Ambassador Okuyama arrived in Luxembourg on 3 February and presented his credentials to the Grand Duke on 11 February
Photo: Mike Zenari
Jiro Okuyama formally presented his credentials to Grand Duke Henri on 11 February. Delano spoke with the new Japanese ambassador in his first weeks in his new role.
Ambassador Okuyama can sum up his first impressions of Luxembourg in three words: “beautiful, fabulous, magnificent”. Since he arrived in early February, he and his wife have spent their weekends exploring the country, which has included visits to Esch-sur-Sûre, Echternach, last weekend’s migration festival and the Diekirch calvacade, to name a few. Of course, Luxembourg City has also stood out. “I was really impressed with the landscapes, the contrasts between ups and downs, the Grund and the hills,” he said, adding: “I feel greatly honoured to serve the Grand Duke and also this beautiful country.” He has also been enjoying the food, but jokes that the portions might not be suitable for a “Japanese stomach”.
But his weekdays have been equally busy. “I have had chances to make the rounds with cabinet ministers and the president of the chamber and others… I felt that I am really welcomed by all the people I have come across so far.” He’s hoping to reach out to all the cabinet ministers, “and there may be a chance for me to say hello to other government officials.”
Getting down to business
Luxembourg and Japan have a long history of ties and friendship, including between the imperial and grand-ducal families—a bond which Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe has called “indispensable and important”. To take one recent example, Grand Duke Henri visited Japan in October 2019 on the occasion of Emperor Naruhito’s enthronement ceremony, during which time he also met with PM Abe and visited Fanuc, the European Corporation of which is headquartered in Luxembourg.
The ambassador expects additional companies to “make headway in the course of 2020” adding to the 30+ already settled in the grand duchy. Photo: Mike Zenari
In addition to the approximately 600 Japanese citizens living in the grand duchy, there are more than 30 businesses as well, branches of five of Japan’s major banks, plus the Grevenmacher-based Carlex, a leading supplier of sophisticated car glass.
Any others in the planning for 2020? Ambassador Okuyama said, “We also have here news about a couple of other Japanese companies to advance in this market, but it’s still ongoing and I cannot name them…it’s sophisticated manufacturing sector in the areas of medicine and other sectors. We are hoping they will make headway in the course of 2020, but we will have to see.”
Of course, there is also the private lunar robotic exploration company, iSpace--assisted by Jetro, the Japan External Trade Organization—which the ambassador said “has cultivated and enjoyed a very good working relationship with its Luxembourg counterparts in the government, as well as in the private sector.”
He’s also looking forward to this year’s New Space Europe, taking place on 11-12 November, which will be his first time participating. “We regard this as a very important opportunity in the area of space… we’re expecting several [Japanese companies], but cannot give a specific number. I’d certainly like to discuss with each and every one of them about what their prospects are in this country.”
He added: “Luxembourg is very well known for its very quick decision making and snap decisions with very little bureaucratic red tape, so it’s a very good environment for Japanese business in general.”
Lux use of Japan-EU trade agreement
1 February 2020 also marked the first anniversary that the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA), which accounted for 30% of world GDP, went into force. According to Eurostat data, EU exports rose by 6.6% in the first 10 months compared to the same period before it entered into effect. Among those exports? Luxembourg wine, which the ambassador said “between February and November , the wine export in that period was about 1.8 times as much as compared with the same period the previous year.”
As the ambassador sagely noted, an agreement is one thing, “but if you don’t use it, it’s just writing on paper. Luxembourg is very advanced in utilizing this agreement.” He said that for the data they have over approximately five months, between February and June 2019, “Luxembourg was the best user of the Japan-EU EPA at the rate of 65%: that means that Luxembourg actually used 65% of what’s available for its trade, and this sharply contrasts with the average EU rate for the same period, only 23%.”
Tokyo Olympics and other exchanges
In light of the coronavirus, Ambassador Okuyama praised PM Abe’s measures to “suppress and contain the contagion of the virus”. On Saturday, Abe frontloaded the Japanese school spring holidays in a bid to avoid children getting into contact with it. Moreover, “We have lots of working parents, for which school is a necessity so they can work daytime, so we are coming up with the budget appropriate to cover these lost working hours” as well as the “beefing up of the medical system, including additional [virus] test kits and 5,000 more hospital beds” which will “bring the success of the Olympics and Paralympics to start on schedule on 24 July.”
Although he has no concrete plans to attend--not yet anyway—he said his wife has plans to be in Japan in July and August. The framework for the world games means that various country teams are hosted in different cities, with Luxembourg team to be hosted in Ishigaki, on Okinawa island.
It’s a partnership that has already had an early start. “We already had an [interschool] exchange between Yaeyama High School and Lycée de Garçons de Luxembourg [in] January.”
It’s these sorts of cultural exchanges the ambassador hopes will continue to transpire, not just in sports. “We would like to promote tourism and exchanges in various fields: arts, academic studies, linguistics, science, technology…we would like to see the interchanges between the local governments in Japan and local cities in Luxembourg, like Diekirch, other places. For this, I would certainly like to cooperate fully with the Luxembourg ambassador in Tokyo, Pierre Ferring.”
In April, Japan's Prince Fumihito, already the Crown Prince in official, will be proclaimed as such during an offiical ceremony, something else the ambassador is looking forward to. Another future highlight may be second concert of Gagaku, ancient court music and dance which has been around for at least some 1,300 years, but “culminated and was completed in its form around the 10th century AD, the Heian period.” The first concert saw three Gagaku instrumentalists hosted by the embassy in early February, but “I’m hoping that at some point in future, we would like to bring the full entourage of instrumentalists…Since I worked at the palace for a total of 7 years, I know them very well,” although he admits there is not yet a set date.
The values shared by Luxembourg and Japan are clear for him too. These include a “constitutional and democratic monarchy…backed by rule of law and democratic values, including basic human rights and rights for the pursuit of happiness,” but “we also share a profound respect for each country’s own history and tradition.”