Four decorated for their outstanding contributions to Japan-UK relations
Having ended my first year in the UK with the sense that winters in London are quite mild, if somewhat long, the recent severe weather forced me to revise that impression. However, although the garden of my residence looked very attractive in the snow, like many Londoners I am quite relieved that it has now gone and that life has returned to normal.
Before the Beast from the East arrived, I had the pleasure of attending an event at London Fashion Week, the catwalk show of designer Paul Costelloe, on 19 February. As Paul is a keen rugby fan, I presented him with a Rugby World Cup tie to remind him of the tournament which Japan will host next year. It transpired that he is going to take a junior rugby team that he sponsors to Kamaishi this year to take part in a goodwill match against a junior team representing that town in line with his wish to aid the post-tsunami recovery of Japan’s Tohoku region. I was very moved to hear of this heart-warming plan and trust that the trip will go well.
The following day I officiated at the first of four ceremonies to celebrate the Japanese Government’s decision to decorate four people who, in their very different ways, have done a great deal to boost our bilateral ties. This was an event at my official residence to confer upon The Rt Hon the Lord Hague of Richmond the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun. During his long political career he has helped to strengthen the Japan-UK partnership in a number of ways. As Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs from 2010 to 2014, he worked hard to promote close security and defence cooperation between the two countries, while as Secretary of State for Wales from 1995 to 1997 he had championed our buoyant economic ties. Since retiring from active politics he has continued to make his mark as an elder statesman from the sidelines and has often referred to his affection for Japan along with his conviction that a “strong and influential” Japan is very much in the UK’s interests.
On 22 February the Embassy hosted a gathering for Dr David Hughes. A former head of the Department of Music at SOAS, University of London, Dr Hughes was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette for his contribution to Japan-UK relations by introducing people in this country to traditional Japanese music, or min’yo. Together with core members of the grass-roots groups he has created and led, Dr Hughes delighted us with a performance of min’yo and Okinawa’s time-honoured eisa.
The following day it was the turn of Mr Robert Ketchell to be honoured at the Embassy for his long service in the cause of friendship between the Japanese and British peoples through his tireless efforts to disseminate his unique knowledge about Japanese gardens, for which he received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette. It was as long ago as 1980 that Mr Ketchell made his first visit to Japan after studying the design of Japanese gardens in the UK. Once there he encountered a renowned gardener in Kyoto, from whom he learned enough about Japanese gardens to become utterly hooked on the subject. Over the years he has designed a number of gardens both in the UK and other countries inspired by what he learned in Japan, has given lectures and written books on Japanese gardens and has taken groups of people interested in the topic on visits to Japan.
Following my brief trip to Japan for the annual meeting of Japanese ambassadors based in Europe, the last of these decoration ceremonies took place at the Embassy on 6 March, when I conferred upon Professor Peter Kornicki the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon for his role as one of the leading scholars of Japanese Studies in the UK. For over 30 years he has served as a lecturer, reader and then professor in Japanese Studies at the University of Cambridge, making it one of the core universities for the subject not only in the UK but in Europe as well. Among his many activities was his compilation of a catalogue of early Japanese books in Europe which was published in 1991. Since then the catalogue has been steadily expanded and, having embraced the internet era, now boasts a database of over 14,000 items. More recently, Professor Kornicki edited and wrote the introduction to a seminal work which chronicles the evolution of Japanese Studies in universities as well as related organisations across the UK. His outstanding academic work has been honoured both in the UK and Japan.
Earlier that day I had attended a luncheon hosted by the Japan Society and the Japan Chamber of Commerce & Industry in the UK, where I spoke about various aspects of Japan-UK relations and took questions form the audience. The last of my recent engagements involved a reception at the Embassy on 8 March for the British Japanese Law Association’s 20th Anniversary. I referred in my remarks to the considerable changes that have taken place in the judicial systems of both countries in the last two decades as well as the healthy level of interaction evident among Japanese and British law professionals.
The past month has included a number of interesting and stimulating events, not least the decoration ceremonies I described earlier. I enjoyed meeting all four of the people involved and was struck by the diverse ways in which individuals can have a real and meaningful impact on our bilateral relations. Such deep enthusiasm for promoting our friendship certainly augurs well for the future.