Busy as ever as the evenings draw in
There was plenty in my diary to keep me occupied in October. The month began with a heartwarming event at the Embassy when I awarded the Ambassador’s Commendation to eight members of the local staff for their long service. It is important to recognise that most embassies depend not only on the contributions of their own diplomats but on the loyal service of people employed locally. That is certainly true of our Mission in London, and it was a pleasure to be able to offer my personal thanks to the people concerned.
On the 2nd I visited Brother UK in Manchester to celebrate 50 years of operations in this country. The company produces cutting-edge printers and other machinery, and as a good corporate citizen it serves the community through its charitable activities and in many other ways. Indeed, it has supported the Hallé Orchestra for more than 30 years. Brother is a fine example of the commercial cooperation which has benefited both countries tremendously in recent decades.
Although you would expect me to chronicle my activities in the UK, I must mention a brief visit to Paris on the 4th and 5th to see an exhibition of Japanese art, part of the Japonismes 2018 season. The works on display at Le Petit Palais included some masterpieces by Edo period artist Jakuchu Ito. I returned to London in the hope that this city will be able to host a similar exhibition.
During the first weekend of the month Yooko and I visited Jersey. This was the first time we had set foot in the Channel Islands, and we were not disappointed. Although the weather was blustery at the beginning of our stay, it improved subsequently. The food was good and the view from our hotel in St Helier Harbour was magnificent. We enjoyed touring the local landmarks, including Mont Orguiel Castle, commonly regarded as one of the world’s finest mediaeval fortresses.
On 10 October I had the pleasure of visiting the School of Oriental & African Studies (SOAS), University of London, for an event celebrating 40 years since the establishment of its Japan Research Centre (JRC). SOAS is one of the world’s leading centres for Asian and African Studies, and its links with Japan go back more than 100 years. Within SOAS, the JRC acts as a base for Japanese Studies in the UK, and the Embassy has involved itself closely with a number of its projects and events. It was a great pleasure to meet luminaries from both the academic and business worlds as well as the Paralympian Noel Thatcher.
Still in the world of academia, the following day I visited Wolfson College, Oxford to deliver a lecture on 21st Century Diplomacy as part of the Oxford University Diplomatic Studies Programme. On such occasions I always make a point of stressing the importance of the rule of law, democracy and free trade – values clearly under pressure in many parts of the world – and this lecture was no exception. After taking part in a lively question-and-answer session, I enjoyed a private dinner with Tim Hitchens, president of Wolfson and a former British Ambassador to Japan.
One of my favourite places in the London area is Kew Gardens, so I was delighted to be invited there on 15 October to view the exhibition Rankafu: Masterpieces of Japanese Woodblock Prints of Orchids, based on the watercolours of the late artist Zuigetsu Ikeda. I understand this was the first display of these exquisite works outside Japan.
Another garden experience followed shortly, when I officiated at the opening of the refurbished Japanese garden in Valley Gardens, Harrogate. I was there during a two-day visit to Yorkshire, during which I had a tour of the state-of-the-art bottling plant of Harrogate Spring Water, one of the UK’s most acclaimed brands. The production line was most impressive and the water was, of course, delicious!
Sport was on the agenda on the 24th when I attended a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Japan at the House of Lords. The theme was the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan, and we were thrilled to be able to see the 2003 Web Ellis Trophy – which England won, in case you had forgotten! It had been made available by the Rugby Museum. A number of well-known sporting personalities were present, and there was no doubting the excitement that next year’s tournament is generating.
Two days later I received a visit by Mr David James, a historian and Secretary of the West Wales Maritime Heritage Society. I thanked him and his team for their involvement in creating a cenotaph in Pembrokeshire in honour of the 210 people who lost their lives when the Japanese merchant vessel Hirano Maru sank after being torpedoed by a German U-boat during the First World War. (It is often forgotten that the UK and Japan were allies during this conflict – and that the alliance entailed the sacrifice of a considerable number of Japanese lives.)
On the 29th I had the agreeable duty of presenting the Ambassador’s Commendation to the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation to celebrate 30 years of service in the cause of UK-Japan relations in the cultural and educational spheres. Through its scholarships, grants and other initiatives, the Foundation has done a huge amount to nurture grassroots exchange and mutual understanding in a number of areas, and it was a pleasure to be able to offer the many people who have contributed to its activities over the years the recognition they richly deserve.
The last day of the month saw me attend an event at Portcullis House, the British parliamentary facility in Westminster, entitled Japanese Businesses and the UK’s Future Economy. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt was among the distinguished people in attendance. The core theme was Japanese investment in the UK. We heard a great deal about the achievements and aspirations of Japanese companies that have chosen to locate in this country. It is my earnest hope that the UK will be able to maintain an environment favourable to further inward investment in the years ahead.