Japan House London awaits you
As I have often remarked, Japan and the United Kingdom enjoy an excellent bilateral relationship. Underlying our solid ties at the governmental level are extremely cordial cultural and people-to-people links. A project long in the planning which should strengthen these links still further has now come to fruition in the form of Japan House London. This splendid Japanese cultural epicentre located in Kensington High Street officially opened on 21 June. Featuring a basement exhibition space, a stylish Japanese restaurant and various retail attractions, it will make you feel as if you are in Japan as soon as you enter. (To get a sense of my excitement at this development and of interest among the media, have a look at my Twitter feed @AmbKoji.)
Of course, other things have been happening as well. On 14 June I visited Cardiff for the opening of the exhibition KIZUNA: Japan ׀ Wales ׀ Design. The largest and most ambitious project of its type to take place in the UK outside London, it celebrates the longstanding friendship between Japan and Wales, with many of the objects on display having never been seen in the UK before. The timing is particularly appropriate as this is the year when we mark the 150th anniversary of the Meiji Restoration, and thus the start of Japan’s modernisation process, in which Wales – and, of course, the UK as a whole – played a notable part.
On 18 June the Embassy hosted the 22nd Summer Reunion for Peace and Friendship. This annual gathering, launched with the express intention of helping to nurture reconciliation between former enemies, has been enormously successful. Every year we welcome former British war veterans and members of their families, and some wonderful friendships have developed as a result. One of the stars of this year’s gathering was Ms Keiko Holmes, who has devoted much of her life to reconciliation, runs the Agape World organisation which is committed to that cause and this year was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Rays by His Majesty the Emperor of Japan for her great service in this noble cause. After this annual gathering, I enjoyed dinner with her and her family as well as those associated with her work at my residence.
The following week saw three more gatherings at the Embassy. On the 26th we hosted the Japan Self Defence Forces Day reception, one of the staples of our diplomatic calendar. This annual event has become increasingly significant in line with the steady development of Japan-UK defence cooperation. Among the illustrious guests was Sir Mark Poffley, the UK’s Deputy Chief of Defence Staff for Military Capability, who addressed the guests after our Defence Attaché, Captain Toshihide Noma.
Another reception the following day was in honour of Mr Peter Heginbotham, the former Honorary Consul of Japan in Manchester. Japan’s ties with the UK are not confined to London, and in his ten years in the role Mr Heginbotham worked tirelessly to facilitate cooperation between Japanese and British businesses in Manchester and the North West, with impressive results. In fact, the Government of Japan decided to honour him with the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, and at the gathering on 27 June I had the pleasure of conferring this decoration on him at the Embassy.
Two days later a somewhat less formal reception was held to honour Ms Kuniko Asanuma, who retired last year as head of the Accounts Section after a career of more than 40 years with the Embassy here in London. In May she had an audience in Tokyo with His Majesty the Emperor of Japan, during which he bestowed on her the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold with Silver Rays. The recent gathering at the Embassy was to recognise her achievement in the company of her many friends here. I can safely that a good time was had by all!
As Japan prepares to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, it may be an opportune time to reflect on the Japan-UK relationship in the sporting realm. This topic, particularly as regards sport for people with disabilities, was the focus of an event at the Embassy, co-sponsored by the British-Japanese Parliamentary Group (BJPG), on 2 July. On that occasion we heard a report from Lord Holmes of Richmond, former Paralympian and London 2012 Paralympic Integration Director, on his recent visit to Japan. We were also addressed by Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, Co-Chair of the BJPG Sporting Sub-Group, on the wider UK-Japan sporting relationship, while Mitsubishi Electric Europe President and CEO Mr Yoji Sato and Mr Steve Woerner from Mitsubishi Corporation spoke about the company’s support for Wheelchair Basketball and Wheelchair Rugby respectively. It was clear from the issues aired in these talks and the exchanges of views at the reception which followed that this field is rich in potential for further cooperation between our two countries.
May I end my remarks by banging the drum for a very worthwhile event in London on Sunday 29 July. This is a Japanese Garden Party co-organised by the Japan Society and the Embassy for the afternoon of that day to celebrate the regeneration of the Japanese Garden in Hammersmith Park. There will be numerous activities including taiko drumming, origami and calligraphy – and, of course, delicious Japanese street food. This occasion will have something for everyone, young and old. Mark the date in your diaries!