• Music is the Bridge Between Latvia and Japan

    [From August Issue 2015]

    Dace PENKE
    Wife of the Ambassador of the Republic of Latvia
    Located in Northern Europe, the Baltic state of Latvia gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Mrs. Dace PENKE has been living in Tokyo since her husband, Mr. Normans PENKE, was stationed in Japan on September 2013 as the Ambassador of Latvia. She studied architecture at university and finds Tokyo’s combination of traditional and modern very interesting.
    When she has time, she goes to exhibitions at galleries and attends craft classes and workshops. She is particularly impressed with the transportation system in Tokyo. “I can go anywhere by train, subway, and bus. It is amazing! However, the only challenge for me is the language barrier, as I’ve found that not so many Japanese speak English. Learning Japanese is not an easy task, but I try to do my best,” she says.
    So many things have impressed her in Japan. For example, fresh and delicious Japanese food, sushi, and sashimi are her favorite dishes. She talked about a special experience at a traditional Japanese restaurant in Kagurazaka where she ate Japanese kaiseki.
    “The attention to detail, the presentation of the food, the seasonal and local food, the food textures, the service, and so on, is amazing. I saw a geisha performance for the first time, and I really felt the hospitality of the Japanese in this traditional setting. Japanese hospitality is something we want to introduce in my country. Japan’s old traditions, like wearing kimono, tea ceremonies, traditional crafts, and its many religious ceremonies, are still alive. I hope that these traditions will be practiced for many years to come. One of the strengths of the Japanese people is the way they keep traditions alive,” she says.

    Speaking of Latvia, the four cornerstones of the Latvian economy are agriculture, chemical industries, logistics, and woodworking. Other prominent sectors include textiles, food processing, machine production, and green technologies. Innovations made in Latvia are highly appreciated by world markets. Recently Latvia has been focusing on design.
    “The Latvian Embassy in Japan just organized the Latvian Design and art week in Minami Aoyama at the gallery Athalie, and it was very successful. Art and design traditions are very strong in Latvia; rooted in traditional craftsmanship, they also draw on contemporary global trends. Many young Latvian designers that have been studying abroad are now coming back to Latvia and expressing their creativity in amazing ways. I really want to promote such things to Japan,” says Mrs. Penke.
    “The most important national festival of the year is Jani (Summer Solstice Festival). On this day, the cities empty, and every civil servant and bank clerk shows their pagan side. It started out as an ancient fertility festival celebrated after sowing the crops and before gathering the harvest. Families get together in their countryside homes. They make bouquets and wreaths out of herbs, flowers, and leaves. Women traditionally wear flower wreaths, while men have theirs made of oak leaves or twigs.”
    “The livestock and fences are adorned with wreaths. Gates and rooms are decorated with birch, oak, and rowan branches. Latvians sing, dance, eat, and are merry during Jani. Cheese with caraway seeds, meat patties, and beer is a must for every table. People light bonfires and celebrate until sunrise. Romantic couples leave the crowds to look for the ‘flower of the fern,’ which is alleged to bloom only on the night of Jani,” says Mrs. Penke.

    “The Latvian folk singing tradition is more than a thousand years old, and those folk songs are deeply connected with our spirit. For Latvian people singing and music is not just a form of entertainment but the core of our identity and one of the most important reasons why Latvia, a small nation, was able to preserve its language and culture for many centuries. These factors also played a major role when Latvia first gained independence in 1918 and re-gained it after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.”
    “These folk song texts are called dines and come in a format of four short lines. Dainas can be sung as songs or recited as short poems. About 1.2 million dines with 300,000 different melodies have been identified. Our drains have been included in UNESCO’s Memory of the World list. Being brief forms of expression, dines and haiku have something in common,” she says.
    “The musical relationship between Japan and Latvia is very active. “More than ten years ago, the Latvia Japan Music Association was established by Japanese people who had visited Latvia and been impressed by Latvia and its music. One of the most interesting things is that there is a choir called Gaisma (Light), where Japanese men and women from the association sing Latvian songs in the Latvian language.”
    “Ms. KATO Tokiko’s song ‘A Million Roses’ became a big hit. This song was composed by the Latvian composer Mr. Raimonds PAULS. Culture is the bridge between nations that reflect that we all share the same core human values. At a basic level, we are all the same, with the same aspirations for peace, freedom, and happiness,” says Mrs. Penke.


    The people in Latvia appreciate nature. “I recommend that the Japanese visit my beautiful country. A must-see is the capital city of Riga which has more than 400 Art Nouveau buildings. It has been named one of the most attractive tourism destinations in the world by leading newspapers. The wonderful old town – old Riga – is 800 years old and is on the UNESCO heritage list.”
    “The seaside town, Jurmala, with more than 500 kilometers of pristine white sand beach, is beautiful. If you want to see an old castle, Sigulda has great views of a river and valley. I also recommend Cesis, an 800-year-old castle town.”
    “It takes about 14 hours from Tokyo to Riga via Helsinki. In Latvia a lot of information is available online and printed material is available for tourists. Every city has a tourist information bureau with maps and clear explanations, mostly in English. There are several companies specializing in attracting tourists to Latvia from Japan. So please come to Latvia,” she says.
    Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Japan[2015年8月号掲載記事]

