What goals and tasks do you have for your term of office?
It has been nine months since I have arrived in Warsaw. Without question, Poland surpassed my expectations – it turned out to be a country which is very friendly to Japan and plays an important part in European and global structures. My task is to strengthen relations between our countries. I believe that the point is not only to enhance our bilateral relations, but also to ensure that our cooperation develops within international structures. We should consider specific areas in which we can join our forces. There is a wide range of problems calling for solutions: the situation in Afghanistan, unstable world economy, environment protection. I have noticed that the Poles have a very friendly attitude towards Japan and they like my country, although their knowledge on the current situation in Japan is not always sufficient. Hence, I would like to provide them with information about changes taking place in Japan, in its politics, diplomacy and economy. I also want to make them familiar with the rich history and culture of my country.
Not everybody knows that our countries have a long history of mutual friendly contacts – Japan was visited by Dmowski, Piłsudski, father Maksymilian Kolbe, while Japanese unionists reached out to ‘Solidarity’ in the eighties. Just recently we have celebrated the ninetieth anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations – how would you summarize that period?
Before I came to Poland, I had read loads of books about your country. The history of our relations is unique. I believe that the past ninety years is not just a history of contacts between the countries, but also personal relations between the Japanese and the Poles. There were times when the Japanese helped the Poles – for example in 1920 and 1922 about 800 Polish children from Siberia were invited to Japan, where they underwent medical treatment. On the other hand, in 1995 and 1996 Poland invited Japanese children who suffered because of a massive earthquake in Kobe.
What do the contemporary Japanese people know about our country?
For the Japanese Poland is the country of Chopin. They also think of Poland as a country which suffered heavy losses during World War II, with Auschwitz as the symbol of this tragic past. Unfortunately, knowledge about your country is not really widespread in Japan. When I meet guests from Japan, I always try to share as much information about Poland as possible.
Why are the Japanese so interested in the music of Chopin and Wieniawski?
For the Japanese classical music is extremely important. In the course of World War Two Japan lost virtually everything. I remember from my childhood that we were not a rich country. By listening to classical music we could experience the rich culture of the West, symbolized especially by the piano. Classical music was one of incentives that helped the Japanese unite and work towards the development of our country. Wieniawski, although not as popular as Chopin, is also a part of that Western symbolism.
For the Poles, the beauty of Japan lies in its cultural exoticism. What, in your opinion, do the Poles find fascinating in the Japanese culture the most?
So far I have lived in England, Switzerland, France and Russia. What struck me in Poland was Polish hospitality and a friendly attitude. I believe that the Poles have that special “something” that allows them to understand the Japanese spirit, with for example its tea ceremony, the nō theatre or traditional martial arts. Despite many differences, we can communicate on a deep, spiritual level. I know for sure that the Japanese who visited Poland come back home deeply fascinated by your country.
What is the situation of the Polish-Japanese tourism?
I take it very seriously to promote tourism. Until the previous year, the number of Japanese tourists was ten times lower than of those visiting Hungary or the Czech Republic. I asked Japanese travel agencies why this number is so low. It turns out that when the Japanese hear the name ‘Poland’, all in all they have a good impression, but still no good reasons to come. One factor is probably this grim image of the war-torn past. Fortunately, this changed this year – thanks to Chopin. Since January, Poland has been visited by three times as many Japanese tourists as in the previous year. As an embassy we cooperate with Polish tourist institutions to attract as many Japanese guests as possible. In May, I organized business meetings for the representatives of the Japanese and Polish tourism branch. Renowned Japanese journals published articles promoting Poland. A direct air travel route between Japan and Poland is scheduled for 2012. I believe that the number of tourists will grow. We also undertake efforts to attract Polish tourists to our country. At the moment, eight thousand Poles per year visit Japan. Unfortunately, Japan is still considered a very distant and expensive destination. In reality, such a journey can be afforded even by students, who are good at finding cheapest offers on the Internet. I hope that Polish travel agencies will also come up with cheap tours to Japan.
Japan and Poland cooperate in the UN or within V4+1 (The Visegrád Group and Japan) or ASEM (Asia-Europe Meeting). What are our common interests?
Japan and Poland can work together towards world peace. The peace is threatened by the current situation in Afghanistan, where Poland sent a contingent of troops. Japan believes that it is important to establish economic prosperity in Afghanistan, and therefore supports financially the recovery of that country. Last year, in Ghazni province Japan and Poland launched two civil projecta: the construction of schools and bulwarks. Poland is interested in the political stability of the former Soviet Union countries, especially Ukraine, while Japan helps Ukraine on the financial level. Maybe in this country it will be also possible to combine our efforts, exactly as it takes place now in Afghanistan. There are many global problems which we can help solve together, the most important one being environment protection. In April, the EU and Japan held summit talks. We established the framework of cooperation and launched new projects. Poland will also participate in them, especially during its EU presidency in the second half of the following year.
Japan and Poland are also business partners. In which branches of economy can we develop our cooperation?
So far, 254 Japanese companies made investments in Poland, 73 of them being manufacturing companies. They are not centred around Warsaw only, but rather they are scattered all over the country. It is the biggest cluster of Japanese firms in the entire Central-Eastern Europe. Since the previous year, 22 new ones have been established. It is crucial to foster friendly investment environment. When I meet with Japanese entrepreneurs in Poland, I ask them what had made them to invest here. By and large, they give me three reasons: the first one is kindness of the Polish government and citizens. The second one is skilled workforce, high standards of education and good commandment of the English language. The third one is geography – when Japanese companies start to manufacture here, they immediately gain access to the European markets. Japanese companies in the automotive and electronics industries already have a well established position in Poland and at the moment your country starts to attract companies principally engaged in environment protection and energy businesses. Poland aims to adopt Japanese solutions – energy efficient technologies and alternative energy sources. Because of the planned nuclear plant, Poland is also interested in nuclear technologies. There is also a great deal of potential in retail sales – Japanese chain stores want to enter the Polish market.
What functions in the contemporary Japan are performed by His Imperial Majesty the Emperor Akihito? He has no male heir – what happens next with the throne?
After World War II, Japan accepted a new constitution, which gives the Emperor the rank of a symbol. He holds no direct political power, but lends it some prestige. In the past I have an opportunity to work in the Japanese court. Both the Emperor and the Empress desire to share with nation its joy and sorrow. They travel a lot all over the country, staying in close touch with people. There are no people in Japan who would like to reject the monarchy. The current Emperor is the one hundred twenty-fifth ruler. While in other places in the world royal dynasties were overturned and upheavals, revolutions or system transformations were commonplace, Japan was still ruled by one imperial line. According to the law, only a male successor can continue the dynasty. Currently the heir to the throne is the eldest son of the Emperor, Prince Naruhito. Over the past several decades, only girls were born in the imperial dynasty. Hence, there was a problem of the succession; some claimed that in the future the throne should be given to a princess – in the past we had several female emperors. But several years ago, the younger brother of the successor, Prince Akishino, fathered a son, which put a stop to the debates for some time. My personal opinion is that any possible changes to the law must be carried with due respect because of the extremely long history of the imperial family.
Thank you very much for the interview
The interview was held by Małgorzata Salliw.