Japanese naval vessels’ visit highlights Japan-UK security ties
As a diplomat, I enjoy discussing weighty geopolitical issues with intelligent and informed people. I had the opportunity to do just this on 30 July when I addressed an audience of around 60 people on the topic Challenges for Democracy in the 21st Century at a London Rotary Club gathering at the Chesterfield Hotel in Mayfair. I spoke for around 20 minutes, after which there was a Q & A session. The ensuing discussion was most stimulating, and I trust everyone who attended the event found it worthwhile.
The following day I had the pleasure of attending the Gala Opening Concert of the World Shakuhachi Festival at the Union Church in Islington, North London. It was the first time for this event, which is held every four years, to take place in London. The enthusiasm of the performers and the audience showed that this perhaps exotic Japanese instrument is gaining quite a following in the UK and Europe. The Festival continued with a highly varied programme over four days at Goldsmiths, University of London.
On Friday 3 August I had the very agreeable duty of officially opening the restored Japanese Garden in Hammersmith Park. The event had been originally scheduled for the previous Sunday but had fallen victim to poor weather conditions. However, on this occasion the weather smiled on us. The following afternoon the Garden was open to the public and a mini-Japanese Festival took place. It was very well-attended, and a good time was had by all.
Two days later I was in Lancashire to attend the Ricoh Women’s British Open golf competition at Royal Lytham & St. Annes. Blessed by fine weather, the event could not fail to delight a golf aficionado like me. The quality of the play made it a compelling spectacle, and the Japanese contestant Mariko Higa fully deserved her fourth-place finish. I was pleased to hear that England’s Georgia Hall, who won the tournament, is also sponsored by Ricoh.
On 8 August I received a visit by Mayor Isao Kato of Chita, a city in Aichi Prefecture, and 21 junior-high and high school students. I had lunch with them and impressed on the students the importance of international experiences such as they were having at the time. They subsequently delighted my Embassy colleagues and me with a memorable rendering of the traditional Japanese song Furusato.
A few days later my wife Yooko and I had our first opportunity to explore North East England when we spent the 12th and 13th with Lord and Lady Cunningham, staying at their lovely home in Stocksfield, near Newcastle upon Tyne. Lord Cunningham had been one of the first people on whom I conferred a decoration from the Japanese Government after taking up my post in London. He and Lady Cunningham showed us around Newcastle and the lovely city of Durham as well as other places in the region. Although much has changed since North East shipyards built vessels for Japan in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we saw many instances of transformation and regeneration that augur well for the region’s future.
A reunion Yooko and I had been anticipating with much pleasure took place on 16 August when we welcomed my predecessor, Mr Keiichi Hayashi, now a Justice of the Supreme Court, and his wife Hiroko to the residence. They had developed a great affinity for the UK during their stay here and had taken the first opportunity to come back for a visit. We had a very enjoyable time in the company of mutual friends. I understand that Mr Hayashi enjoyed another reunion with former colleagues in a pub near the Embassy the following evening.
On 25 August, as most people were embarking on the Bank Holiday weekend, I travelled to Portsmouth to meet some very significant visitors for Japan-UK relations. Two vessels from the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Forces, the training ship JS Kashima and the destroyer JS Makinami, had docked there in the course of a round-the-world voyage. (Incidentally, the Kashima is the third Japanese naval vessel to carry that name, the first having been built in Newcastle in 1905.)
During their visit, Rear Admiral Hiroyuki Izumi of the Japan Training Squadron laid a wreath at the Portsmouth Guildhall Memorial as a gesture of respect towards service personnel who had sacrificed their lives in the two world wars. He also hosted lunch on board the Kashima for Royal Navy officials and the Lord Mayor or Portsmouth. Later that day, following a tour of HMS victory which everyone thoroughly enjoyed, I co-hosted with Rear Admiral Izumi a reception on the Kashima.
I was pleased to be able to address the officer-trainees while they were in Portsmouth. I recounted some of my experiences as a diplomat and, of course, spoke about the importance of Japan-UK relations.
An increasingly significant aspect of our bilateral ties is that involving defence and security. In an extremely challenging international environment, our cooperation in this important field is surely set to grow ever closer.