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I am very honored to be appointed as the ambassador to Greece, since Greece is the origin of the western civilization and also the cradle of democracy. When I was in the University I read ancient Greek literature like Plato, and many Greek tragedies, like Aeschylus and Euripides. My generation or even before my generation, in Japan after World War II, we built ties with Greece, as a democratic country. At that period many academics and scholars referred to the ancient Greek idea, for the kind of idea of democracy. So probably for older generation like me, this is much more familiar and we respect Greece very much.
- Would you like to talk to us about the Japanese Code of Ethics? Do you believe that it shares common values with the Greek one?
Of course we share common values with Greece. Both countries are democratic, we do not have a dictatorship government. We also have an open economy, plus we have the freedom of speech. These are common values among western countries. So, we do share the same values with Greece. However some aspects are really different. For example, Japan is a very condensed country with a large population of about 120 million people, in a land that is probably three times the size of Greece. Only in the greater Tokyo area the population is about 36 to 37 million. Tokyo is one the largest cities in the world, so it is really packed. So mainly because of that, we have developed our transport and our communication systems. Also the society is very well organized, because otherwise we could not operate. This is a difference in our culture and in our code of ethics. It was just recently that some media reported a very strange story about Japan. The train company made official apologies because the train started 20 seconds, not minutes, before the designated time. Not after the designated time, but before. This is probably strange to a foreigner, but we are very precise people. So we have a very different aspect of society.
- How did you succeed in being so well organized?
Perhaps, we have a national characteristic. We are dedicated to the very detail. We like to stick to the details. And it is this aspect that leads the development in technology as well.
- How would you assess the Greek-Japanese relations. Do you believe that there is room for further improvement?
Of course. At the end of last year Japan and EU concluded the so-called Japan EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) which may be in effect soon. Under this agreement the trade between both areas will be boosted and of course Greece is no exception. There are many products that Greece can export to Japan. Personally I΄m interested in greek wine, feta cheese and olive oil. But also it could be other products, as well. Also Japanese companies are looking into investment opportunities in Greece.
- How many Japanese companies are present in Greece at this time?
There are around 20 companies present in Greece at this time. Although they operate in the shipping industry, there are other sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry, like Takeda, which has offices here as the hub for the Balkan market. There are dealer companies like Toyota, Sony, Nintendo which have a European wider distribution system. So even if they don’t have representatives here, many Japanese products are in the lifestyle of Greek people.
Some big companies like Mitsubishi and Mitsui for example are always watching the situation in Greece, looking for a profitable investment.
Also, Furuno Hellas, which came to Greece in 2009, at the hardest time for the Greek economy, is now expanding its business, through hiring people. Furuno Hellas is now four times bigger than it was when it started and is growing all the time. It is a proof that a company can expand even during an economic crisis.
- What should the Greek government do in order to attract Japanese investment?
Ever since the beginning of the crisis in Greece, in 2009, the Japanese media covered very intensely the events: the economic crisis, the demonstrations, then the shutdown of the banks, all the events that related to the crisis. And then from 2015 and onwards, it also covered the refugee issue which is also very big here. The media do not cover good news like the recovery of the economy. So, many Japanese people still have a rather negative image of Greece, which I know does not capture the reality. In this aspect, Greece should promote her good image amongst Japanese people. Also, some of the issues that have to be resolved are business related ones like bureaucracy and the taxation system. If these issues are tackled as well as the immigration relation but also if the privatizations move forward, then the environment for foreign investments will improve a lot.
- Apparently the country’s "bad image" reflects to the tourism industry as well...
Talking about tourism, in the 80s and in the 90s the number of Japanese tourists visiting Greece was about 150,000 on a yearly basis. But now this number has dropped to 10,000. One reason could be due to the negative image Japanese people having on the country. The vast majority of Japanese people believe that Greece is a poor country, suffered much by the refugee problem and some believe that amongst the refugees there could be some terrorists coming from the Islamic State. As you understand, it does not reflect the reality of Greece. So the Greek government should correct this image. In 2014, the Greek government shutdown the tourism bureau in Tokyo. If the office was to reopen and tourism was promoted then there would be a good chance for tourism from Japan to be boosted. In contrast to Greece, Croatia for instance is attracting 150,000 Japanese tourists every year. The thing is that Croatia is intensely promoting tourism in Tokyo.
