS Kashima, one of the Training Squadron vessels of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), which made a port call in London from 31 July to 3 August. Having sailed along the River Thames and passed under Tower Bridge, the vessel was moored alongside HMS Belfast. It had been undertaking an overseas training cruise along with other vessels across the globe, which will last until November, and it was the very first time for a JMSDF training vessel to visit London via the Thames. It is a matter of record that the Japanese Navy established in the Meiji era was largely modelled on the Royal Navy. In those days a number of Japanese men visited the UK to learn about a whole range of subjects from military strategy to medicine, and some Britons were employed by the Japanese Government to help the country with its modernisation programme. While JS Kashima was in London, Rear Admiral Hidetoshi Iwasaki, Commander of the Training Squadron, and I co-hosted a reception on board, in the company of Rear Admiral Simon Ancona of the Royal Navy, to celebrate the ship’s visit to the capital. The vessel was open to the public on 2 August, enabling Londoners to enjoy the unique opportunity of boarding a Japanese naval vessel in familiar surroundings.
As summer gives way to autumn, we look forward to one of the highlights of the London cultural calendar. The 8th Japan Matsuri at Trafalgar Square, the capital’s much-loved annual Japanese festival, will take place on Sunday 25 September. Since it was moved to Trafalgar Square in 2012, the event has consistently attracted bumper crowds, not only people from the Japanese community but the ever-growing number of Londoners who are interested in Japanese culture, both traditional and contemporary. People come with family and friends to enjoy the delicious offerings of the food stalls, to experience various aspects of Japanese culture such as origami or calligraphy, and to enjoy various stage performances throughout the day from 10am to 8pm. This year the Aozasa Shishi Odori dance troupe, originally from Iwate Prefecture in the northern part of Japan, will perform for the first time in London with the support of the Japan Foundation. Other attractions in store for visitors include Joji Hirota and the London Taiko Drummers as well as a traditional Japanese magic show by Taiju Fujiyama. I understand you will also be able to enjoy "Rajio Taiso" musical exercises as well as the Nodojiman karaoke singing contest. This will be my first experience of a “matsuri” in London, and I look forward to seeing many of you there!