Amcham : Mr Ambassador, now that you have had time to settle into Luxembourg, please tell our readers your first impressions about Luxembourg. Most especially what are you impressed by and like about the Grand Duchy?
Ambassador Okuyama : My wife Toyoko and I arrived here two years ago in February 2020 one and a half month before the first COVID-19 lockdown. We went to Echternach and Esch-sur-Alzette in our first weekends. I was amazed that you were about to make your public transport entirely free: I still keep my last ticket card I had paid for. Under the lockdown period, we found the “GUIDE AUTO-PEDESTRE – 201 circular walks” in a book shop and did 14 easy walks so far in your most beautiful countryside, weather permitting. We are just beginners.
What have you found to be different from what you had expected?
I had not expected your eateries and restaurants would serve two adult portions on one plate most of the time. I try to share that plate with my wife for health and sustainability grounds but perhaps they don’t like it. By the way, there are a number of excellent Japanese restaurants in Luxembourg, but I would like to see more variety from haute cuisine down to street food like Ramen (noodle soup), Takoyaki (Octopus flour ball) and Onigiri (ball of rice with flavours). I am asking my chef Kyoko Nishikawa at the residence to run a campaign to this effect.
Because Luxembourg has a Grand Duke as Head of State and Japan has an Emperor, how do these long-term relationships positively link the two countries together?
First off, one major common ground is that both Heads of State are the only ones in the world in terms of their titles. However, the ties between the Japanese Imperial House and the Grand Ducal Family go beyond their status as the only remaining form of sovereignty in the world. Their relationship has always been strong and will continue to prevail.
The first time His Majesty the Emperor Naruhito visited Luxembourg was in 1990, and He visited again afterwards in 2012, then Crown Prince, to attend the occasion of the wedding between His Royal Highness the Hereditary Grand Duke Guillaume and Her Royal Highness the Hereditary Grand Duchess Stephanie. In turn, on the 90th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our two countries back in 2017, we had the opportunity to welcome His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri together with Her Royal Highness Princess Alexandra as state guests. Moreover, His Royal Highness Grand Duke Henri also attended the Enthronement Ceremony in October 2019, and we were more than honoured when He came again to support the Luxembourgish delegation at the Tokyo Olympics Games last year. His presence there must have felt like a true testimony of support for the Luxembourg athletes.
The two Houses have maintained an uninterrupted active exchange, which fostered mutual understanding over time and contributed to the development of bilateral relations.
What are the current economic ties between the two countries?
Six active Japanese banks firmly established operations in Luxembourg – the financial hub of Europe. FANUC, a Factory Automation and robotic manufacturer, has its distribution center for Europe and Carlex produces sophisticated glass shields for European carmakers. Following Brexit, three Japanese insurance companies decided to set up operations in Luxembourg, and ispace Europe have continued to make great strides in the space sector with the establishment of an office in Luxembourg in 2017. The pandemic unfortunately hindered the movement of people, which of course had an impact on international business. Undeterred, two Japanese space start-up companies visited Luxembourg in the fall of 2021 and are now considering establishing their branches in Luxembourg. There is also ongoing collaboration, such as between B Medical Systems and Toyota, who last year jointly developed the first-ever refrigerated vaccine transport vehicle with WHO Performance, Quality and Safety (PQS) prequalification. I have no doubt that the economic relationship between our two countries will deepen further in the post-Covid era.
In Tokyo, the Luxembourg Trade and Investment Office (LTIO), under the umbrella of the Luxembourg Ministry of Economy, works closely with our Embassy to support Luxembourgish companies in Japan and Japanese companies in Luxembourg.
What are the opportunities to expand economic and cultural ties in the future?
The 2025 Osaka-Kansai Expo in Japan will undoubtedly be an important opportunity to promote economic relations between the two countries. It is my hope that the Osaka-Kansai Expo will be a successful platform to showcase Luxembourg’s advanced initiatives, such as Circular Economy and Sustainable
Economy, not only to Japan but also to the world.
Further down the line in 2027, Japan and Luxembourg will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations. We are currently discussing with the people concerned a possibility of replanting 100 Japanese and Luxembourgish cherry trees along the esplanade of the City of Remich to mark the occasion.
The culture sector has borne the brunt of the pandemic. We pay a great deal of attention to maintaining and expanding cultural ties by keeping in touch with our various partners including artists, musicians, museum directors as well as martial arts clubs, and organizing a number of online events and physical events.
