A vibrant Matsuri ushers in autumn
This year’s Japan Matsuri, held at Trafalgar Square on 24 September, once again attracted a bumper crowd. Although the weather had been decidedly changeable in the run-up to the event, on the day itself the heavens cooperated with us! Participants were treated to a smorgasbord of Japanese cultural and culinary delights in a truly festive atmosphere. I feel confident that a good time was had by all and that those visitors gaining a first taste of Japan will have gone home eager to experience more. May I place on record my sincere appreciation of the generous support for the occasion offered by the Mayor of London, Mr Sadiq Khan, and of the attendance by other luminaries including Councillor Jan Prendergast, representing the Lord Mayor of Westminster Ian Adams, and Lady Borwick, who both spoke briefly at the opening ceremony.
Early September brought a most welcome opportunity for my wife and me to visit Scotland. On the 4th we travelled to the Highlands, starting with the historic Cawder Castle, which was built in the late 14th century, then moving on to Longmorn Distillery, where a young chemist Masataka Taketsuru studied the secrets of whisky making almost a century ago before pioneering the industry in Japan. We also took in Macallan Distillery, also in Speyside, which is renowned for the exceptional quality of its single-malt whisky. The following day saw us in Aberdeen. After visiting Robert Gordon University, I made a few remarks at a seminar on UK-Japan cooperation in offshore industries and attended the signing ceremony for a Subsea Memorandum of Understanding between the Scottish Government and Nippon Foundation, represented respectively by Mr Keith Brown, Cabinet Secretary for the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, and Mr Yohei Sasakawa of the Nippon Foundation. The aim of the MOU is to enhance collaboration geared to research and development projects with subsea technology.
There were a couple more memorable events in September. On the 15th I was honoured to present the Ambassador’s Commendation to the Japanese Culinary Academy UK, whose Chairman, Mr Tetsuro Hama, received the award on behalf of the organisation. Present with us on that occasion were a number of figures from the world of Japanese cuisine, including Mr Yoshihiro Murata, Chairman of the Japanese Culinary Academy and the Head Chef of Kikunoi in Kyoto. As Japanese cuisine (Washoku) has been accorded cultural heritage status by UNESCO, and therefore has a growing role as a cultural export for Japan, it is a field to which we diplomats are devoting ever more of our attention!
September also afforded me the opportunity to attend a couple of events with an educational twist. On the 18th I attended a joint symposium by Kyoto University and Goldsmiths, University of London, focusing on art and technology for the future. This gathering was held not long after the visit of Prime Minister May to Japan, where Japan and the UK agreed to collaborate on cultural and creative initiatives as part of “the Japan-UK Season of Culture” between 2019 and 2020. The relevant departments of the two universities signed a MOU, which should bring about more opportunities for them to work together in the field of art and technology. On 26 September I was delighted to take part in the second Joint Workshop between Imperial College London and Tokyo Technology University in bioscience and its interface with technology, with the aim of enhancing opportunities for scientists and companies in both countries to pursue in-depth study and research in those fields. Educational and research collaboration between Japan and the UK is one of the key areas which will help drive people-and-people exchange, in particular for the younger generation, in the years ahead.
As the nights draw in, I am looking forward to enjoying my second “season of mists and mellow fruitfulness” in the UK. Of course, the diplomatic calendar is as busy as ever, with a number of events that will surely testify to the “mellow” and “fruitful” state of our relations!