    時間があるときにはギャラリーへ行ったり、工芸教室やワークショップに参加したりします。東京の交通システムには特に感銘を受けています。「電車、地下鉄、バスでどこへでも行くことができるのは驚きです! でも、英語を話せる日本人はそう多くないので、言葉の壁を乗り越えるのが大変です。日本語を学ぶのは容易ではありませんが、ベストをつくしています」と夫人は言います。




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  • Japan Has “Bushido,” While Albania Has “Besa”




    ジロカストラアルバニアの観光ポリシーは、アルバニア流のおもてなしです。毎年5千人の日本人観光客が来ますが、アルバニアと日本の旅行会社との協力でこれからはもっと増えていくでしょう。日本人はビサなしで入国できます。バルカン半島観光のピーク時には「Balkan Schengen」が適用されます。この協定によって日本からだけでなく世界のどの国の観光客も国内を自由に移動できます。

    文:片野順子[:en][From July Issue 2015]

    Wife of Albanian Ambassador to Japan
    Reko DIDA
    This is the fifth year I’ve been residing in Japan. I have experience living in Japan as I’ve just stated, that is why I do not have any particular difficulties living in Japan. I am enjoying every single aspect of Japan: everyday life, culture, food, transportation, even the language, and my work here in Japan. I think that all foreigners have initial difficulties when they come to Japan because of the cultural differences; participation in cultural events is the best approach for speeding up understanding and for getting used to these differences.
    Japan is a country of advanced technology and of tradition. Besides tradition, cleanliness and tidiness are noticeable in every aspect of everyday life. I was also impressed by the elegance and style of kimono and traditional Japanese food. The same thing can also be seen in buildings, as Japan is one of the seismic hotspots of the world: Japanese people have learned to defy nature itself with their wonderful skyscrapers.
    When I came to Japan it was the season for the Tanabata and Bon Odori festivals. These events immediately attracted me and I decided to find out more about Japanese heritage and did that through learning the Japanese language.
    And through those events like “Mikoshi Matsuri,” “Nebuta Matsuri” in Aomori, or ”Kitsune no Yomeiri” in Kyoto, one learns a lot about the vitality and sense of community in Japanese society, as well as about Japanese perceptions of history and about the traditions of ancient Japan. I still have an affinity for the “shinto” feeling that came over me when I participated at the Kitsune no Yomeiri.
    The worst experience I had here was on March 11, 2011, when the great earthquake happened in Eastern Japan. We are a small embassy and community here, but we felt we needed to stay to support our friends in Sendai (Miyagi Prefecture) and wherever else this natural disaster affected people. Therefore, I decided to publish my work. This was the first Japanese-Albanian dictionary, which took me ten years to make and was made available at the start of 2012.

    At the Nebuta FestivalWhen I first came to Japan I used to live in Sendai; one of the first things that impressed me about Japan was the kindness and hospitality of the Japanese people. As I started to adapt to Japanese life, I was able to notice more about the wonders of Japan. And I realized that it was all due to the hard work and dedication the Japanese people put into their homeland.The things that I would like my country to adopt is the diligence and punctuality that Japanese people display in their work.
    One of the charms of Albania is its unspoiled nature. Seventy percent of the land is mountainous. Albania has a variety of natural landscapes such as the coast alongside the Adriatic and Ionian seas, beautiful Alps located in northern Albania, rich forests, natural rivers and fields.
    I would like to recommend three of Albania’s best sightseeing spots. These are cities registered by UNESCO as World Heritage sites. We have the cities of Gjirokastra – also known as “the city of stone” – and Berat, which is known as the “city of a thousand windows.” These cities are still inhabited. The third one is the ruins of Butrinti. Butrinti was an ancient city that prospered in the Roman era.
    As for food, I would like to mention the grilled fish with salt and lemon sauce that is served in our coastal areas and the fried lamb of our inland areas. All the food is served with Albanian olives, olive oil, and white cheese. For those that like strong drink, Albania has its own traditional beverage called “raki” which is made from grapes.

    GjirokastraOur policy is to facilitate tourism through Albanian hospitality. We have about 5,000 Japanese tourists per year, a number that is likely to increase because of the successful cooperation between Albanian and Japanese tour operators. Japanese tourists can enter Albania without a visa. During the peak season in the Balkan Peninsula, the “Balkan Schengen” applies; this facilitates the free movement of tourists not only from Japan, but also from other part of the world.
    Diplomatic relations between Albania and Japan date back to before the First World War. Albania declared its independence from the Ottoman Empire and Japan acknowledged its independence in 1922. Unfortunately the relationship was not developed further. Relations were restarted in 1987 and developed further when Albania became a democratic country and solidified its relationship with the opening of the Albanian Embassy in Japan in November 2005. Today Albania and Japan have intensive bilateral relations, through technical cooperation with the JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), by supporting each other in international organizations.
    I see a lot of parallels between Albania and Japan. For example, we share the same geographical latitude, and the climate here for me is the same as home. In terms of character, Albanians have the institution of “besa” (keeping a promise) and Japanese have the institution of “bushido” (a code of honor developed by samurai).
    Of course we are different as well. We generally use bread instead of rice in our daily lives. We eat raw fish carpaccio style (sliced with lemon, salt and olive oil), which is different from “sushi and sashimi.” When we nod our heads it means the opposite to what it does in Japan, so many times people mistake a yes for a no.

