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The Warsaw Voice » Other » February 4, 2010
Japan in Poland
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Business Culture
February 4, 2010   
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Japan's ambassador to Poland, Yuichi Kusumoto, talks to Hilary Heuler

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the start of Polish-Japanese diplomatic relations. What shape are relations in today?
Our relations today are excellent, as they are based on a 90-year tradition of goodwill. There were a lot of events surrounding this anniversary both in Tokyo and Warsaw. I attended a big concert in Tokyo with famous Polish artists and chamber orchestras, and in Poland my predecessor organized a concert as well. There aren't really any difficult issues between the two countries; Japan and Poland are important global partners. Our economic presence in Poland is one of the biggest in Europe, and certainly the biggest in Eastern Europe. Over 240 companies are based here, and 1,300 or more Japanese people live in Poland. This just shows how important Poland is for Japan. Many young Polish people are learning the Japanese language, which is encouraging.

I also see great prospects for expanding relations in the future. For example, this year Poland is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the birth of Chopin, and Chopin is one of the most popular composers in Japan. The Japanese love him. This year, many Japanese are planning to come to Poland, particularly in October when Warsaw will host the international Chopin piano competition. Many Japanese people are coming to participate in the competition, and I've heard that the LOT airline is planning ten direct charter flights between Japan and Poland. A lot of people are also joining package tours from Japan to visit various Chopin-related sights, to attend concerts, and so on.

Poland is quickly expanding in terms of influence. Next year it will assume the rotating presidency of the EU. So after all of these important events - the 90th anniversary of relations, the Year of Chopin and the EU presidency - I'm sure our partnership will be enhanced.

What are the strongest and weakest areas in relations between the two countries?
I think the strongest point is our economic cooperation. We have a solid business base. Japanese companies are active, and they enjoy a lot of hospitality from the central and local governments. Our businesspeople say that Poland is a wonderful place to do business, and the friendliest country in Europe. Then there's the fact that the wage level here is still competitive, and the quality of Polish labor is appreciated by Japanese businesspeople. Poland's geographical position as a gateway to the east, west, north and south also makes it attractive, since it can provide a base for exports and imports. So the business connections here are strong and there are new businesses coming in.

The weaker side of relations comes from the fact that Japan is in Asia and Poland is in Europe, so the flow of people and information is still not what it could be. Some 40,000 to 50,000 Japanese visit Poland each year, but ten times that number go to the Czech Republic and Hungary. And only around 8,000 Poles go to Japan each year. I'd really like to stimulate this flow of people between our countries, even after the Year of Chopin.

There also needs to be a freer flow of information. When we hear the word "Poland" in Japan, we have no clear-cut image of what that really is. I think it's the same for Poles - they might think of Japan as having an advanced economy and some exotic culture, but that's it. Ordinary Japanese and Poles should know more about each other, and should visit each other.

What cultural differences have you found most striking since you arrived in Poland?
I've been here only three months or so, but strangely enough, I don't feel any big cultural gap between Japan and Poland. The reason is perhaps that Japan has had a long relationship with Europe, since the 19th century when we opened up our country to the West. We have learned a lot from European countries, we've adopted the European way of life and way of thinking. So we already have a lot of similarities. But I was particularly struck by the hospitality here, and the warm reception that Polish people give to foreigners. I don't think I've ever experienced such hospitality abroad. This is a point that we have in common - this warmth and consideration toward others. In Japan we try not to be selfish or to impose our views on others, and one of the most important values is living together harmoniously. I can feel something similar here. So of course there are some differences between the countries, but I don't see any big ones that strike me.

How would you wish to advertise Japan to Poles?
I would like to advertise Japan not only as a good friend, but also as a very important partner. Poland today is playing a more global role, and Japan is as well. The two countries have a lot of things in common, such as the EU: Poland plays an important role in the EU, and Japan is also paying a lot of attention to it. Every year we have a Japan-EU summit. In Afghanistan as well, Poland is involved and Japan would also like to play a role in stabilizing the country. I think this is an important area of mutual cooperation. Then there are the global issues, like the environment, where international cooperation is required. We don't have oil and gas in Japan and we have had problems with energy security. So I'd particularly like to advertise Japanese technology, particularly in the area of energy saving and renewable energy. Poland is keen on adopting this, since it is still operating a lot of coal-based power plants that create a lot of pollution. There have already been some contacts between the countries to provide Japanese "clean coal" technology here.

Poland is also thinking of building a nuclear power plant, and we have some technology to provide in this area as well.

One more thing I'd like to highlight to Polish people is the more spiritual side of Japanese culture. Japanese values are very traditional, and more and more foreigners are interested these days in the Japanese way of life. I also sense a growing interest in Poland. For example, the Japanese martial arts are popular here, and people have told me that they are interested in the Japanese samurai spirit. Some Poles are also learning the tea ceremony, and they are interested in Japanese philosophy. So maybe, along with economic partnership, we can also provide a way of thinking that could be interesting for Polish people.

What plans do you have for your term in Poland?
I'd like to continue the tradition of high-level exchanges between the two countries. In 2002, the Emperor and Empress of Japan visited Poland, and both our Prime Minister and Foreign Minister have visited as well. Two years ago Polish President Lech Kaczyński and Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski visited Tokyo. I hope these exchanges will continue, and I hope that our new Prime Minister will be able to come to Poland in the near future. This is a good way to continue out political and diplomatic dialogue, and to better know each other. We have to recognize that our cooperation is important, not only in a bilateral context but in a global context.

I hope to further our economic involvement in Poland, in the form of investment, transfer of technology and building human resources. But I'd also like to stimulate the flow of people between the countries - tourism is important and I will do my best to promote it, in both directions. I encourage more people to learn the Japanese language, and to study Japanese literature and history. We have a Japanese cultural center in Warsaw, where we're trying to focus on young people who probably pay more attention to Europe. I'd like to stimulate their interest in Asia.

Overall, I've had so much cooperation from the Polish side that I feel happy, and optimistic about my plans here.
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