This year, Esch-sur-Alzette enjoys the title of “European Capital of Culture”. This context gives us a chance to promote our cultural attractions; there will be several occasions for people in this country to touch on Japanese culture in collaboration with local partners in 2022. Please sign up on our mailing list by sending an email to our cultural section at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the size, interests and activities of the Japanese community in Luxembourg?
About 700 residents live here and a majority of them belong to Japanese financial companies. They established a Japanese supplementary school in 1991. This initiative has facilitated them to come along with their family. As a result, the Japanese community is expanding year by year and their industrial activities are becoming more diversified.
Are there plans of Japanese companies to further expand economic cooperation and activities?
Our Embassy has been doing its best to establish a framework for strengthening economic ties between the two countries by facilitating MoCs with JETRO and relevant organizations in Luxembourg. There is room for more cooperation in the financial and space sectors. Specifically, there is growing interest in green finance in Japan, and the domestic green bond market has grown more than tenfold in the past 5 years. A number of Japanese companies have issued green bonds on the Luxembourg Stock Exchange and registered them with the LGX.
As I had previously mentioned, two companies from Japan visited Luxembourg
to participate in the “New Space Europe” conference held in November last year, despite the difficulties in traveling in pandemic times. Both of them are positively considering expanding their business in Luxembourg.
What do Japan and Japanese companies think of the growth or space related activities in Luxembourg and between Luxembourg and the US? Are there growth opportunities for cooperation and business in this area?
First, Luxembourg, Japan and the United States are the original signatories of the Artemis accords. NASA has selected ispace Europe, a Japanese company located in Luxembourg, as a contractor in connection with a program to collect space resources from the Moon and then transfer ownership of the resources to NASA. Like in the United States and Luxembourg, the Space Resources Act entered into force in Japan in June 2021. I will welcome more cooperation among the three countries.
Both Luxembourg and Japan have ageing populations. Are there Japanese initiatives which could usefully be implemented in Luxembourg to deal with the challenges in this area?
It is no secret that Japan will soon be facing an ageing society, which will be unprecedented in the world. It is very much expected that Japan’s ageing population will steadily increase and as a result, the population will decline sharply. Challenges such as loss of autonomy, care for daily life, and physical and mental welfare are there.
Community life needs to be encouraged, such as to counter cases of social isolation that could lead to a decline of their mental wellbeing. A well-structured social security for all generations as well as a safety net for employment, long-
term care, housing, transportation, lifelong learning, inter generational exchange, etc. needs to be addressed. There are things our two nations can learn from each other.
How is the exchange of universities and schools between Japan and Luxembourg?
We have difficulties due to the coronavirus, and I hope they will go away soon. The University of Luxembourg annually receives a number of Japanese students from different universities in Japan, such as Sophia, Waseda, Kyoto, Hokkaido and Tohoku Universities. Among them, Sophia University has its branch office in the Maison de Savoir of the University of Luxembourg at Belval, which works as a hub to support Japanese students in this country and to provide Luxembourgish students with useful information about studying in Japan.
Lycée Classique de Diekirch and Kijimadaira Junior High School in Nagano, Japan, have had an ongoing successful student exchange program for 20 years now. Before the pandemic, they have visited each other once a year.
In the political field, what kind of bilateral cooperation is there between Japan and Luxembourg?
Japan is a “like-minded country” for Luxembourg that shares with it the fundamental values of democracy, the rule of law and multilateralism. The two countries also collaborate on the international scene, for example in the framework of the United Nations.
As a member of the EU, Luxembourg has repeatedly affirmed its interest in strengthening the partnership between the EU and Japan on the basis of shared values and principles, as well as the need for closer cooperation, particularly concerning Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa and the Gulf region. In the interest of effective multilateralism, the EU and Japan are working together in promoting human rights, the green transition, the reform of the WTO, the implementation of the Iranian nuclear agreement and the implementation of sanctions against North Korea, etc.
Backed by the Japan-EU Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), which came into force in 2019, the EU announced in September 2021 the Joint Communication on the EU Strategy for Cooperation in the Indo-Pacific, which Japan welcomed as a country implementing various measures to realize Japan’s vision of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP)”.
Amcham would like to thank H.E. Ambassador Mr Okuyama Jiro for this interview!