Select Page

On the 23st of August 2016, a discussion was held with HE Mr Tetsuo Yamakawa, Ambassador of Japan to the Czech Republic, about Japan, diplomacy and the current state of relations between Czech Republic and Japan.

The relationship between these countries is a very good one, although many Czech people do not know a lot about Japan because it is so far from from Europe. The Czech Republic has a very advantageous strategic location in the European Union. In addition, it is possible to access anywhere in Europe from the Czech Republic – Switzerland, Austria, Germany, Poland are all very close, and everywhere in Europe is accessible within a two hour flight.

Japan is familiar all over the world through commercial brands such as, for example, Hello Kitty, and for its innovative technologies, including modern robotics – which brings up a connection with the Czech Republic: the word ‘Robot’ was actually coined by one of the most celebrated Czech writers, Karel Čapek. The capital city of Japan is Tokyo and its highest mountain is Mount Fuji. There are four seasons and the climate varies from tropical to temperate. The total land area is around 378 000 km2 and the population about 127 million.

Japanese culture is well-known across the world – traditional disciplines originating in Japan such as judo and karate are practised worldwide. Ikebana, which is Japanese flower arranging, is becoming popular across the Czech population, as is the Japanese-style tea ceremony, in which exotic teas are prepared and imbibed. Furthermore, Japanese food – particularly Wasyoku – is very popular among Czech citizens. Japanese people eat raw fish, which is very unique to Japanese culture, but across Europe, people have been adopting it as we see now; sushi is widely consumed these days in the Czech Republic.

In basic school in Japan, we can encounter in every corner, for example, classical music from Czech composers. Students sing songs in Japanese but with Czech melodies, because they have them in their textbooks following a major revolution in the government of Japan which saw Czech music teachers invited to share their expertise and culture. For this reason, many citizens of Japan love composers such as Dvořák, Smetana and so on.

The Japanese Embassy organises many events in the Czech Republic, such as the EU-Japan Fest in Pilsen 2015, where attendees could enjoy the Kyoto Symphony Orchestra along with the Puppet Theatre. There were about 39 events in Pilsen to introduce Japanese culture. The cities of Prague and Tokyo have been enjoying a stable and prosperous economic relationship for twenty years, in the cultural sphere. This relationship has preserved a very beneficial cultural exchange. Through theses events, it has been possible to promote Japanese culture, which is the highest mission of Japan in the Czech Republic, encompassing the promotion of soft power. Furthermore, every year there is a Japanese Speaking Contest in the Czech Republic and some of the Czech speakers who take part are very good.

We may observe that Japan is very over-crowded in relation to its “small” area size. Furthermore, there is still a huge economy and GDP nominal, which is 4901.53 in billion USD in comparison with Czech Republic where is 198.31 GDP nominal in billion USD. Moreover, the importing of crude oil is ten times bigger in Japan than in Czech Republic. More interestingly, that Japan has 230 companies which are affiliated in the Czech Republic. These companies provide more than 45 000 workplaces for Czech habitants and are concentrated in Prague and Brno. The principle sectors of these companies are: manufacturing (98 companies), sales, trading and services. The amount of manufacturing is the fourth biggest in Europe; number one in Europe for manufacturing is the UK. We can see that Japan is very interested in the Czech Republic across the whole European Union. Japan, in volume of investments (in million CZK) during the years 1993-2013s in the Czech Republic is 12.7% – 100,923 by Japan, Germany 22.7% – 180, 753, USA 8.2% – 64, 839 and by Belgium, Luxembourg, Netherlands 6.3% – 50, 219. Moreover, Japan enjoys a very good relationship with the Czech government along with the support of demanding Czech industries.

