Put Trafalgar Square in your diaries!
As summer gives way to autumn, I trust that most of you feel invigorated from your holidays. The diplomatic calendar at the Embassy, matching conditions in the outside world, has been less frenetic than usual in recent weeks. That said, we have not been without a few notable events with significance for Japan-UK relations – and one in particular.
At the end of August I returned briefly to Japan to oversee Prime Minister May’s first official visit there from 30 August to 1 September. During her stay, she was received in audience by His Majesty the Emperor and took part in a Japan-UK summit with Prime Minister Abe, who hosted a dinner in her honour. This visit, in the wake of that made by Prime Minister Abe to London in April, undoubtedly reaffirmed the robust ties of friendship between our two countries and peoples.
A few weeks before that there had been two events in London involving gardens which owe their existence, one directly and the other indirectly, to the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami that struck in 2001. On 20 July I attended a ceremony at Kensington Town Hall for the signing of the Sister Garden Memorandum of Friendship between Motomiya City in Fukushima Prefecture and the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. Mr Gigyo Takamatsu, the Mayor of Motomiya City, Cllr Marie-Therese Rossi and Lady Victoria Borwick, former MP for Kensington, were the key dignitaries, accompanied by many prominent players in Japan-UK relations. Motomiya City’s role in this initiative stems from the Duke of Cambridge’s visit to the city in 2015, made deliberately to encourage survivors of the disaster, after which an English garden was constructed in a park now known as Prince William Park.
After the ceremony we gathered at the Fukushima Garden in Holland Park to celebrate its fifth anniversary. The garden had been created as an expression of the deep gratitude of the Japanese people for the generous support and assistance extended by their friends in Britain in the aftermath of the tragedy in 2011. The occasion on 20 July included the planting of a commemorative tree.
We also had the pleasure recently of recognising the exceptional contribution to Japanese Studies in the UK by two prominent British academics. On 26 July we celebrated at our Embassy the decision of the Government of Japan to bestow upon Dr Joy Hendry, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at Oxford Brookes University, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. Dr Hendry’s pioneering work in Japanese Studies focused on the area of anthropology, with regard to which she has engaged in research on Japan and conducted fieldwork there for more than 40 years. In fact, she has been one of the main drivers of Japanese Studies in the UK and Europe to date.
That event was followed on 3 August by a ceremony for Professor Mark Williams at my residence, where he was awarded the Japanese Foreign Minister’s Commendation for promoting the Japan-UK relationship in the field of education. His contribution has involved teaching stints at universities in both countries. Moreover, he has enthusiastically encouraged young students to take part in the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme, drawing on his own experience as a participant in the scheme’s forerunner, the British English Teachers’ Scheme (BETS). I always find such occasions particularly heart-warming as they demonstrate dramatically the considerable number of people devoting themselves to friendship and mutual understanding.
It will not be long now before one of the most eagerly awaited events of the UK-Japan calendar. This is the Japan Matsuri, the annual Japanese festival. Now in its ninth year, it will take place on Sunday 24 September, once again at Trafalgar Square. It provides Londoners with an opportunity to immerse themselves in Japanese culture for a day. There are lively stage performances catering for people with both traditional and contemporary tastes as well as numerous stalls offering delicious Japanese cuisine. I hope many of you will join us on this occasion. Perhaps it will tempt you to make Japan the destination for your next holiday!