    Ionian SeaI like spending my free time photographing aspects of everyday life in Japan. That is why I always keep a camera with me so I can photograph every interesting moment that I come across every day. More than anything I like visiting Mount Fuji and taking pictures of each side of it. I also like exploring Tokyo by bicycle.
    One of Japan’s greatest treasures is its people, it is they who build and maintain the culture of their country. I think that it is important to take care of your own people as they are the ones who bring prosperity to your land. This is something that not only Japanese people should do, but also people in the rest of the world.
    Embassy of the Republic of Albania in Japan
    Text: KATANO Junko[:]

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  • In Oman it’s also Customary to Remove Shoes in the Home

    [From April Issue 2015]

    After sustaining damage in the Great East Japan Earthquake and going through the disaster of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, in March 2011 a manufacturer in Fukushima Prefecture received an order worth 2.6 billion yen for water purifiers. The order came with a message: “You can use the water purifiers in areas affected by the disaster before delivery.” “It was the least support our country could offer to our friends in Japan,” says Abeer A. AISHA, wife of the Ambassador of Oman, modestly.
    Mrs. Aisha arrived in Japan in January 2008. “My husband visited Japan in 1994 and had a homestay experience with a Japanese family. He was treated very well by his host family, almost like a real son. I’d also heard from my acquaintances that Japanese people were very kind. Our daughter got very ill during the flight to Japan, so she went straight to a hospital upon arrival. She was very well taken care of, so well that it made me understand just how good Japanese people are.”
    Japan is the first country she’d been posted to as an ambassador’s wife. “I like casual socializing; formal situations aren’t my cup of tea. So I was very nervous when we paid a visit to the Imperial Palace,” she says. “When the Empress spoke to us, she was quite friendly even though the meeting was rather formal. I was anxious, but she made me relax.”
    Mrs. Aisha attends official ceremonies and is required to socialize and take part in activities not only with Japanese, but also with diplomats and ambassadors’ wives from other countries. “At first, I felt under pressure when people paid attention to me, my dress and my speech,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I got homesick because back home I always spend a lot of time with my parents and sisters.”

    City of Nizwa

    “It was thanks to my work experience for a bank in Oman that I got over my homesickness,” says Mrs. Aisha. “I dealt with so many types of people, including fishermen, merchants and businessmen, that I became open as a person. We have many foreigners that work in our country, so the culture is international. That’s why I’ve learned to deal with people from different countries in a friendly and polite manner, I think. My husband and children and the friends I made in Japan cured my homesickness, and I ended up becoming a stronger person, as I kept saying to myself that it was all for my family and country.”
    “My first concern about living in Japan was our children,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Before coming to Japan, we were posted in the UK for six months. Our children were 15, 13 and eight years old. We moved twice in such a short time that it must have been hard for them to get used to their new schools and make new friends. I was relieved they were fortunately transferred to good schools here in Japan and they adapted quite well.”
    She had a hard time with the language and with food. As a Muslim, she consumes neither pork nor alcohol. “There were few expatriates in the area where we first lived. So supermarkets there had very few products with English labels. I didn’t know which ones to buy from those that didn’t have English on. My daughter and I once gave up and went home without buying anything,” she says.
    “My daughter loved potato chips sold at the convenience stores, but once she learned enough Japanese at school to read the ingredients, she was disappointed to find out that some pork-derived ingredients were used. That said, Islam is a flexible religion, so it’s not a problem if you ate something without knowing,” says Mrs. Aisha. “We have no more problems now as our chef cooks for us at home and we have a few international stores with English labels near to the embassy. I myself have learned some Japanese phrases such as ‘I can’t eat pork,’” she laughs.


    Bahla Citadel

    The punctuality of the Japanese and the fact that things are planned several months in advance were pleasant surprises for her. “Whenever we go home to Oman during summer holidays, our relatives suggest we stay longer. Everyone’s surprised when I tell them we have to return because we already have plans for September. I suppose Japanese punctuality comes from the fact that they were raised to respect and value the importance of time. The Japanese way of doing things is good for living comfortably,” she says.
    Located in the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, Oman is a country that has prospered from maritime trade since ancient times. A member of Oman’s royal family has Japanese blood and the country is well known for its friendliness towards Japanese. Historical buildings such as the Bahla and Nizwa Forts, the Royal Palace, and mosques are popular with tourists. Although the Middle East is a region unfamiliar to most Japanese, its resorts are well-known in Europe. Oman’s beaches are teeming with foreign tourists enjoying their vacations.
    “Most Japanese must think Oman is a desert country,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Of course, our desert is enormous, but we also have beautiful beaches and oases. The climate in the mountains is good throughout the year and marvelous resorts are everywhere. It’s a stable and safe country security-wise, so please do come for sightseeing. Cherry trees presented by Japan blossom every February in Oman’s Jabal Akhdar. We also have Japanese gardens.”
    “You can enjoy wonderful cuisine in Oman. As many traditional dishes use rice and fish, Japanese people will feel at home, I think. Besides, Oman is a country with lots of international influences. From Lebanese food, to Indian, to Southeast Asian, to Western, and to fast food, we have all kinds of restaurants where you can taste delicacies from both the sea and the land.”



