Mr. Keizo Takewaka Consul-General of Japan in Sydney
Our first and memorial interviewee is Mr. Keizo Takewaka, Consul-General of Japan in Sydney. Mr. Takewaka has various experience of residing abroad and shared with us unique episodes in Australia and stories of the brilliant changes happening every year in the Japan and Australia relationship.
“Matsuri as the Foundation of the Future of Japan and Australia”
The Depth of Australian’s Love for Japan
Mr. Takewaka: I feel one of the standout features of Australia is the strength of Australians’ admiration and respect for Japanese culture. Their interest in Japanese culture covers a wide range of areas including taiko, calligraphy, tea ceremony, ikebana, bonsai and martial arts. Not only is Japanese culture popular among elderly people, there are a lot of anime or cosplay fans who are young people, with tens of thousands of people visiting an event called “SMASH!” held every year in Sydney. This year’s event was so popular it took place in the largest venue (ICC) in Sydney. The Matsuri festival involves a variety of attractions such as traditional Japanese culture and martial arts, not only tourism or anime. When I wore a haori hakama at last year’s Matsuri, visitors asked to take a picture with me, which made me realize that Australians were familiar with the traditional Japanese culture. For these reasons, I believe that Japanese culture is loved by people of all ages. About 50,000 people visited the Matsuri festival last year. I had never seen such a large-scale Japanese event in my 35-year Ministry of Foreign Affairs career. About 500,000 Australians travel to Japan for holiday each year, making Japan one of the most popular vacation destinations overseas.
Ties between Japan and Australia Cannot Be Built Overnight – Continuity is the Father of Success
Mr. Takewaka: When I came to Australia, I was very impressed by the fact that people are widely and deeply connected with each other. In a business context, for instance, the Australia Japan Business Co-operation Committee held a conference on 14-16 October in Sydney. The conference has been held continually since 1963 and met for the 56th time this year. Mr. Akio Mimura, chairman of the committee, and 232 business executives visited from Japan, becoming a large conference with over 450 participants including Australians.
In addition to such strong business relationships, there are deep sister city exchanges as well. There are 39 sister city relationships between Japan and NSW cities. Among them, Lismore and Yamato Takada in Nara began in 1963 and is the oldest. There are many other sister city relationships with more than 30 years of history. Sister cities enable the opportunity for homestay exchanges between them. It is impressive when children from Japan experience a farm stay in Australia or children from Australia learn about Japanese hospitality. After having 30 years of sister city relationships, thankfully, there is a virtuous circle that those who stayed with Japanese host families come back and then accept Japanese people as a host family. One of the reasons for this phenomenon may be that the experience of homestay encourages people to return the favour. Therefore, it can be said that the ties between Japan and Australia have been built by continued effort.
Japan Seen from Different Perspectives
Mr. Takewaka: I appreciate Australia for, and it may sound paradoxical, teaching me about Japan. This is because I am regularly asked about Japan and take an objective look at the country while living abroad. I was surprised that some Australians studied the history of Japan so deeply. In terms of Australian eating habits, the question of what type of seafood Japan exports and imports catches my eye too. While Japan imports tuna and prawns, Australia imports a lot of scallop from Japan. Fortunately, the export of Japanese beef to Australia has begun again this year. Since Australia has good Japanese cuisine, Australians understand what is so delicious about it. Australians also like powder snow in pistes. Australians are particular about authenticity.
Japanese and Australians have in Common – They are Absorbers
Mr. Takewaka: The Matsuri Japan Festival in Darling Harbour in December is the largest event among Japanese festivals in Sydney; there are also festivals in June in Parramatta and in September in Willoughby. Furthermore, a Japanese festival was held in Campbelltown in October and a Japanese Culture Day festival in Darwin was held in November this year. In all of these festivals, a lot of people cooperate to make the events successful and I can feel everyone’s enthusiasm.
Japanese and Australians have a curiosity about other countries in common. Some Australians express themselves as an “absorber”, which proves that they are very interested in cultures and technologies of other countries. Among them, there are also those who have travelled to Japan many times and know a lot about Japanese culture or the rural areas, which was very surprising to me. Their deep interest in Japanese culture may result from multiculturalism in Australia. Since approximately half of Australians are born overseas, they naturally have an interest in different cultures. This is off topic, but there was an event held to celebrate the 55th anniversary of the sister city relationship between Yamato Takada in Nara and Lismore. The mascot of Yamato Takada, Miku Chan, attracted great attention from Lismore citizens. I heard that Kumamon, a mascot of Kumamoto prefecture, was also very popular when he was introduced in Melbourne. It seems that the collaboration between local areas and their representative characters was very impressive to Australians.
Hope You Have Fun with Japanese Young People at the Matsuri
Mr. Takewaka: This Matsuri can be the epicenter of Japanese culture and is also a very big stage, gathering 50,000 visitors. This fact means that the impression of Japan that Australians have is becoming better and better. One of the reasons for this can be the Japanese who reside in Australia. Around 32,000 Japanese people live in the city of Sydney and half of those are permanent residents. Interacting with these Japanese people on a daily basis might have contributed to and increased the positive impression of Japan. As a consul-general, I attend various events and I often feel that people from other countries consider Japan a conscientious and sincere country. Such an image is a sort of a badge of honor that Japanese people have established. Therefore, I would like young people to kindly take over this mantel. In that sense, the Matsuri festival is a great opportunity to introduce energetic Japanese culture with the younger generations. I really hope that Australians who will visit the Matsuri will enjoy the festival a lot with young Japanese people.