Happy New Year!
My remarks last month were written when many people were winding down for the festive season. At the Embassy, however, there were plenty of events to occupy us even in December.
On the 6th it was my pleasure to host the Japan Society Christmas Party. The occasion was an opportunity to take stock of the immense contribution of the Society to promoting knowledge and understanding of Japan in the UK over a century and a quarter. And, as I suggested in my remarks: “Why not another hundred years or so?” The Society offers a variety of events and programmes to appeal to people of different ages and backgrounds. Moreover, in the capable hands of Heidi Potter, assisted by a core of experienced and hardworking Officers and Trustees, it can look forward to an exciting future.
On Monday 11 December I had two back-to-back events to attend, which required precision planning. Early that morning I went to Birmingham to attend the launch of West Midland Trains Limited, a venture involving JR East, Abellio and the Japanese conglomerate Mitsui. For JR East it was the company’s first foray into operating train services in the UK and, indeed, the first step of its new railway venture in Europe. The occasion was attended by senior officials from the three companies involved, and Mr Paul Maynard, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Transport. Afterwards we all went to Snow Hill station to see the company’s trains, in their smart purple livery, in operation for the first time under the new management.
I then rushed back to London to attend a ceremony at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine marking that institution’s agreement with Nagasaki University to offer a Joint PhD Degree Programme. The two partners are among the world’s leading research universities in the field of tropical medicine, and their stepped-up collaboration augurs well for more advances in this important field. It is also another shining example of UK-Japan cooperation in science and technology. After the ceremony, attended by senior figures from both LSHTM and Nagasaki University, the guests were treated to a symposium entitled LSHTM and Nagasaki University: partnership successes and opportunities.
On Thursday 14 December the third UK-Japan Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting took place. British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson discussed with Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera a wide range of important global issues, including North Korea, nuclear proliferation, the importance of a free and open Indo-Pacific Ocean, the situation in the East and South China Seas and terrorism. They reaffirmed the UK and Japan’s global and strategic partnership and welcomed the progress of defence cooperation through joint exercises.
While the Japanese ministers were in London, the British media seemed fascinated by a scene, captured on Mr Kono’s iPhone, showing Mr Johnson quaffing a can of peach juice from Fukushima – and evidently enjoying it. While much of the coverage was lighthearted, his gesture did indeed demonstrate the positive point that agricultural produce from the region devastated by the nuclear meltdown in 2011 is safe.
A few days later, when I had completed the last of my official duties, my wife and I enjoyed a trip to Cornwall. This was our second visit there, and this time we were accompanied by our daughter. We enjoyed the drive there through the delightful English countryside. The weather in Cornwall was good – at least for part of our stay. Among the places we visited was the famous Eden Project, which certainly lived up to its reputation, and we even made it to Land’s End! Perhaps we will give John O’Groats a try next year…
This year we have already had a busy start with a reception for Professor Shinichi Ohnuma, Professor at the Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London. Professor Ohnuma was awarded the Foreign Minister’s Commendation for his contribution to Japan-UK academic and educational cooperation.
With the calendar for 2018 already filling up, may I wish all of you good health, prosperity and success in the year ahead.