    “Oman produces a fragrant resin called frankincense. The quality of Oman’s frankincense is the highest in the world and its trade has a very long history. Omanis not only burn it, but also chew it like chewing gum, drink it in liquid form and use it for skin care. Nowadays perfumes, body creams, and lotions are made from frankincense. Oman’s dates are also of very high quality.”
    “The Omanis and the Japanese have a lot in common: our hospitality, respect for elders, and the way we take off our shoes before entering the home and sit on the floor. What’s more, Japanese wash their hands at the entrance when they go to a Shinto shrine, don’t they? That’s like us, too; we Muslims also wash our hands before praying,” says Mrs. Aisha. “Oman is a wonderful country. I’m sure tourists would return to visit again.”
    Oman Embassy
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo
    Photos courtesy by KOSUGI Yurika[2015年4月号掲載記事]





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  • A Similar Sense of Hospitality

    [From February Issue 2015]

    Ambassador of the Republic of Azerbaijan
    in Japan
    “Before I came to Japan, I imagined that since it’s a developed country, all the windows would open and shut electronically. But conditions in the rooms of the lodging house I rented as an international student were surprisingly different from what I had imagined: they were very small, the toilet was shared, and we had to go to the public bath to take a bath,” says Ambassador Gursel ISMAYILZADA in perfect Japanese.
    The Ambassador started working at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1993, but went to Japan in October of 1996, as a graduate student. “After graduating from Baku University in my home country, I received a scholarship from Japan and studied Japanese at Tsukuba University for six months. After that I went on to receive a master’s degree and doctorate at Sophia University. In January of 2005 I returned home, but wanting to give something back to the country that had facilitated my studies, I returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in September of that year I started working as a diplomat at the newly-established Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in Japan.
    Located on the west coast of the Caspian Sea, Azerbaijan gained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. “My country opened an embassy in Japan in 2005. After getting involved with the establishment of the embassy, I first worked as counsellor and then became an ambassador. The fact I could speak Japanese was a huge advantage in my career as a diplomat.”
    When the ambassador was a student, there was no Japanese program at Baku University. “After I decided to study abroad in Japan I found some textbooks – which were mostly in Russian and English – and spent a few months studying Japanese on my own. The Azerbaijani language has more vowels than Japanese, and the word order is similar, so learning to speak Japanese wasn’t too difficult. But learning to read and write hiragana and katakana along with the many kanji, was quite a struggle,” he recalls.
    He quickly became accustomed to the food and customs of Japan. “Japanese food is healthy and simple. Kaiseki (a traditional multi-course meal) is exquisite. My favorite dishes are yakitori and shabushabu,” he says with a smile. “I also quickly got accustomed how to use the Japanese public bath. I am the type of person who wants to experience everything and was able to adapt,” he adds.
    “Before coming to Japan, I thought the Japanese were very serious and diligent, living like monks in a monastery. But once I got there, I saw all the comedy and rakugo (traditional comic storytelling) on TV. Although students took their studies very seriously on campus, at night they would go out drinking, even with the professors. Then they were right back in class the following day with the same serious faces again, which was amazing,” he laughs.
    “By living in Japan, I’ve deepened my knowledge of Japanese culture,” he says. “For instance, I learned the difference between giri (obligation) and gimu (duty) from reading Ruth BENEDICT’s ‘The Chrysanthemum and the Sword.’ But after coming here and interacting with Japanese people, there came a point at which I realized what ‘obligation’ truly meant. I gained a deeper understanding of what was going on in ‘Black Rain’ – a movie set in Japan – when I watched it again after returning to Japan.”
    “The best quality of the Japanese is the way they work together. I want to learn more about this from them,” says the ambassador. “When the Tohoku disaster occurred, I heard the news in my home country and it greatly saddened me, but at the same time I knew that Japan would quickly get back on its feet again. In fact, at Sendai Airport, which had been damaged by the tsunami, partial service was restored within just one month after the disaster. The teamwork of Japanese people is truly astonishing.”
    “On top of that, Japanese people are gourmets. I think that in Tokyo, you can eat better Italian food than in Italy and better French cuisine than in France. Tokyo has more Michelin stars than anywhere else. Japan’s other attractions include its unique cultural traditions such as kabuki,” the ambassador says.
    “The people of Japan and Azerbaijan are alike in both friendliness and hospitality. My country is just about the size of Hokkaido. You can get around the whole country in a short amount of time, so please come visit it. I recommend trying dolma, which is mutton wrapped in grape leaves with yogurt dressing. The cheese and kebabs are also delicious, and each locality has its own unique pilaf.”
    Azerbaijan is a country rich in high grade petroleum and natural gas. “Because the petroleum is close to the surface, there are places where fires burn continuously. I think that’s probably why the fire-worshipping Zoroaster religion originated here, and it’s said that even the name of the country derives from fire. My country is at the crossroads of the East and the West. Boasting numerous historical buildings, part of the capital, Baku, has been designated a World Heritage site.
    “My country gained its independence in 1918 for two years, becoming the first democratic republic in the Islamic world. During that time, women were given the right to vote. Then, Azerbaijan became a part of the Soviet Union in 1920, and religion was prohibited. The majority of citizens are Muslim, but Azerbaijan is a secular country,” the ambassador states.
    “The people of Azerbaijan are very pro-Japanese,” says the ambassador. “During the Soviet Era, ISHIKAWA Takuboku’s haiku about the suffering caused by poverty were often read for propaganda purposes. This fostered pro-Japanese sentiment amongst the people. In today’s market economy, they admire Japan as a country that has achieved high economic growth, and Japanese-made cosmetics are a huge hit with women. Anime is popular among the youth,” says the ambassador.
    “Japanese martial arts are very popular. There are many people practicing judo and karate, and in the Beijing Olympics an Azerbaijani won a gold medal in judo. The Sumo Federation has a presence in Azerbaijan, with wrestlers competing in international sumo tournaments. Eventually there will be Azerbaijani sumo wrestlers in Japanese professional sumo. If that happens, I would love to give them their sumo names,” the Ambassador says expectantly.
    “Lastly, I’d like tell non-Japanese readers studying Japanese that you made the right decision. Japanese is a language worth learning,” says the ambassador. “Interacting with Japanese people is the best way to improve your Japanese. It’s difficult to learn the difference between ageru (give) and morau (receive/be given) from a textbook, but you can grasp it through actual conversation with Japanese people. Please do come to Japan and converse with Japanese people as much as you can,” says the ambassador.

