Why not join us in celebrating 150 years of Japan-UK friendship?

This year we celebrate 150 years of diplomatic relations between Japan and the United Kingdom. On 26 August 1858 fully-fledged diplomatic relations between Japan and the United Kingdom were established as a result of the signing of the Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Amity and Commerce in Edo (the present Tokyo).

The contents of the Treaty, which was part of an agreement encompassing five countries, reflected the course of negotiations between Japan and the United States and were not specific to relations between Japan and the United Kingdom. Moreover, they had a number of features that were unfair to Japan. For instance, they did not allow Japan to stipulate the level of taxes levied on goods imported from the counterpart country, and citizens of that country were exempt from the Japanese judicial system. Accounts of the Treaty in Japan have tended to emphasise the efforts Japan made to have these points rectified. On the other hand, one could say that the Treaty functions as a record of the start of a bilateral relationship that has endured to the present day and that its establishment was one of the most important events to have occurred in the history of interaction between our two countries.

Generally speaking, the 150-year history of Japan-UK ties has seen approximately 100 good years and 50 difficult ones. It is fact that in the early days Japan learned a great deal from the UK in such fields as railways, construction, science and technology. However, in the diary of Laurence Oliphant, the private secretary to Lord Elgin, the British signatory to the Treaty whom he accompanied to Japan, there are a number of complimentary references to the Japanese people of the time. It is often said that the Japanese and British peoples, as inhabitants of island nations not far removed from their neighbouring continents, had many characteristics in common. In fact, many of the Japanese people currently living in the UK feel remarkably at home here, so even that comment made 150 years ago still resonates today.

Now, in the 21st century, the advanced nations all face common challenges. There are social and economic issues directly impacting on the lives of the people as well as security threats. As for the remedy, the different countries have their own approaches in accordance with their history, size and national character, but we venture to suggest that Japan and the UK are partners which not only face similar problems but share a common vision in coming up with solutions.

Following the commemoration of the signing of the Treaty on 26 August 2008, there will be a number of events celebrating our 150 years of ties running from the beginning of September until the end of 2009. They will involve looking back at the past, discussing issues confronting us now and looking to the future of our ties. There will be lectures addressing the events of the last 150 years, cultural events both examining Japan°«s traditions and speculating on its future, symposia dealing with environmental and economic issues as they affect the entire globe, events focusing on youth exchange and those promoting ties of friendship between cities of the two countries. Embracing every field, generation and region, for more than a year these events will take place all over the UK, bringing Japanese and British people together in creative endeavour. Won°«t you be a part of Japan-UK 150?

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