My first Manchester visit and much more
At the time of writing, London is enjoying lovely spring weather. As I view the luxuriant foliage in Green Park, just opposite the Embassy, I applaud the decision taken many years ago to locate our mission in this delightful setting!
Last month I returned to Tokyo to attend the annual conference with other Japanese Ambassadors who are posted in European countries. Although it was just for a short period, it was a useful occasion for me to take stock of Japan-UK ties from a distance and to consider how best our two countries can work together to enhance our friendship and prosperity.
After my return to the UK, I visited Manchester on 21 February and met a variety of people from the business community there. I had an opportunity to talk with the Lord Mayor, Carl Austin-Behan, and attended an event, made possible by the generous support of MIDAS, Manchester’s inward investment agency, NIPPON-KOEI and BDP, where I was able to have stimulating discussions with Sir Richard Leese, Leader of Manchester City Council, and people from local industry and stakeholders, and to exchange views with prominent figures from the health, research and innovation sectors in the Innovation District of Corridor Manchester and at the University of Manchester. My participation in this gathering underlined the importance the Embassy attaches to developing fruitful contacts with various regions of the UK, reflecting our role as a point of contact with Japan for the British people as a whole. Furthermore, we appreciate the action of Greater Manchester in making us one of its international priority partners.
We have just witnessed the sixth anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, which happened on 11 March 2011. Let me reiterate our great appreciation for the generous support extended by the British Government and people in the immediate aftermath of the disaster and in the years since then. Someone who deserves particular mention in this regard is Rt Hon. Lord Howard of Lympne. Indeed, on 27 February I hosted the ceremony to mark the Government of Japan’s bestowal upon him of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star, in recognition of his significant contribution to strengthening and developing relations between Japan and the United Kingdom. He is a former UK co-Chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group and a member of the House of Lords. Under his chairmanship, the Group issued the forthright message in May 2011 that Japan was “safe to visit” and “very much open for business”. This declaration was greatly appreciated by the Japanese side, who were beset by harmful rumours which considerably exaggerated the impediments to business and to normal life in the country at large posed by the catastrophe.
This month, I had the pleasure of officiating at two occasions on successive days where we celebrated the contributions of two long-term friends of Japan. First I welcomed Ms Janice Brennan to my official residence on 1 March for a gathering where I awarded her the Ambassador’s Commendation for her distinguished contribution to friendship and mutual understanding between Japan and the United Kingdom as a Bencher of the Middle Temple. This was followed by a reception at our Embassy where, on behalf of the Government of Japan, I conferred upon Mr Stephen McEnally, former Chief Executive of the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette on behalf of the Government of Japan, in recognition of his sterling contribution to promoting friendly relations and mutual understanding between our two countries. On both occasions the recipients were accompanied by family members, friends and colleagues.
In a similar vein, on 3 March I visited Cardiff to attend a reception marking the appointment in January of our new Honorary Consul of Japan, Mr Keith M Dunn OBE KStJ. Mr Dunn is Chief Executive of St John Cymru-Wales, the principality’s leading first aid charity. He has long experience in this sector and has a formidable network of contacts, especially in the Welsh Government and emergency services. We look forward to working with Mr Dunn just as we did with the former Honorary Consul, Mr Hugh Thomas CBE, whose tireless endeavours enhanced Japanese-Welsh relations for more than 20 years.
Let me end on a musical note, as it were. On 5 March, the Embassy hosted a string quartet concert by the NHK Symphony Orchestra. They were touring Europe and performed at the Royal Festival Hall while they were in London. It was indeed a special occasion to welcome them to our Embassy with my diplomatic colleagues and friends. For this special occasion they played Japanese and British folk songs as an encore, to the delight of everyone present. Away from the Embassy, the previous day I had attended a concert by X Japan at the SSE Arena in Wembley, where the considerable British interest in contemporary Japanese music was very much in evidence. It may be something of a cliché, but music really is a wonderful tool that enables people to communicate with others without exchanging a single word. No doubt music and culture in general will be key factors in the evolving friendship between our two countries in the future.