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2015年2月号掲載記事]






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  • A Shared Passion for Baseball

    [From January Issue 2015]

    Hector DOMINGUEZ
    Ambassador for the Dominican Republic
    When I was in the Dominican Republic, I had the impression that Japan was a great country with both political and economic power. In 2013, I’d received an offer from our President to be posted as ambassador to a different country, but I personally told him I wanted to go to Japan. If I had gone to a country in South America, my connections and language skills would have made things easier, but sensing that there was a potential for trade with Japan to grow, I took up the challenge.
    Since I arrived, my impression of Japan has improved even more. The buildings and railways are good, but above all else, I thought that the people were wonderful; everyone is modest and very polite. I highly value that.
    I like all Japanese food. It’s healthy. I would probably be slimmer if I only ate Japanese cuisine. My wife and I often go out to Japanese restaurants and whenever we have guests from our country, we take them to eat out. They all appreciate the variety and delicious taste of Japanese cuisine.
    I’ve visited many parts of Japan in my first year here. I liked them all. I discovered two positive aspects of Japan while traveling to those places. Firstly, marvelous historical landmarks, such as castles and old houses, have been preserved. Secondly, wherever you go in the country, there’s always a modern infrastructure.
    The place I’m now interested in visiting is Hokkaido. I want to go and see the snow, which we don’t have in our country. I also want to see more of Tokyo. I want to go to places like Asakusa, to get in touch with its artistic and cultural side.
    I think Japanese people are passionate about maintaining the cleanliness of their cities. That’s great. Nothing is particularly problematic for me in Japan. The lifestyle is very convenient. My only regret is I came here with my wife. Joking aside, I think Japanese women are graceful and very attractive.
    I believe that Japan and the Dominican Republic have two things in common. The first thing is the people. The people of both countries do their best each day to fulfill their ambitions. The second thing is baseball. Japan and the Dominican Republic are the only countries that have been world champions in the World Baseball Classic tournament. The Dominican Republic is the current champion.
    I believe our two countries will in the future become closer, not only through trade, but also through scientific, cultural, and political exchanges. Prime Minister ABE has made statements to the effect that he is paying particular attention to Latin America. We’re hoping to strengthen ties with Japan. There are many Dominican companies that want to do business with Japan.
    The year 2014 is the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the Dominican Republic. To commemorate this we have organized all kinds of events. The year 2015 will mark the 80th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and the five countries of Central America (Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica). We Dominicans intend to play our part as a member of the Central American Integration System.
    The most attractive feature of the Dominican Republic is its people. We are all open-minded and hospitable to foreigners. Our country receives the greatest number of tourists in the Central American and Caribbean area. Our population is about ten million and we receive about five million tourists a year. So that we’ll have more tourists from Japan, I’m working hard to develop ties with companies in Japan’s tourism industry.
    The Dominican Republic occupies the largest portion of the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The climate is pleasant all year round. Superb beaches and beach resorts are dotted along the whole coastline. It’s so beautiful that it’s been likened to “a piece of blue sky.” Legend has it that when he arrived in Hispaniola in 1492, COLUMBUS remarked, “I bet no one has ever seen such natural beauty.”
    Our country is rich in natural resources such as nickel and bauxite. Our GDP comes from tourism, agriculture and mining, and 4% of this is invested in education. Education is the key to a country’s development. We learned that from Japan.
    I once appeared in a TV commercial that was shown in Daiei – a Japanese supermarket. It was advertising mangos from the Dominican Republic. On the subject of food, I should say that our tropical fruits – mango and bananas and so forth – are very delicious and so are our avocados, honey and casabe crackers.
    Please everyone go and visit the Dominican Republic, the most beautiful country in the world. Once you go there, you’ll certainly be captivated. We’ll be waiting for you.

