When the Irish became Japan's ambassadors

In the mists of diplomacy

30 Octobre 2013

This week’s event at SoFIA saw the participation of Mr Yuichi Yamada, Second Secretary of the Japanese Embassy to Ireland. Between his experience in Iraq and his new role as cultural affairs advisor in Dublin, Mr Yamada’s talk gave attendants a clear vision of Japan’s premier diplomatic role on the international stage.

Mr Yuichi Yamada | Credits -- Charlini de Almeida
Mr Yuichi Yamada | Credits -- Charlini de Almeida
Mr Yamada’s knowledge of international affairs started with his first role in the immigration bureau of the Japanese Ministry of Justice. As part of the Sapporo Regional Immigration Bureau, Mr Yamada spent 5 years taking care of administrative matters related to residence for foreigners in Japan. As far as this can be from the thrill of diplomatic negotiations which many a reader tends to get when mentioning the word “embassy”, his experience is here to remind us how essential and diversified the tasks an embassy can operate actually are. Thankfully, the thrill was still there when he was sent to the Netherlands.

As inexperienced about the country as he was at first, he soon became familiar with the problems Japanese tourists can experience in a city such as Amsterdam. From pickpocketing, passport renewal, luggage lifting, visa issues and cannabis-related problems, he could get a practical and global of the work of an embassy. His first experience of dealing with security matters came at the same time when Madrid first and London then were targets of terrorist attacks. While the term “home grown terrorism” slowly appeared in the media, Mr Yamada’s interest in security issues became stronger.

This interest led him to become a member of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in charge of Diplomatic Security for over two years. His tasks there included, among others, the analysis of threats to Japanese embassies and staff overseas, practical security courses directed to diplomats and the allocation of a security budget based on the analysis of the aforementioned threats. Among the countries Mr Yamada worked on was Iraq. And it soon became clear to him that this was where the diplomatic thrill really was.

After his time spent in the Ministry, his knowledge of diplomatic and security matters proved worth its gold as he was finally sent to Iraq to be in charge of the economic cooperation section alongside a few other diplomats. Foreign investment in Iraq was mostly directed to one field and that is oil extraction. Japan is no different and Mr Yamada’s tasks were mostly directed toward two objectives: the promotion of Iraq to Japanese investors and the implementation and follow-up of projects financed by the 5 billion USD the Japanese government allocated to the reconstruction in Iraq.

Japanese aid to the reconstruction was roughly to be divided into two ways during the 2003 Madrid Conference. Out of the 5 billion USD, 3.5 were to be paid under a Yen loan (i.e. this amount was to be reimbursed) while 1.5 billion USD was allocated under the form of grant aid. While the grant aid was mostly used for humanitarian needs (water, medical assistance), the 15 projects carried out under the loan were more developmental-related with issues dealing with electricity, oil/water, transportation, irrigation etc. The Japanese Official Development Assistance (ODA) charter highlights the importance of peace building, reconstruction and development in Japan’s international developmental role. However domestic politics are never to be forgotten in international matters and the importance of aid for trade is essential in understanding development concerns. It is no doubt that Japan’s development strategy in Iraq will also benefit future Japanese companies through the links and connections created by the staff at the embassy.

Among the projects promoted through the loan, Japan focuses on the installation of pipelines, connecting oil storage facilities to shipping facilities but also on the creation of new plants to improve oil refineries and the reconstruction of the fertilizer industry. These projects are obviously submitted to strong monitoring from both the Iraqi and the Japanese, the former because it participates to the development of the country and the latter because it is taxpayers’ money.

Other projects included the building of schools and the reconstruction of health care education, public welfare and environment facilities. During his time in Iraq, Mr Yamada participated in the management of grass root projects for the construction of VECs, schools, clinics and training centres, an experience which he quickly came to appreciate given its direct impact on the local population.

Aside the development of reconstruction projects, Mr Yamada also spent a lot of times talking about security issues in Iraq. Aside the limited liberty of movement, he also mentioned the impossibility to fly directly out of Iraq on a commercial flight and the importance of keeping low-key not to be taken as target. Another important aspect to take into consideration is the fact that you have nowhere to spend your free time. You have to use the limited facilities offered by the embassy to entertain yourself during your free time.

When asked about his experience in Iraq, Mr Yamada is both pleased and proud of the work achieved by the Japanese team there. However, his new position in the Japanese Embassy to Ireland took him to very different functions as he is now in charge of the promotion of Japanese culture in Ireland.

Le Journal International: Mr Yamada, how do you concretely promote Japan in Ireland?

Yuichi Yamada: My role is to promote Japanese culture in Ireland. I am working on the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Programme. This programme is aimed at overseas graduates who want to participate to foreign language education. About 40 Irish people go to Japan every year as English teachers where they teach in elementary, secondary and high schools. Their contracts can go from one to five years.

This programme has been implemented 26 years ago so we have had around 1,100 Irish people who came to Japan to teach English. We also look for Irish graduates to come to our universities on a Japanese scholarship. Each one of them, graduates and teachers, can then become small ambassadors of Japan when they come back to their country. They learn about Japan and they teach the Japanese about Ireland and Irish culture. They basically become a bridge between the two countries.

JI: Are there any events to which the Irish public can participate?

YY: In April we organise the Experience Japan festival in Phoenix Park in Dublin. This is a big cultural event during which we promote Japanese culture through a series of events such as Japanese language courses, lectures on Japanese culture and history etc. It is a very important event for us given its size and reach. The Japanese film festival is also an important event. This year we screened 15 movies in five Irish cities which all attracted a huge audience. I recently started a new programme relating to Japanese cinema. We recently started showing Japanese movies in secondary schools. I was in Cork this morning for a lecture on Japanese culture which was followed by the projection of a movie and I will be in Sligo next week.

This kind of introductory action is very important to promote Japanese culture. This is mainly directed to kids in order to keep them interested in our culture. Some of them learn Japanese and I want them to continue being interested when they grow. Interest in Japan is growing in Ireland, this is also due to the importance of anime, mangas and we want to keep this interest alive. The demand is high but the supply is low (there are only 1700 Japanese people registered on the embassy listings for Ireland), people are hungry about Japanese culture and I therefore have a lot of work!


Maxence Salendre
Amoureux des langues et cultures étrangères, je conjugue mes rêves en anglais, sur l’île... En savoir plus sur cet auteur