Ja­panese dis­cover Lithua­nia

The Baltic Times - - FRONT PAGE - Li­nas Jegele­vi­cius

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

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