    Interview: KONO Yu[2015年1月号掲載記事]






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  • 不屈の精神を持つ日本人とポーランド人

    [From Decemberber Issue 2014]

    Wife of the Republic of Poland Ambassador to Japan
    “Poland has been through hard times in history; the territory was carved up by other countries and we suffered tremendous damage in WWII,” says Iwona KOZACZEWSKA. “We’ve nevertheless managed to rebuild and develop. The Poles are a nation that unites in adversity and can cooperate and strive for reconstruction. I believe we share this national character trait with Japanese. Our two peoples also have a similar sensitivity to music. The Polish musician Fryderyk CHOPIN is popular in both countries.”
    Kozaczewska came to Japan in August 2012. “I was surprised by the heat and humidity of Japan’s summer. In Poland, the temperature in summer can rise close to 30°C, but it’s dry and pleasant,” she says. “I also had a hard time in Japanese cities because few streets have names. The subway at the beginning was very complicated, too.”
    “When I get lost and open a map, however, a Japanese person immediately speaks to me to help me out,” Kozaczewska says with a smile. “Just the other day, I got lost while trying to walk on my own to the nearest station from our embassy. Almost immediately, a young Japanese lady offered me her assistance in getting to the station,” says Kozaczewska. “That kind of hospitability, too, reminds me of Poland.”
    She has no difficulty as far as Japanese food is concerned. “Japanese food is great. I love soy sauce, okonomiyaki and miso soup. My husband always laughs because I get hungry and want to eat something as soon as we go out,” says Kozaczewska. “I often go to a conveyor belt sushi restaurant in Shibuya with my two daughters and I really enjoy the choice of ingredients. I was warned by many friends to be careful with nattou as its taste and smell are too much for non-Japanese to handle, but I thought it was interesting to taste it.”



    She has no difficulty with raising her children in Japan, either. “In whatever country we are in, what we should teach and what we should tell them are the same,” says Kozaczewska. “It is also wonderful that they are having this opportunity to actually experience such an exciting country as Japan.”
    Kozaczewska often travels around Japan with her family. “When we went to Hokkaido, one of our daughters was delighted. She said it was as if we were in Poland. The climate and landscape did indeed resemble our country,” says Kozaczewska.
    “Last year, our family traveled to Hiroshima and Nagasaki to attend the A-bomb commemoration ceremonies. We learned about the tragedies caused by the atomic bombs and while traveling, we saw aspects of Japan – like the Japanese way of life – that you wouldn’t find in guide books. We decided to go there by car so that we could explore as many places in Japan as possible. The trip was long, but very meaningful,” she says. “Our daughters were happy that we stopped by Iga, the ninja town. Our elder daughter was particularly interested because she is called Iga herself.”
    Japan has a lot of wonderful things that I’d like to take home to Poland: Japanese discipline and politeness; the attachment to tradition; beautiful kimono… Bonsai look spectacular. I’m also attracted to the beauty of pine trees. I found the ones at the Imperial Palace particularly fantastic. If I took home everything I liked in Japan, I’d be stopped at customs because there’s just too much,” she says smiling.


    Tatra Mountains

    “On the other hand, what I’d like to bring to Japan from Poland is food,” says Kozaczewska with a smile. “We presented Polish donuts, soup and smoked goat cheese at the recent Polish Festival at Roppongi Hills. They sold out right away. They are hard to find in Japan, so you should definitely eat them if you travel to Poland,” she says.
    “I’m sure Japanese nature lovers will like Poland,” says Kozaczewska. “Poland still has primeval forest where European bison and storks live. The forests are full of mushrooms, so you can enjoy gathering them. In the Lake District, you can take boat cruises from lake to lake, as well as go fishing.”
    “You can enjoy yachting and cruising on the northern Baltic coast, which is also known for its beautiful white beaches. The sand is so fine that even patterns created by the wind are beautiful. A lot of amber nuggets wash ashore on its beaches. As a child, I used to pick them up to present to my grandmother,” she says nostalgically.
    “Poland also has lots of things of cultural interest,” says Kozaczewska. “Lazienkowski Park in the capital of Warsaw has the Palace on the Water as well as a famous statue of Chopin. Concerts are often held there. Many historical wooden churches are preserved in Małopolska and the Carpathians as they are listed as World Heritage Sites.”


    Palace on the Water in Lazienki Park

    “In the old capital of Krakow, there’s a museum of Japanese art and technology called ‘Manggha.’ Japanese comics are very popular with young people in Poland, too, but the Manggha of that museum has a different meaning,” says Kozaczewska, laughing. “Feliks JASIENSKI collected Japanese art, including ukyoe. He liked to be called by the nickname Manggha. The museum came to be called Manggha because it contains his collection. The film director Andrzej WAJDA, who’s known to be a Japanophile, was heavily involved with the construction of that museum.”
    “Additionally, Wroclaw in southwestern Poland has a Japanese-style garden. As you can see, Poland has a lot of attractions and things related to Japan, so please come and visit. Our economic development in recent years has been remarkable and the streets are full of life,” says Kozaczewska.
    “I would advise those foreigners studying the Japanese language to spend as much time as possible in Japan,” says Kozaczewska. “Japan has so many sides to it that it’s impossible to see everything in a short time. They should not only see the skyscrapers, Shibuya and tourist spots that are often shown on TV, they should also explore the back streets on foot. They’ll see that exotic Japanese scenes really exist, scenes that Europeans have seen only in children’s books.”
    Photos courtesy of the Polish Embassy’s Tourism Office
    Text: SAZAKI Ryo[2014年12月号掲載記事]





