Bridges: As Japan and Ireland celebrate 65 years of diplomatic relations this year, how would you describe the current relationship in terms of business and culture?
Kitano: Japan, with the world’s third largest economy, and Ireland, with its open and vibrant economy full of entrepreneurial spirit, have developed a complementary relationship. The EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement has provided an important platform for the expansion of bilateral economic relations. For example, Irish beef exports to Japan increased significantly from €9.5 million in 2019 to €15.7 million in 2020, making Ireland Japan’s seventh largest beef exporter.
In terms of investment, Japan was the top Asia-Pacific country in terms of accumulated FDI in Ireland in 2020 (FDI balance of €31.4 billion). Areas of active Japanese investment in Ireland include life sciences, financial services including FinTech. In recent years, investment and partnerships in the renewable energy sector are also on the rise. I hope that our bilateral collaboration will deepen through economic initiatives to address issues such as pandemics, digitalization and decarbonization.
Japan and Ireland are also mutually interested in each other’s culture, which was a major element in the deepening of our bilateral relationship over the past 65 years. In Japan, there is a strong interest in Irish literature, and the Yeats Society of Japan has developed into a large organization. In Ireland there is a growing popularity of Japanese food, the Japanese language, and traditional and contemporary Japanese culture. In recent years, the Rugby World Cup and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have invigorated sporting exchanges between the two countries.
Building on these positive developments, Taoiseach Micheál Martin visited Japan to meet Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in July. Both leaders committed to take the relations to a new, higher level in issuing a joint statement entitled “Taking Forward Partnership with Shared Ambition”.
During your time in Ireland, what have you appreciated most about the country, society and the Irish people?
I especially appreciate the liveability of Ireland including safety, kindness of people and beautiful nature. The Irish share the same spirit of welcoming hospitality with the Japanese, which creates a somewhat familiar environment for Japanese people to live in. Ireland’s open society that embraces diversity is something we can learn from.
What steps is the Embassy taking to strengthen the Japan-Irish partnership?
I hope we are putting the pandemic behind us and the exchange of people and events between Japan and Ireland have almost come back to normality. I look forward to the resumption of high-level visits between the two countries.
We are also in daily contact with relevant Irish institutions, especially Department of Foreign Affairs, to promote partnerships of all kinds and levels. Our areas of cooperation include response to global challenges, such as maintenance of international peace and security, nuclear disarmament, SDGs, protection of human rights, as well as strengthening of bilateral economic ties and people-to-people exchange programs.
What message do you have regarding the future of this important bilateral relationship?
Japan and Ireland are important partners who share fundamental values such as democracy, human rights and the rule of law. In a challenging international situation following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, the importance of maintaining and strengthening the rule-based international order is becoming increasingly important, which makes our partnership even more essential.
Ireland serves as a non-permanent member of the Security Council from 2021 until the end of this year. Over the past year and a half, the international situation has been turbulent, with the spread of the novel coronavirus, destabilization in Afghanistan and Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. As Japan will serve as a non-permanent member of the Council for two years from 2023, following Ireland’s term, I highly expect that Japan will continue to deepen its cooperation with Ireland to work behind the scenes at the UN and other international fora.