Please tell us about your personal and educational background, and some of your interests.
I was born in 1952 in Kitakyushu City in the southernmost major island of Japan. I had an opportunity to spend my senior year in high school in the U.S. as an exchange student in 1969-1970. I lived in a small town near Syracuse, N.Y., only three hours’ drive from Ottawa. During that time, I made my first visit to Canada to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.
After having graduated from Tokyo University, Faculty of Law, in 1975, I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same year. I have served on 9 oversea postings, the last 4 of which were as Ambassador, namely France, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the European Union (Brussels), Iraq, Qatar, UNESCO (Paris) and Canada. In Japan, I had been mainly in charge of national security and defence, treaties, international law, cultural, educational and sports exchanges.
I am interested in many things. I like reading, listening to music, whistling, taking photos, drawing, and visiting galleries and museums. I am an enthusiastic fan of Japanese pop culture such as manga, anime, pop idols, etc. I like eating and drinking; in particular, I am expert of all kinds of alcohol. I have the title of Sake Samurai, awarded by the Younger Council of Japan Sake Brewers’ Association for my contribution to the promotion of Japanese sake. There are only 66 Sake Samurais in the world. I also have a French title: Chevalier de Tastevin of Burgundy, and I have been promoting Belgian beers in Japan since the early 90s, having tasted more than 400 different kinds and visited 25 breweries in Belgium. I have tried more than 100 kinds of blended whiskeys and 60 kinds of single malt. I have a passion for neckties and enjoy wearing an appropriate tie for each occasion from my collection of more than 400 neckties.
As Japan’s Ambassador to Canada, what does an average workday look like?
My job is to strengthen Japan-Canada relations in various areas; economic partnership, security and defense cooperation, cultural, educational and youth exchanges, cooperation on global issues, etc. For that purpose, I meet and exchange views with many people; ministers and government officials, MPs, business people, journalists, academics, artists, and others. I host many cultural events, receptions, lunches and dinners. I often attend various events hosted by government and public institutions, colleagues in the diplomatic corps, or think tanks and private enterprises.
I make official visits to the Provinces to meet the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Premier and other Ministers, business people, academics, and Japanese Canadians and Japanese nationals in order to further relations between Japan and the Provinces.
You have worked in France, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and have served as Ambassador to Iraq (2007), to Qatar (2010), as the permanent delegate of Japan to UNESCO (2013), and most importantly as a Saké Samurai. What are some of the highlights of your previous and ongoing postings? What are some important issues that you’ve dealt with in your many roles?
I assumed my first ambassadorial post in Iraq in 2007, during the most dangerous period after the end of the Iraq War. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my year and a half in Baghdad. Japan was the number 2 donor to Iraq after the US. Japan was respected, trusted and appreciated greatly by the Government and people of Iraq for her contribution to the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. I felt that a good image of Japan helped me to pursue my objective as Ambassador. In Iraq, where military or so-called “hard power” was believed to prevail above all, I recognized the importance of soft power in diplomacy.
I was assigned to Qatar from 2010 to 2013. I had a truly good time in the richest country in the world. Qatar could become richer thanks to the export of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), the development of which Japan fully supported. 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Qatar. I was so happy to organize, in cooperation with the Qatari side, more than 50 events to celebrate that memorable year.
Then, I moved from Doha to Paris in 2013 as Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Japan, to UNESCO. I was lucky to be able to achieve three major objectives in my first year at UNESCO: Japanese cuisine (Washoku) and Japanese hand-made paper (Washi) were recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage for Humanity in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and Tomioka Silk Mill was registered as World Heritage site in 2014.
I have been promoting Japanese sake for more than 25 years at home and abroad, for which I was awarded a title of Sake Samurai in 2008, as I already mentioned. Promotion of sake in Canada has been one of my biggest challenges due to the strict control over alcohol. I am now working closely with the LCBO in order to make sake more accessible for Canadian people. I am pleased by a notable increase in Canada’s sake importation from Japan in 2017.