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  • 日本について話すたびに日本を好きに

    [From Novemberber Issue 2014]

    Karine LIEBAUT,
    Wife of the Belgian Ambassador to Japan
    My husband came to Japan on the 16th of March, 2011, five days after the East Japan earthquake, because he felt that it was then that it would provide moral support to the Belgian community in Japan. For practical reasons I came to Japan one month later, in April. It was terrible to come at that time and see what had happened. I had never experienced an earthquake and there were still aftershocks, but I got used to it gradually.
    Language is the only problem for me in daily life in Japan. The transportation system is very organized. Once you have your PASMO (IC card), a plan of the metro and know all the lines, it’s no problem. In the stations, there’s always somebody who can help you. They speak a little bit of English and know enough to explain to you which train to take. Shopping is not a problem. In the supermarket, sometimes, the lack of English is sometimes a little difficult. But many times, Japanese people understand what we are asking.
    Regarding Japanese people, a lot of people might think that Japanese people are very reserved. It’s true, but they are also very open. I can talk to my Japanese friends about anything. It’s not like they are holding things back, so for me, this is an aspect I haven’t experienced.
    Then there’s the civic sense of Japanese people. In Japan, there is a huge respect for everything: for people, society, rules, and for things in general. They show respect for other people by not throwing litter on the floor, thus keeping the environment clean. This is something we’ve lost in Europe.

    Christmas in Brussels © www.milo-profi.be/Visit Flanders

    Christmas in Brussels
    © www.milo-profi.be/Visit Flanders

    I would say that one thing Japan could learn from us is how to have a more relaxed atmosphere in schools: the schools children go to here are too strict. In Europe, it’s a little bit more relaxed.
    I certainly think that the security in Japan is wonderful. In the West, in some parts of our major cities, there is a growing feeling of insecurity. Here, I feel there is 100% security. I think this comes from having a respectful attitude to others.
    In Belgium people are very nice. They like to go out, they enjoy life, and they’re hospitable. I think we’re generous. We don’t open our doors right away, but once we know people, we’re very open. As we speak two or three languages, this facilitates communication with other cultures.


    Historic buildings overlook the river in Ghent
    © Joost Joossen

    The center of our cities have beautiful terraces and museums. When you think of the Flemish artists, some of the best artists in the world come to mind. We excel at modern art and modern dance.
    We are a very creative country. We have good architects and beautiful modern design. So for a small country with 11 and a half million inhabitants, we really have a lot to offer. Also, in certain respects, we have two cultures: part Flemish and part French. These two cultures make the country richer.
    Home to the EU, NATO and numerous embassies, Brussels is an international city. You can hear a wonderful mix of languages in Brussels, Swedish, Spanish, Italian, as well as French and Dutch. This creates an international atmosphere. It has a very international cultural life because there are plays in Dutch, English, and French. All movies are shown as soon as they’re released. Food is one of the Belgium’s top attractions.
    The housing is very beautiful. You can live in a wonderful villa just outside of Brussels and commute every day. It’s a small country so we can go to Germany, France, and Holland. Paris is just one hour, 20 minutes by train. People can travel all over. One problem in Belgium is the traffic. A lot of trucks pass through the country in transit.


    The Great Market Square of Antwerp
    © Antwerp Tourism & Congres

    We have a lot of nice little cities. Of course Bruges, which is like walking through a museum. I think a lot of Japanese people don’t know Ghent; a city not far from Bruges and Brussels. This university city, where I studied, is very lively. It has canals, beautiful houses and paintings.
    Antwerp is beautiful with its cathedrals, and the house of Rubens. Antwerp has a different mindset from other cities; because it has always been an important port, people are a bit more cosmopolitan and open.
    The south of Belgium is the French speaking part. Namur is a beautiful little city. It is hilly and very green. The food is great; you can eat game in small restaurants in season. It’s nice to do sports and hunting there.
    The coastline and the sea are beautiful. It’s a grey sea with white beaches. There, you can cycle. A lot of apartments have been constructed along the coastline. I think all Belgians are especially fond of the coast, because it’s where many people spend their summer holidays.
    In the end, I realize how much I love Japan when I talk about it. I take lessons in ikebana and sumi-e. I like flower arranging myself, so I enjoy going to the flower shop and making my own arrangements for the house. I hope Japanese people appreciate what a wonderful country they have.
    Photos courtesy of Tourist Office for Flanders & Brussels, Belgium
    Interview:TONEGAWA Masanori[2014年11月号掲載記事]





