In his welcome speech, Ambassador Tsuroka remarked that British visitors to Japan reached a record high of over 250,000 last year, and in the two years from 2013 to 2015 the number of visits grew by more than 50%. He talked about how tourism is an important cornerstone for mutual understanding between countries and he hoped that visitors to Japan will be sold on the country once they savour the delicious food and sake as well as meeting the people, just as Japanese citizens become fans of other countries following positive experiences on their travels. President of JNTO, Mr Ryoichi Matsuyama also endorsed the importance of UK tourism in Japan as he launched the new JNTO campaign entitled "Japan - Where tradition meets the future". It is JNTO's largest ever promotional campaign for inbound tourism from Europe and targets 15 European countries: UK, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, Belgium, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Poland, Israel and Turkey.
The evening also featured Japanese gastronomy. Executive Chef of the 2 Michelin starred restaurant Umu, Mr Yoshinori Ishii, a world renowned chef, famous for refining and modernising Japanese, gave a demonstration of how to prepare sashimi. Guests were given the opportunity to taste some of the excellent dishes that he created. In addition, Mr Ishii was officially designated as a Japanese Cuisine Goodwill Ambassador by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries of Japan, and the conferment presentation was conducted by Ambassador Tsuroka during the event.
Following the presentation, Executive Director of JNTO London Office introduced the representatives from local governments, including the surprise special guest for the evening, the mascot (yuru-chara) Hikonyan from Hikone City, Shiga Prefecture, who joined the cracking open of the sake barrel (kagami-biraki) ceremony. Hikonyan was then available for photo opportunities which many of the guests took advantage of – including Ambassador and Madam Tsuruoka!
As the evening came to a close, the London Okinawa Sanshinkai gave a live performance of traditional Eisa music and dancing from Okinawa. Eisa is performed in Okinawa at events to welcome the spirits of ancestors. This powerful performance was a rare and exciting treat for the guests.
For more details about tourism in Japan, please visit the JNTO website: http://www.seejapan.co.uk
Embassy of Japan