When do you feel Japanese-Canadian relations were at their peak? What lessons can we learn from that time? How would you characterize the current state of Japanese-Canadian relations?
Until 2002, Japan had been the number 2 trading partner of Canada, after the US. But since 2009 Japan occupies 5th place, surpassed by China, Mexico and the UK. The number of Japanese tourists visiting Canada peaked in 1997 to 620,000. Then, it continuously went down to the level of 220,000 in 2011. I am pleased to see a good sign of this picking up recently to reach 300,000. Canadian visitors to Japan, on the other hand, have been increasing steadily, breaking records for the past three years to reach 270,000.
I believe that there is a potential to expand our relations again. The situation today is totally different from that of the last peak period around 20 years ago. Therefore, I would like to touch upon the current state of our bilateral relations rather than to try to draw some lessons from our past experiences.
Japan and Canada have enjoyed excellent relations over the years as important members of the advanced industrial democracies, especially the G7, sharing fundamental values such as democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law. Today, our bilateral relations are about to enter into a new stage. On his first official visit to Japan in 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Abe agreed to establish a “New Era for Canada-Japan Cooperation,” focusing on economic partnership, security cooperation, and cultural and youth exchanges. The two Prime Ministers also agreed to revitalize the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), established in 1976 on the occasion of the visit to Japan of then-Prime Minister Mr. Pierre Trudeau.
Since this is an interview by the NATO Association, I would like to emphasize the importance of our security cooperation. Under the drastically changing international situation, including growing uncertainty in East Asia, Japan and Canada agreed to strengthen security cooperation at the prime ministerial level in 2016. We now have various frameworks for dialogue, such as the 2+2 meeting (Deputy Minister’s level for the foreign and defense authorities of both sides), Symposium on Security, and Politico-Military/Military-Military talks. Our two countries are about to sign an Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) that will facilitate cooperation between the Japanese Self Defense Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces. I welcome the current visit of two Canadian frigates to Asia- Pacific including Japan. Japan also hopes to pursue cooperation in the area of PKO in the future.
Canada is both an Atlantic and a Pacific nation. Yet, Canada has been always looking East and South. It is only recently that Canada has started to pay attention to West, but mostly from the economic point of view since the Asia Pacific region has the fastest growing economies in the world. I have been saying that Canada should have a balanced view of Asia Pacific, including security perspectives, because, in order to promote economic relations with Asia Pacific nations, a sound security environment is essential. I truly welcome Canada’s increasing attention to the security of the Asia Pacific region.
(Cultural exchanges, etc.)
Cultural, educational and people-to-people exchanges are vital in promoting mutual understanding between our two peoples. Japanese and Canadians have a good impression of each other’s country. However, I discovered that we actually know very little of each other. All the Canadian reporters are based in Beijing and Japanese journalists are in the US. Only the biggest news headlines – both good and bad – are reported in the media. Various kinds of exchanges are one of the effective ways to make our two peoples familiar with each other at a grass roots level.
Canada is a popular destination for students. In 2015, around 11,000 Japanese students were staying in Canada and that number is increasing thanks to agreements among universities and other initiatives. In contrast, the number of Canadian students studying in Japan was only about 350 in the same year. Nevertheless, there is a wonderful scheme of inviting young Canadians to Japan called the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. Japan receives more than 200 young Canadians each year. They are spread all over Japan to teach English in elementary and secondary schools as assistant language teacher or to help local governments in their external relations. More than 8,600 Canadians have participated in the JET Programme since its launch in 1987. Japan hopes to promote youth exchanges through all available means including KAKEHASHI (meaning “bridge” in Japanese) exchange program, the Working Holiday scheme (Youth Mobility scheme in Canada), sports exchanges, especially in relation the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, internship programs, etc.
I am very pleased to find that Japanese art and culture are so popular in Canada. Each year, the Embassy of Japan organizes a number of cultural events from traditional to modern, including pop culture. Japan intends to further promote our bilateral relations through various exchanges and events in 2017, the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, as well as in 2018, the 90th anniversary of Japan-Canada diplomatic relations.
Return at 2:00pm today for Part II
Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.