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  • 家族を大切にするエジプト人と日本人


    Hisham EL-ZIMAITY,
    Egyptian Ambassador to Japan
    “I once asked someone why the Egyptian vegetable tussa jute or molokhia is so popular in Japan. She answered, ‘because Tussa jute contains umami, a taste Japanese are fond of.’ Egypt is a distant country from Japan, but there are some things we have in common,” smiles the ambassador Hisham EL-ZIMAITY.
    The ambassador came to Japan in September 2011. “I soon got used to life in Japan,” he recalls. “I like to try out foods from different countries. Japanese dishes are all delicious. My big favorites are teppan-yaki (cuisine fried on a hotplate) and sushi. Kobe beef is also great,” he says. “The Japanese language is hard, though. I don’t have enough time for study, so unfortunately I still can’t speak it.”
    The ambassador has visited many places in Japan including Nara, Kyoto, Osaka and Fukushima. “Wherever I go, I’m impressed with people’s self-discipline. In addition, Japanese people are capable of acting as a group. Such virtues were apparent at the time of the Great East Japan Earthquake and when the stadium (stands) were cleaned up by Japanese supporters after the World Cup soccer matches. I think Egyptians could learn something from this,” he says.
    The ambassador has also been to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. “Those atomic bomb tragedies should never happen again,” he says with a sad face. “In Egypt, our Foreign Minister releases a statement every August 6 saying that it’s important never to use nuclear weapons again. We’d like to work alongside Japan in order to abolish nuclear, biological and chemical weapons,” he says.


    The sphinx

    “I also like the honest hardworking spirit of the Japanese,” says the ambassador. “And Japanese people don’t hesitate to venture out into the world to learn about other cultures. Japanese are among the world’s best violinists and pianists in classical music. This is also impressive.”
    “Japanese and Egyptians have some things in common,” says the ambassador. “For example, we all cherish family values. I’ve heard that Japanese children often don’t leave their parents’ home until they are married. It’s the same in Egypt. When I go out to restaurants on weekends, I see young people who come to enjoy their time with their parents. I’ve also witnessed situations in which everyone listens respectfully once an older person starts talking. I think it’s just like that in Egypt.”
    According to the ambassador, good hygiene is another thing Japanese and Egyptians have in common. “Cleanness is important for Muslims, so we wash before prayers five times a day. I’m under the impression that it’s important also for the Japanese.” He says they’re also alike in the way they incorporate different cultures into their own. “In Japan, people wear all kinds of fashions. Some, however, try to preserve traditions by wearing kimono.”
    “In Egypt, more people wear Western clothes in urban areas, but in the countryside, people still dress traditionally,” says the ambassador. “People wear a garment called the jellabiya in the Nile Delta. On the Sinai Peninsula, their outfits resemble those worn by the Jordanian and Palestinian Bedouins. Western Egypt has a Libyan-influenced brownish costume. And in the very hot region of Nubia they wear white. I enjoy wearing something similar to the jellabiya on ceremonial occasions and suchlike.”


    The sea front at Alexandria

    With its numerous ancient sites, tourists flock to Egypt from all over the world. “Our country had the oldest kingdom in history,” says the ambassador. “Right now, the Great Egyptian Museum is being built near the Giza pyramids with help from Japan. When it’s completed, it’ll be a wonderful place where you can admire the long history of Egypt from the times of pharaohs, to Roman times, to Christian times, through to the Islamic era, finishing off with a panoramic view of the pyramids.”
    An issue for the tourism industry of Egypt is that (the country) has so many superb ancient sites that few people visit other tourist spots. “You can go diving in the Red Sea. You can enjoy fishing and all kinds of seafood dishes on the Mediterranean coast. Siwa, an oasis town in the middle of the desert, is believed to be the place where in the Temple of the oracle, Alexander the Great received the order from the god Ammun to rule Egypt and the rest of the world; and Queen Cleopatra enjoyed her baths. Also famous is the Ecolodge hotel, where you can experience the ancient lifestyle.”
    “Tourists spend a week in Egypt on average,” says the ambassador. It takes two days just to see the Valley of the Kings and other sites near Luxor, so we are now trying to come up with a strategy to encourage visitors to repeat their visits. We’d like them to visit ancient sites on their first trip and enjoy leisure activities and see Egyptian lifestyles on their subsequent trips.”
    In Egypt, you can sample dishes that were eaten in the times of pharaohs. “Onion, carrot, lentil beans, cabbage … these ancient vegetables are painted onto temple walls,” says the ambassador. “One of the common main dishes is Coshari – rice mixed with fried onion and macaroni. My suggestion would be kofta – ground meat grilled on metal skewers. The fava-bean paste we eat on Ramadan nights makes us full. I’d also recommend our dates.”


    The Suez Canal

    Besides tourism, one of Egypt’s main industries is the manufacturing of aluminum and cement products. Egyptian cotton is also well-known. “The tolls for the Suez Canal are important for Egypt. The bridge – which looks like “rainbow bridge” – Japan built in 2001 over the Suez Canal is helping us. Japan is also cooperating in the construction of a subway line.”
    The ambassador enjoys listening to music in his spare time. “I listen to a lot of rock, jazz and soul music. I often go to the jazz club called the Blue Note,” says the ambassador. “I also like reading. I’m now reading about Japanese history and trying to understand why the Meiji Restoration was achieved without much violence. I feel I understand today’s Japan better by learning its history.”
    “Egypt has been politically unstable for the past few years, but things have now returned to normal. Please choose Egypt as the destination of your next vacation,” concludes the ambassador. “We are looking forward to welcoming Japanese visitors along with people from around the world.”

    Text: SAZAKI Ryo






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