London lures Japanese lawmakers during Golden Week
Japan has just finished its annual Golden Week holiday period, which spans the last few days of April and the beginning of May. As the Diet is in recess then, it is a time when government ministers often make business trips abroad, with London being one the destinations they seem very pleased to visit! This year was no exception, and over the space of four days I welcomed five ministers at my residence. (Please refer to these and other events on my recently-established Twitter feed.) All of the visiting ministers, I might add, were delighted by the cherry blossoms in the garden, which looked particularly lovely in the glorious weather prevailing at the time.
On 30 April Foreign Minister Taro Kono arrived in London, although he was only in transit on this occasion, he places great importance on Japan's relations with the UK and offered me his latest insights on the topic. Three days later I received Minister Shunichi Suzuki, Minister for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, who had come to London to address the Sports Sub-Group of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Japan. He was keen to learn from the UK's success in hosting London 2012 and optimistic about the possibilities for cooperation between our two countries as Japan prepares for Tokyo 2020.
The same day Ms Yoko Kamikawa, Japan's Justice Minister, paid a visit. Her purpose was to discuss Japan-UK ties in the context of justice and issues related to immigration. Also calling on me was Mr Masaji Matsuyama, Minister of State for Measures for Declining Birthrate. The following day it was the turn of Mr Kentaro Sonoura, State Minister for Foreign Affairs and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister. He was in London to deliver a speech to the International Institute for Strategic Studies(IISS) under the theme A free and open Indo-Pacific strategy: Japan’s vision.
Of course, receiving visiting dignitaries is not all I have done recently! On 12 April I had the pleasure of attending the official re-opening of the iconic Television Centre in London's White City, an ambitious project carried out by the Japanese property giant Mitsui Fudosan with its British partner Stanhope. I was really impressed with the redevelopment, which has produced an imaginative mix of flats, shops, restaurants and much more besides. The venture is a good example of what can be achieved by the complementary strengths of two companies which are leaders in their field.
The Television Centre's BBC connection struck a chord with me as a short time previously I had appeared on Radio 4's Today programme to be interviewed by John Humphreys on the topic of Brexit and Japanese investment. In fact, media engagements have featured prominently recently. On 24 April I was interviewed by Toby Helm of The Observer for an article, again on Brexit and related issues. A couple of weeks later, on 10 May, I was back on the Today programme with John Humphreys, this time giving my views on the latest developments involving North Korea.
On 27 April Mr Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, visited me at my residence. We discussed the challenges both countries face in this field and how we can learn for each other’s experience.
As May dawned, I had the agreeable task of visiting Oxford to witness the inauguration of Tim Hitchens, CMG LVO as President of Wolfson College. Until December 2016 Tim was British Ambassador to Japan, where he served with distinction. I am delighted that such a good friend of Japan will be contributing to one of Britain’s most illustrious academic institutions. Not long after this visit, on 9 May, I was in the city again to honour a group of distinguished people representing a range of scientific disciplines who had been awarded the Kyoto Prize at Oxford. The gathering, hosted by the Blavatnik School of Government in collaboration with the Inamori Foundation, was to pay tribute to the Laureates for their notable contributions to humankind through the medium of their various disciplines.
Finally, Japanese art and culture was the topic for an event hosted by the Embassy on 14 May. This was a talk by Professor Andrew Renton, who is Keeper of Art at the National Museum Cardiff, aimed at giving visitors a taste of the delights in store from the forthcoming exhibition KIZUNA: Japan | Wales | Design. On display will be many works of art specially sent from Japan, some of which have never been seen in the UK before. In fact, it will be the largest Japan-related exhibition in the UK held outside London. Perhaps this some of you might be tempted to enjoy a little break in South Wales?