Countdown to a sporting extravaganza
I always enjoy going to Wales, so was pleased to embark on my fifth visit at the beginning of June. It started on the morning of Monday the 3rd with a tour of the Sony UK Technology Centre in Pencoed. It is an extremely impressive state-of-the-art facility, and at the same time an excellent symbol of the fruits of Japanese inward investment in the UK. Sony was one of the pioneers among Japanese companies setting up manufacturing operations in the UK when it opened its first plant in Bridgend in 1974. We have come a long way since then!
Following lunch with Steve Dalton OBE, Managing Director at the Centre, and some of his colleagues, I headed off to another Japanese firm with a thriving Welsh unit, the specialist packaging firm Tri-Wall in Monmouth. In the company of its chairman, Yuji Suzuki, and other senior executives, I inspected their highly efficient production line. Later that afternoon I met Mark Drakeford AM, First Minister of Wales, and Keith Dunn, Honorary Japanese Consul for Wales, at the headquarters of the Welsh Government in Cathays Park, Cardiff. They briefed me on recent developments in Wales, particularly as regards relations with Japan. There then followed a delightful reception at Cardiff Castle hosted by the Welsh Government. This was the first ever reception to welcome Japanese guests held in that prestigious location, and I felt extremely honoured. Afterwards I enjoyed dinner with member companies of the Wales Japan Club. The following morning I made my way to the National Botanic Garden of Wales, perfectly located in the idyllic Carmarthenshire countryside. On that occasion it was my enjoyable duty to open its newly-renovated Japanese Garden. After lunch there, it was time to return to London.
Wales was not my only long-distance destination in June. On the 20th I travelled to Newcastle for a hectic schedule arranged by the Confederation of British Industry North East (CBI NE). Following an agreeable lunch with CBI members and stakeholders, I was escorted to Newcastle Helix, an ultramodern complex in the centre of the city for international tech and science businesses. My visit included a hard hat tour of the Catalyst Building, home to the National Innovation Centres for Data and Ageing. The day culminated in the CBI NE Annual Dinner, at which I delivered the Keynote Speech.
The following day I went the short distance to South Shields, where I took part in the North East Economic Forum at South Tyneside Town Hall. Attended by local civic leaders and business people, it was a lively event where I gave a short speech on recent developments in Japan, which was followed by a question and answer session. During my stay in the North East, the important role played by Japanese inward investment in a number of sectors featured in many of my conversations.
Two events occurred in June that highlighted Japan’s growing defence cooperation with the UK and with the wider allied community in the form of NATO. Firstly, on the 7th Captain Toshihide Noma, the Defence Attaché at the Embassy, was confirmed as the first Japanese liaison office to the NATO Maritime Command in support of greater security cooperation and interoperability between NATO and Japan. A few days later, on the 12th, I received Major General Yasunori Morishita of Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force, who was in London for Staff Talks with the British Army. While in the UK he visited the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, and later enjoyed dinner with members of the UK’s oldest regiment, the Honourable Artillery Company, at Armoury House in London. During his stay in the UK it was announced that in October a Japanese contingent will take part in Joint Warrior 192, a multinational exercise in Scotland. This will be the first time ever for Japanese personnel to take part in such an operation on British soil.
My final official duty of the month involved my attendance at the Japan Society Annual Dinner on the 28th. In view of the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, which Japan is confident will be a truly spectacular tournament, the organisers had arranged to stage the event at the iconic Twickenham Stadium. The former ‘Brave Blossoms’ coach Eddie Jones, now preparing the England team for their endeavours in Japan, was the special guest. A stimulating Q&A session was held, featuring Eddie and our Chairman, Bill Emmott. When someone asked Eddie how easy it had been to change his allegiance from one country to another, he answered memorably to the effect that he did not see himself as serving any particular country, but rather the sport itself and his players! His enthusiasm for rugby is infectious and I think all of us, if we had not already caught the bug, did so when we heard Eddie speak. Roll on Rugby World Cup 2019!