Japanese discover Lithuania
He is definitely an ambassador on the road. Having hit it more often than any other foreign envoy to Lithuania in years, Toyoei Shigeeda, Japan’s plenipotentiary and extraordinary ambassador to Lithuania, already has about 40 visits to different Lithuanian municipalities under his belt. “My dream is to visit all municipalities in Lithuania and to get to know the Lithuanian people,” the ambassador says modestly. Mr Shigeeda kindly agreed to take The Baltic Times questions.
You’re one of the most pro-active ambassadors to Lithuania. What keeps you on the road? Can you share some of the travel experiences you’ve had?
Thank you for your commendation of my activities. Lithuania is bestowed with beautiful nature and diversity of local communities. I like touching upon the identities and beauty of the regions of Lithuania. On the other hand, I highly respect Lithuania and think that Lithuania has a bright and prominent future. I am confident that your country will become one of the most important states in Europe, and will greatly contribute to global peace and prosperity. I see that Lithuania will be one of the most reliable partners for Japan, so I want to learn more about our partner. I also want to have more contact with the Lithuanian people. I find Lithuanians to be diligent, creative and modest people. For all those reasons, I have already visited about 40 municipalities. I met the mayors and local residents. During those visits, I became deeply impressed by the beauty, culture and history of Lithuania. My dream is to visit all municipalities in Lithuania and to get to know the Lithuanian people.
What trends in mutual trade over the last couple of years can you discern?
Lithuania and Japan enjoy good business relations. During the last five years, the trade between the countries has increased and grown by more than two times. Especially Lithuanian export to Japan has been greatly increasing. Recently, we saw a breakthrough in our trade relations - Japan opened its market for Lithuanian agricultural products - Lithuanian poultry, dairy and now beef producers can export their goods to Japan. I find Lithuanian beef of exceptional quality and I am personally going to hold some events here in Vilnius to promote Lithuanian beef export to Japan. Lithuania and Japan have agreed in principal on a double taxation avoidance agreement. I hope it will accelerate investments of both countries.
Where do you see room for expansion of Japanese and Lithuanian trade, as well as cultural exchanges?
I see great potential for Lithuania in attracting Japanese tourists. During the last couple of years, the number of Japanese tourists to Lithuania has dramatically increased. I sincerely hope that in the future, the number of Japanese tourists coming to Lithuania will increase to 500,000 per year.
Can you speak a little about the successful Japanese companies operating in Lithuania? What do you hear from them with regards to the Lithuanian business environment? Have their CEOS brought your attention to any manifestations of bureaucracy and corruption as obstacles to more rapidly develop/expand their business here?
There are nine Japanese companies operating in Lithuania. One of the biggest Yazaki Wiring Technologies Lietuva- employs 700 people in Klaip da. I have the impression that new winds are coming from Japan. More and more Japanese companies are turning their attention to Lithuania. I hope more Japanese companies decide to invest in Lithuania. As I talk with Japanese businessmen, they all say that Lithuanians are diligent and efficient workers. They are highly impressed by the number of talented people you have.
Lithuania has “frozen” the Hitachi Ltd-led Visaginas NPP project, which effectively means its end. Are you disappointed? Do you still believe that the project can be revived someday? Under what circumstances?
I am of the view that, despite being frozen, the Visaginas NPP project, which can combine Lithuania and Japan in many ways, will not come to an end and will be continued in the future. I think that only the Lithuanian people can decide about the fate of such a project, and Japan will always respect the independent decision of the Lithuanian people. I want to stress that if this project will be resumed some day, Japan would like to come to Lithuania with the safest technology in the world.
Can you speak a little of the Japanese tourist numbers in Lithuania in recent years? Do you see them edging up? Why?
My dream is to establish a direct charter flight between Lithuania and Japan. That would greatly contribute to the increasing flow of Japanese tourists to Lithuania. I also wish that as many Lithuanians as possible would visit Japan and see the Olympic Games in Tokyo in 2020.
What are the misconceptions that Japanese usually have about Lithuania? What do you hear to be their biggest discoveries about Lithuania?
People think that Lithuania is a small, faraway country. In fact, Lithuania is an elegant European country with unique culture and traditions. When Japanese come to Lithuania, they have the best impression of the country and Lithuanian people. I have discovered the colourfulness of local communities. Each region of Lithuania has its own identity, unique traditions, nature and cuisine. That is very attractive to the Japanese, but I must say that the most powerful advantage and asset of Lithuania is the friendly Lithuanian people.