Last year Greece attracted around 30 million tourists. So in this context, maybe some Greek businessmen believe that they don’t need tourism from Japan. But I believe this is wrong. You have a lot of people coming just in summertime. While Japanese tourists travel all year around and not just in summer. For instance we have a long vacation around New Year΄s period, then around February - March many students visit overseas before their graduation from their schools in March. Then we have the "golden week" end of April beginning of May when they also travel and then there΄s the "silver week" end of September beginning of October.
- Being the Japanese Ambassador to Greece would you promote the economic diplomacy? Would you encourage Japanese companies to invest in our country?
I would like to clarify some things first. Japan is not a dictatorship country. So the government cannot order or force a company to make an investment. In Japan, it is completely up to the companies to decide when, how and where they will invest. If a company believes that an investment or the economic activity in Greece will be profitable, only then it can take action. In this sense, the government cannot tell a private company what to do. As I already mentioned there are many factors that Greece has to consider in order to attract foreign investment. Myself, as the Ambassador of Japan, I would like to promote economic relations between the two countries. Before I came to Greece, I tried to attract the Japanese economic mission of Keidanren, which is one of the most prominent Japanese economic organizations.Keidanren has its European committees and sends its business mission to some European countries on an annual basis in order to check the feasibility of expanding the activities. However, so far it hasn’t happened. Although Enterprise Greece with whom I have gotten in touch for example, is very active,I think that the Greek side can do more. As I said the promotion is very important.
There is a really good opportunity in the next 3 years to tighten our relations. Next year we will be celebrating the 120 year anniversary of our diplomatic relations. The diplomatic treaty between the two countries was signed in 1899. My embassy is planning to do many cultural events in order to celebrate this anniversary. Also, I would like to ask Greece to do something similar. For instance the Greek embassy in Tokyo could act in a similar way. This will be a good opportunity for your side to promote Greece in Japan. And of course in 2020 we have the Olympic Games in Tokyo, a period during which the Olympic spirit always arouses the conscious on Greece. So the next 3 years you have a vast opportunity to promote Greece in Japan. So I encourage your government to do more in Japan.
- The Greek debt crisis is in the global headlines for almost 9 years. Japan is also running a huge debt at 233% of GDP. Of course it is an internal debt. Is there fear of a crisis in Japan?
I don’t think so. As you said, most of Japanese debt is covered by the Japanese investors. We have a big debt but we are also a big creditor. So it is balanced.
The system amongst European countries makes me wonder: some countries are competitive, while others are not competitive at all. In Japan, as one nation, Tokyo is very profitable when other areas are less competitive. But the tax from the Tokyo area is redistributed in the rest of Japan. So if Europe were one nation, then some revenue from one area could be more effectively distributed to another area. There is one European Union, but the member countries share different mentalities. The people in rich countries complain about their money being waster in other countries.
- Would a multi-speed Europe be a solution?
I don’t think so.
- How would you evaluate your relations with the EU?
We have very strong ties with EU countries. As I already mentioned we will have the EU Japan Economic Partnership Agreement and of course we have established many business with many European countries. With Europe we share common values. It΄s very important for us to keep this kind of relationship.
- President Trump has moved things around with “America first”. Taking into consideration the fact that the Japanese economy is one of the largest ones in the world, what is your point of view on globalization?
We have concluded another economic treaty, the TPP without the US. But recently Trump said something different. He said that the US would consider joining the TPP, under certain conditions. The TPP is very good so we hope the US will join as it is.
- Donald Trump framed Russia and China as ΄competitors΄. Does this affect your position?
No. We have many complicated relationships of course. Economically we cooperate very positively, but sometimes, critically, we compete in some areas. But generally speaking I think that we can keep the relationship going.
- How would you evaluate the current situation with North Korea? Do you believe that it is moving in a way to steal some of the Olympic limelight or is it attempting to cool the tensions?
First of all, we welcome the participation in the Olympic Games, from the North Korean side, but it’s totally different from the nuclear and missile issues. We agreed upon the UN Security Council Resolution and the resolution should be completely implemented to raise the pressure on them until North Korea seeks to change their policies. So this is a different aspect.
- Tokyo is the first city in Asia that will host the Olympics twice. And this is in 2020. Do the costs really keep rising, despite the efforts to cut them down?
The cost of the original plan was less, but some additional costssuch as security are necessary.
-Do you believe that your country will be represented at a high level during the lighting of the Olympic Flame?
Yes I think so. Before I came to Greece I met with the chairman of the organizing committee, Yoshiro Mori, who made the first official visit to Greece asa Japanese Prime Minister, and he said that he will come again. I hope he will.