As I write, the weather has suddenly changed from being decidedly chilly to very balmy indeed. Spring is very much in the air. In Japan the seasons is associated with cherry blossoms, and those in the garden of my official residence have started blooming. On the diplomatic scene it is a time of change, when people complete one posting and move on to another, so here in London some familiar faces have disappeared as we have welcomed new colleagues.
Since mid-March my schedule has been as hectic as ever. I have welcomed a number of visitors both to the Embassy and to my residence, as well as travelling out of London. On 12 March I received Professor Michael Clarke, former Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), for a commendation ceremony at my residence. I praised his foresight in recognising the potential for Japan and the UK to forge strategic military cooperation by sharing information, perceptions and understanding of developments on the international scene. This event was followed by a very different engagement when I visited Cambridge on 21 March for a concert of Early Music featuring a Japanese musician playing the harpsicord.
The following day, Mr Masao Uchibori, Governor of Fukushima Prefecture, visited the Embassy to participate in Fukushima Food Pride, an event organised to showcase his prefecture’s food products. Afterwards I hosted a reception for him, which was very well attended and where the guests were able to sample the region’s sake and other gastronomical delights. On 23 March music was the theme when we held the ninth Green Park Youth Concert at the Embassy. A healthy gathering of music lovers was treated at a fine performance by two young Japanese violinists who are studying at the Royal Academy of Music, Ms Eriko Nagayama and Ms Naori Takahashi, accompanied by pianists Mr Mihály Berecz and Mr George Fu. These concerts have proved an excellent setting in which to promote young Japanese musicians to British audiences and I trust they will continue to do so.
More recently, on 5 April my wife and I had the delightful experience of visiting the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew at the invitation of the Director, Mr Richard Deverell. While there we were shown around the library of botanical art, which is served by a Japanese residential botanical artist, Ms Masumi Yamanaka, and enjoyed the many sights, including the impressive and very authentic Japanese garden, from the comfort of a specially prepared vehicle. We were particularly struck by the beautifully paved stone garden, which I learned had been laid out by gardeners from Kew who had been sent to Kyoto to acquire the skill of creating the waves the pebbles represent. Of course, Kew always pursues perfection! We look forward to returning there again as often as we can, and now have a deeper understanding of the appreciation of gardens which is such an important aspect of British culture.
While still on the theme of nature, let me close by recalling a small gathering at my residence on 9 April for our close friends who had received decorations and commendations from the Japanese Government. The theme was “spring festival”, and we had on display some traditional Japanese dolls suited to the occasion. Aided by the cherry blossoms in the garden, we were able to create a real Japanese atmosphere in Kensington. Our guests certainly appreciated it, and my wife and I even felt a little homesick!