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I will always remain a good friend of Bhutan: Kenji Hiramatsu

What is the purpose of your visit?

I came to inaugurate Japan Week in Thimphu. Japan Week is an annual event to celebrate long ties between the two countries. It is an opportunity to showcase Japanese culture in the country.

Ambassador  Kenji Hiramatsu
Ambassador Kenji Hiramatsu

This is my final visit as an ambassador. I came to bid farewell to the government of Bhutan and my friends. At the reception, I was happy to see many familiar faces.

Tell us a bit about this year’s Japan Week

This year, Japan Week is marked by demonstration of Japanese traditional martial arts like judo, and karate, and some musical performances. I understand that many Bhutanese are interested and taking up judo seriously. It is very encouraging. Last year, I signed a document to develop a judo training hall for Bhutanese.  The construction is underway and will be ready by next March.

During the opening of Japan Week, I watched the performance and was delighted to see major improvement.

We hope Bhutanese people enjoy Japanese culture. The celebration of Japan Week will help Bhutanese understand how Japanese people think, behave, and react to some of the social issues.

As you look back, what are some of the significant achievements in the different areas of Bhutan-Japan relations?

I am happy to see the development of close Japan-Bhutan relationship. The two countries share goodwill and have mutual respect for each other’s culture and nature.

My tenure was marked by some of the important bilateral visits. Two years ago, Princess Mako of Akishino visited the country, and in August, we received His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Fumihito and Prince Hisahito of Akishino for almost ten days. They enjoyed the pristine nature, kind people, and rich culture of Bhutan.

Last April, former Prime Minister Tshering Tobay visited Japan and discussed various aspects of cooperation between Bhutan-Japan with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The Former Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs, Taro Kono visited Bhutan last June, the first by a Japanese Cabinet minister to Bhutan. The cooperation between the two countries continues to expand.

We had discussions on how to implement some of the development programmes and assistance in the country. Japan has committed to support Bhutan even after the country successfully graduates from the Least Developed Country category.

Besides bilateral country-level assistance and cooperation, we started business-to-business collaboration. Last year, I brought 30 Japanese business people in Bhutan to visit business institutions. This year, we brought 20 to explore business collaboration and discussions. In this way, I see concrete collaboration between Japanese companies and their counterparts in Bhutan. The collaboration is strengthening.

Japanese people adore Bhutanese culture, particularly the textile. We are fond of the textile industry in the country. We visited textile museums several times and are exploring collaboration in this sector.

I am trying to bring in Japanese visitors through various development projects.

There have been some talks about a Japanese embassy in Bhutan. Could you give us the full picture? What are the future plans?

The relation between the two countries is already strong and has seen lot of exchanges and collaboration at all levels. Japanese visitors in the country are increasing every year. I hope the diplomatic establishment will happen at some point. I think we should keep discussing.

The relation we share is strong but if there is an embassy in the country, it would be easier to facilitate day-to-day contact between the governments. Whenever we have important discussions and talks, we won’t have to move in and out of the country frequently. A physical office would reduce these long processes.  Of course, we have an embassy in New Delhi, India.

Could you share some thoughts on Japan’s support in Bhutan’s 12th plan?

We have been traditionally supporting agricultural production, starting from late Dasho Keiji Nishioka. We had infrastructure development projects such as construction of bridges and roads in the country.

In the current plan, we will focus our support and cooperation in the health sector, agriculture, and disaster preparedness, as requested by the Bhutanese government. Based on the discussions, we will implement the programmes.

Earn and Learn Programme in Japan suffered some hiccups recently. We have not heard anything from the Japanese government.

To strengthen understanding between the two countries, we really hope that many Bhutanese have the opportunity to learn Japanese language. We encourage Bhutanese to learn Japanese but it is better if we take the programme at the government level.

In December, we will conduct Japanese language proficiency test in the country with the help of Royal Institute of Management and Japan Foundation. The programme would facilitate Bhutanese learning the language to achieve some level of proficiency and have opportunities to work in Japan.

In future, Bhutanese who wants to work in Japan will have a mechanism similarly offered to the workers from other developing countries. It is a well-established mechanism, involving Japanese government agencies in supervision.

Last words

Physically, I was in the embassy, but my heart was always in Bhutan. I hope my successor will carry on with the same spirit.

I wish happiness for Bhutan and may the relations between Bhutan and Japan grow stronger. I will continue to visit the country and will remain a good friend of Bhutan.

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