JIN-447 -- UK-Japan Relations

J@pan Inc Newsletter

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 447 Wednesday January 09, 2008, Tokyo

UK-Japan Relations

At the port of Bungo (now Oita on the Beppu Bay) in April 1600
a ship called the 'Liefde' landed. The crew were apparently so
exhausted they could barely walk but one Englishman, Will Adams,
managed to charm the local nobility enough that they deemed him
worthy of being taken to see the Shogun in Osaka. According to
the now classic account of Adams' plight by Ilza Veith, Shogun
Iyeyasu saw him as a valuable source of information and he
eventually became employed as the Shogun's shipbuilder. Awarded
men and money, Adams was elevated to a noble status although his
letters belie a persistent homesickness and yearning to return
to his wife and children. However, when English merchants
finally turned up to meet Adams in 1611 they viewed his praise
of Japan with suspicion and according to Veith, Adams started
to doubt how he would fit in if he ever went back, furthermore,
'Returning to England might mean retuning to the comparative
obscurity of his former status.'

Adams' story may strike a chord with many foreigners living in
Japan today but it is also the first recorded case of
significant Anglo-Japanese interaction. The two countries
maintained basic relations since Adams' excursion until
exchanges between the two countries grew significantly during
the nineteenth century. Notably, in 1863, five adventurous
scholars from Choshu and Statsuma risked the gravest penalties
to take up the opportunity to study at University College
London; later one became prime minister, one foreign minister,
one introduced the railways, another started the Japan Mint and
the other started Japan's first technical college. The story of
'The Choshu Five' story was the subject of a Japanese film
released last January.

In the postwar era, Japan and the UK have had largely harmonious
relations and, culturally, the two countries ostensibly have a
lot in common. They are both island nations with a long history
of empire and naval strength, both have royal families with
constitutionally limited powers and make a fuss about having
cups of tea, and, both nations have a reputation for being
somewhat reserved and have national dishes involving fish.
Beyond that, the two countries have a relationship with the US
that, in their own unique ways, takes on a similar
master-servant dynamic. Although these similarities are only
skin-deep and many depend on flimsy national stereotypes, they
do help to fuel reciprocal tourism initiatives and the roaring
trade in Beatles and Beatrix Potter memorabilia on the one hand
and a growing fondness for Muji and Uniqlo on the other. Indeed,
the reality of UK-Japan relations is highly dynamic and while
cultural understanding plays an important role in their
development, it is arguably business that is the key driver.
After the US and Europe, Japan is the UK's largest export market
and both countries have invested heavily in each other in the
past. Recently, Japanese banks Mizuho, Mistubishi UFJ and Mitsui
Sumitomo were part of an investment consortium who have put
US$1.7 billion into British Airways' project to build new
fleets. Additionally, the Japan Exchange & Teaching (JET)
programme, which sends foreigners into Japanese schools and city
halls to promote English learning and international
understanding, is the biggest single employer of British

[Article continues below...]

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[...Article continues]

This year celebrates 'UK-Japan 2008.' British Ambassador to
Japan, Sir Graham Fry, told us that although the synergies
between the UK and Japan are many, 'this year we are focusing
on three areas: the arts, science and creative industries. They
are linked together by creativity and innovation, and our aim is
to stimulate more collaborations between the UK and Japan.'
During the year there will be over 100 events in support of the
campaign involving everything from whisky tasting to exhibitions
about the existence of life on other planets (see
www.ukjapan2008.jp for full details and event listings). The
year 2008 was chosen for this celebration as it marks 150 years
of Anglo-Japanese partnership dating back to the Treaty of Amity
and Commerce that led to the establishment of full diplomatic

The future of Japan-UK relations thus seems likely to grow and
develop and UK-Japan 2008 and the ties that bind the two
countries are institutionalized in a number of ways. The British
embassy in Japan is flanked by the British Chamber of Commerce
and the British Council while the Japanese diplomatic mission to
the UK also has a number of affiliated groups. Informal
associations are also active with numerous friendship societies
encompassing such diverse interest areas as the British Go
Association (www.britgo.org) and the Tokyo Piping Association

Peter Harris


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This year marks also 150 years of Franco-Japanese partnership.
Commemoration du 150eme anniversaire des relations franco-japonaises

It would be interesting to compare events and how relations UK-JP and FR-JP are different?

Thank you for the comment. That's very interesting - I didn't know that. Yep, it would definately be worth keeping an eye out to see how different UK-Japan and France-Japan events will be this year.