Let me ask you this. What are the misconceptions that Lithuanians tend to have about Japan and the Japanese?
I am deeply impressed by the Lithuanian people. They are very interested in Japanese traditional and pop culture, technologies and economy. Lithuanians might think that Japan has been a rich country from the beginning. They might not be aware of the difficulties we had in creating our country. The Japanese created their country starting from the devastated land after the Second World War, and that is one of the reasons, I think, why we are so diligent and patiently working for the best for our own country. In that way, I can say that Lithuanians and Japanese are similar – Lithuanians are also diligently and patiently developing their own country.
Both Lithuania and Japan must be wary of the neighbours in their proximity, i.e. Russia, in Lithuania’s case, and Japan must be mindful of China, North Korea, as well as Russia. Which of the countries poses certain risks to Japan? What would Japan’s advice to Lithuania be with the adverse neighbour at its borders?
One of the aims of our foreign policy is to keep good relations with all countries, including neighbouring countries. We believe that the best solution of all issues is through dialogue in a peaceful way. At the same time, we uphold the principles of Proactive Contribution to Peace, based on international cooperation, international justice, freedom, democracy, human rights and rule of law. Our countries can surely work together in the international arena in implementing these principles.
Can you speak a little about the opportunities in Japan for Lithuanian businesses, students and NGOS?
Japan for Lithuania is not only a market, but also a partner for doing business together in the region. I like to encourage Lithuanians to do more in promoting Lithuania in Japan. Lithuania is a good friend of Japan. I believe in strengthening our relations through people to people relations.
What do you like most about Vilnius and Lithuania?
Vilnius is a modern European city with great history and culture. It has nice, elegant cafes and restaurants where Japanese feel comfortable. My wife likes them very much.
Have you tried Lithuanian cuisine? How was the experience? Can you be unequivocally honest when answering this question at least: have your taste buds approved all the dishes you tried?
Since I came to Lithuania, I have tried many traditional Lithuanian dishes – cepelinai, saltibarsciai, etc. I also tried local cuisine outside Vilnius. All dishes were of diverse tastes, but they all had one thing in common – they tasted so good. Lithuanian cuisine is very acceptable for the Japanese. I have also discovered that Lithuanian honey has exceptionally good taste. I am glad that Lithuanian cuisine is being more and more promoted in Japan.
Unofficially, Baltic leaders are concerned about Donald Trump as the new President of the United States. Do you personally admire Donald Trump?
I have no specific view on this issue. I would like to respect the decisions of all nations.
Trump has repeatedly launched broadsides against Tokyo during his campaign trail, accusing Japan of taking US jobs, and rattled the Japanese public by suggesting the country contemplate going nuclear and stop relying on the US for defense. To quote Trump: “You know we have a treaty with Japan, where if Japan is attacked, we have to use full force and might of the United States,” he said in August. “If we’re attacked, Japan doesn’t have to do anything. They can sit home and watch Sony television, okay?” What do you make of the words?
The Prime Minister of Japan Mr. Abe met the newly elected President of the United States before and after inauguration. I think both have established excellent relations, and Japan and the US are keeping the best relations as before.
Both Lithuania and Japan share in common similar problems stemming from the demographics (aging population and low birth rate). How is Japan tackling the issues? What experience do you believe is worth sharing?
Yes, it’s a big challenge for Japan. Japan is working hard to create a society in which parents can raise their children with peace of mind. Elderly people are also receiving more opportunities to work. I personally think that in Japan, people are requested to pay more attention to personal relations, respect partners, and also take care of elderly people.
As my other job as the editor-in-chief of a newspaper in Palanga, the resort you recently visited, let me ask you this question: what needs to be done to attract more Japanese tourists to Palanga this summer?
Palanga is a nice, attractive resort, and according to my personal experience, it can compete with Honolulu, Hawaii. Palanga has everything – beautiful nature, nice hotels, etc. – what is needed is only more promotion and spreading information in Japan. If the Japanese receive a lot of information about your beautiful town, they will surely come.
“There are nine Japanese companies operating in Lithuania. One of the biggest Yazaki Wiring Technologies Lietuva- employs 700 people in Klaip da. I have the impression that new winds are coming from Japan. More and more Japanese companies are turning their attention to Lithuania.”
Toyoei Shigeeda is Japan’s plenipotentiary and extraordinary ambassador to Lithuania