Ambassador's Blog

  • With Sir Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Japan House Opening with HRH Prince William
  • Dancing at Japan Matsuri 2018

Another memorable Matsuri

An organisation that has done a tremendous amount to promote dialogue and cooperation between Japan and the United Kingdom, often away from the limelight, is the Japan-UK 21st Century Group. Its annual meeting is always a lively, stimulating affair, and this year’s, held in Tokyo and Kamakura from 31 August to 2 September, was no exception. The deliberations focused on the many significant developments in our bilateral relationship, including growing cooperation in the realm of defence and security, our determination to work together to confront current challenges to the world trading system and joint initiatives on global health issues.

Having returned to London, I had a hectic schedule on 5 September, beginning with a luncheon I hosted for HRH The Duke of Gloucester at my Residence. He has always expressed a keen interest in Japan, as illustrated by his role as a patron of the Japan Society. Afterwards it was my pleasure to bestow upon Sir Graham Fry, former British Ambassador to Japan, The Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun in recognition of his long and valuable contribution to our bilateral ties. As well as his diplomatic activities, Sir Graham has been active in academia, as a former member of the SOAS Governing Body, and in commerce, where he served on the board of the prominent Japanese pharmaceutical company Eisai. The day finished with my attendance at the annual summer reception hosted by the UK-Japan All Party Parliamentary Group, where I had the opportunity to address the participants on recent trends in our relations and enjoyed catching up with old acquaintances and making new ones.

On 6 September I had the pleasure of addressing the 36th International Symposium on Economic Crime at Jesus College Cambridge. Japan and the UK have a great deal of interaction among people engaged in the legal profession, and I emphasised in my remarks how our shared values, including respect for fundamental human rights, democracy and the rule of law, make a collaborative relationship in the realm of law particularly worthwhile. Indeed, it is my conviction that the rule of law and a rules-based international order are the vital underpinnings of global prosperity.

The evening of 12 September had a literary theme when I had the privilege of bestowing upon Sir Kazuo Ishiguro the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star. Born in Japan but having spent most of his life in the UK, he has produced a number of first-class literary works that are revered in both countries, and indeed around the world. With his unique insights stemming from his unusual background, he has made a valuable contribution both to English literature and to cross-cultural understanding.

On the following day an event took place that was the culmination of the efforts of many of us at the Embassy for the last year or two. This was the Official Opening of Japan House London by HRH The Duke of Cambridge, attended by Mr Taro Aso, Deputy Prime Minister of Japan, and many other luminaries. The Duke, who makes no secret of his interest in Japan, had fond memories of his visit there three years ago, during which he met survivors of the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. On this occasion he was very keen to explore what was on offer at Japan House, not least the delicious salmon sashimi prepared by a leading Japanese chef!

On the subject of stimulating the taste buds, on the 14th I officiated at the opening of the Dojima Sake Brewery in Cambridgeshire. The establishment of this facility shows the extent to which an appreciation of this quintessential Japanese beverage has taken root in the UK. A few days later, on the 19th, I co-hosted a reception for Takumi Modern Japanese Craftsmanship with Seiko and Suntory, where master craftsmen from the two companies explained their work and the precision it involved. We opened the event with a specially crafted yuzu gin cocktail, which was much appreciated, along with the mouth-watering Japanese dishes prepared for the occasion.

The search for alternative forms of energy is receiving much attention in both the UK and Japan. I was therefore very pleased on 18 September to be able to visit the Vestas factory on the Isle of Wight which makes blades for offshore windmills. I was impressed to learn about the environmentally-friendly qualities of this form of power generation and the amount of electricity each unit produces. This is definitely a sector which looks set to grow strongly from now on.

The following evening I delivered the 200th Third Thursday Lecture held by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) in Norwich. Before an audience of around 240 citizens from all walks of life, I spoke on the theme that the peace and prosperity we enjoy today are based on the rule of law, but that this stability is being challenged in an unprecedented way. In order to help safeguard the peace and prosperity of the international community, it is incumbent on Japan and the UK, which share common values including a steadfast commitment to free trade, democracy and the rule of law, to stand firm against such challenges. It was a thoroughly enjoyable trip, made all the more so by the kindness and hospitality shown by the Lord Mayor of Norwich and the Leader of Norwich City Council, among other distinguished representatives of the city.

Another pleasant duty with a strong cultural element involved the visit by my wife Yooko and myself to the British Museum on 25 September to celebrate the reopening of the Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries after a period of extensive refurbishment. We were honoured by the presence of The Duke of Gloucester, who – like, I am sure, everyone there – was very impressed with both the quality of the gallery and the appeal of its exhibits.

The month of September ended in spectacular style with the Japanese Matsuri at Trafalgar Square. As usual, it was very well attended, with a huge variety of activities and attractions that ensured there was something for everyone. Those of you who were not there missed the sight of me leading an Awa Odori dance around Trafalgar Square! Perhaps I missed my true vocation? Anyway, I'm already looking forward to next year's extravaganza!

Koji Tsuruoka