Educational and cultural exchange to the fore
I hope you are rested and invigorated after the recent holiday period. This was my first Easter in London and the lovely spring weather made it particularly enjoyable.
During the past month or so the Embassy has been involved in a number of notable events in the educational and cultural fields. On 16 March I attended a gathering at the House of Lords to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, an event organised by the JET Alumni Association of the UK and The British-Japanese Parliamentary Group. Mr Roger Godsiff of the BJPG, a longstanding friend of Japan, used his good offices to secure the impressive parliamentary premises for this milestone occasion, with the kind assistance of Baroness D'Souza. The JET Programme was originally conceived as a means for providing Japanese schoolchildren with the chance to interact with native English speakers, and the UK is one of the founding countries. The total number of British participants who have worked in various parts of Japan to date exceeds 10,000. They have opened doors for numerous Japanese children by giving them the opportunity to learn English and to get to know more about other countries. I am pleased to learn that there has been no letup in the numbers of young people from the UK who are keen to take part in the scheme.
The following day my wife and I had the fascinating opportunity to make a two-day visit to the magnificent country house, Dalemain, in Cumbria to attend the Marmalade Festival. Set in the glorious Lake District, Dalemain is known in Japan for its beautiful garden. In fact, the area reminds me of Hakone, in the vicinity of Mount Fuji, although the latter boasts hot springs as an extra attraction. The Festival was started in 2005 by Jane Hassel-McCosh to promote the peculiarly British preserve of marmalade. It attracts entries from all over the UK and from overseas as well, including Japan. Involving the town of Penrith, local schools and volunteers, the Festival has become a much-loved annual event which benefits various charities through the entry fees for the awards. As it is one of my Embassy’s functions to develop and expand contacts not just in London but throughout the UK, I found this occasion most informative and worthwhile.
Music was also on my agenda in March. Following a string quartet concert by the NHK Symphony Orchestra early in the month, on 20 March the Embassy hosted the 8th Green Park Youth Concert, featuring the violinist Ms Yume Fujise from the Royal College of Music and the pianist Craig White, who works at the College as an accompanist for Strings. This concert series was started by my predecessor Ambassador Hayashi to encourage talented young musicians based in the UK. Indeed, many past performers are now pursuing successful careers in London and elsewhere. On this occasion we displayed for the first time a new painting generously donated by its creator, the Japanese artist Mr Toshihiro Hamano. The work was inspired by one of the Kōrin-Ha screens featuring a red and white plum tree, the work of the prolific artist Ogata Kōrin, who lived in the Edo period in 18th-century Japan.
Clearly, educational and cultural exchange is a valuable means for enabling us to get to know each other better. I look forward to enhancing the Japan-UK friendship still further through many more of these occasions in the months and years ahead.