T.P.C.A. stands for Toyota Peugeot Citroën Automobile. These brands have large factories in Kolin. Their annual production of cars stands at 300, 000, and 1, 000 daily, with 3 200 total employees. They produce small cars, and nearly 99% of them go to export (France, Italy and other EU countries), because Czech people tend to prefer large cars such as the Skoda Octavia. One of the reasons is that Japan has many companies in the  Czech Republic, because the wages of citizens are very low, but after yesterday’s meeting at Prague with the Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who said that all foreign firms have to raise wages for Czech workers in ten years and in that way improve their living standards. This makes it harder to keep the same level of industries from Japan and other investors from different states in the future.

Toray is a strategic company which produces carbon materials which are used in aircraft, and its placement in the Czech Republic is a strategic one in terms of the location that the country occupies in relation to other European countries.

The Ambassador noted that in the Czech Republic, construction projects tend to be very long term through to finalisation, as we saw, for example, with the Blanka tunnel, the building of which took seven years. In Japan, big construction projects are completed in the short term, as work takes place on them during nights and holidays (when one calculates the cost of construction during the day is – particularly during the rush hour – it is much more expensive than during nights and holidays). This means that Japan does better in consideration of social costs. Furthermore, Japan is well-known as one of the most workaholic countries among the OECD countries. On average, Japanese people take about ten days as holiday during the whole year or just give up 10 years to work more; in the Czech Republic, it is the opposite situation, with people taking about twenty-five days of holiday. We can say then, that Japanese people live for work and Czech people work to  live. For Japanese people time has value – for Czechs, not so much.

The Japanese economy depends on China. We have to imagine what would happen in the event of a Chinese political and economic collapse. China is still a communist regime, but with contemporary adjustments. We have to  keep working on the stabilisation of China, while continuing to cooperate with it. Moreover, we have to comply with laws which were made by each nation, as well as the laws of China. This means respecting each nation, being patient with negotiation and offering each other support.

Japan does not accept economic migrants, only political migrants. For economic migrants, it is very difficult to live in Japan. If you want to live and work there, you have to speak Japanese. In addition, only minorities within Japan speak English. The biggest minorities are Brazilian, because after Japan built its automobile industry, it extended invitations to the children of immigrants from Japan to Brazil, but they have a totally different culture; they speak Portuguese and are Christian. Japanese communities have not accepted them yet. After this, Japan began funding Portuguese schools and Brazilian carnivals are organised by the Japanese in order to build bridges between the communities.

The problem of the refugee crisis in Europe is: how to integrate whole communities of immigrants into the European social system? That is why we have to provide information, to try to integrate these refugees, but this will take time. Japan many years ago accepted refugees from South-East Asian countries and the process of integration took a long time; it requires the establishment of a system which is fit for the task.

The main goal of Japan is the establishment of a free trade system with the European Union. At present, there are negotiations about concluding the agreement and His Excellency believs that the Czech Republic is playing, and will continue to play a key role in the European Union, mainly because of the many manufacturing companies it has. We are seeing that manufacturing is one of the most important things in economic terms in the future of the Czech Republic.

Last but not least, as we have seen in the recent news, Emperor Akihito has given signals that he intends to resign. More then 300 years ago, it was normal that the Emperors of Japan resigned before their deaths. In our era, it strikes us as newsworthy; but Japan has to develop political tools to allow for the possibility of resignation. In Japanese history, there was a system which allowed for it, and tools for preparation for the accession. Now, Japan has to start talks in their state cabinet to find out new solutions or to remake their old laws.

The next G-20 meeting will take place in China at the start of September. Futhermore, there are will be talks between the Prime Minister of Japan, Shinzō Abe, and the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin. The main problems are territorial ones, notably the Kuril Islands dispute. These territorial problems are exacerbated in that, after World War II., Japan signed a peace treaty with all participants with the exception of Russia, leaving some instability in the air. However, the relationship between the two leaders is very good, and both of them are strong leaders. His Excellency thinks that there will not be any immediate progress, but that it may pave the way for further meetings which could lead to an improvement. We have to keep in mind that the timing is the most important thing where the conclusion of peace agreements is concerned.

Diplomatic Academy Prague