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David Warren

Ambassador to Japan, Tokyo
Posted 07 June 2010 by David Warren | Comments

We had a marvellous visit a few days ago from Alistair and Katherine Wight, from Edinburgh.   Alistair was one of eight British sailors who came to Tokyo in August 1945, as part of HMS Return, and who reopened the British Embassy, which had been closed since the British staff had been repatriated to the United Kingdom in mid-1942, some months after the outbreak of war with Japan. 

Mr WightHe is now 86, as is Katherine, and had not been back to Tokyo since his brief visit in 1945.   I was fascinated by his recollections of Tokyo in the aftermath of war - the department stores still open in the Ginza, with staff giving items away in panic, the trams still running past the Embassy's front door in spite of the terrible bomb damage across much of the city, the natural reluctance of local Japanese to fraternise with foreign troops, and of course deep suspicion on the Allied side after the brutalities of the Imperial Army in the Asian conflict - but also the kindness that Alistair and his colleagues received from some of the Japanese residents of Tokyo whom they met.
 
Alistair and Katherine's trip was partly to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary.   It was funded by the UK Lottery's Heroes Return programme .   Alistair showed us a photograph of himself at 21, in the garden of one of the Embassy houses, sitting on the veranda steps that are still there today.  We went and recreated the photograph 65 years later.   Alistair and Katherine presented us with the cap ribbon from HMS Return.   It was moving and inspiring to listen to his memories.



David Warren
07 June 2010

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Posted 08 April 2010 by David Warren | Comments
Cherry blossoms in front of the No2 House of the British Embassy TokyoIt's the cherry blossom season, and once again, you realise just how emotionally and psychologically important this is for everyone in Japan.   There's constant television coverage of the main sites; speculation about when the blossom will bud, bloom and fall; and hanami (cherry-blossom-viewing) parties all the time, as office-workers, families, friends all sit under the trees, relaxing, drinking, celebrating as spring once more comes to Japan.
 
The cherry blossom trees outside the British Embassy in central Tokyo are among the most famous such sites in the city.   They were first planted by Sir Ernest Satow in the 1890s when he was the diplomatic Minister to Japan.  Satow was one of the first Japanese specialists in the Consular Service, and a scholar of immense distinction - his memoir "A Diplomat in Japan" is a very famous work.   Literally thousands of people have been walking past the Embassy over the last week, as they do every year, admiring his legacy.  And inside the Embassy, we've been holding our own hanami celebrations, inviting our commercial, political, economic, media and scientific contacts to join us in admiring the beauty of the flowers and the changing of the seasons.   I gave a party yesterday for politicians, and was touched at the number of MPs who came along to be part of this tradition.   One of them noticed the photograph we have on display showing the "Choshu Five" - the first Japanese students at University College, London in 1863, and real pioneers, five years before the Meiji restoration, in the opening up of Japan to Western influence and innovation.  Nearly 150 years ago - but those links are still strong.  And the cherry trees, first planted nearly 120 years ago themselves, are a sort of symbol of them.


David Warren
08 April 2010
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Posted 05 March 2010 by David Warren | Comments
It's been a while since I last updated my blog, but with a new IT system just installed at the Embassy I will be online and updating more regularly
 
Lunch with Japanese businessmen on Wednesday, and later dinner with a group of visiting British journalists.  The common theme is how depressed everybody seems in Japan.   Why? 
 
At lunch, we talk about the state of the Japanese economy.   The problem is deflation.   Fuelled by government spending and the strength of the Chinese export market, the Japanese economy is beginning to grow again.  Unemployment is down to under 5%, industrial production is up (11 straight months), consumer spending beginning to look up (a bit).  But wages are flat and prices are flatter.    The new Government is running into rougher political water, as many new Governments do after the electoral honeymoon wears off.    And there are the long term demographic problems - an aging and shrinking population, the flight from the regions to the big cities, older Japanese worrying about the alleged reluctance of the younger generation to travel, study abroad, and so on.
 
So I can see why people are worried.     But whenever I visit companies, I see evidence of real investment.  A month ago, I went to see Green Front Sakai, Sharp's new 10th generation LCD and thin-film solar plant in Osaka.  An amazing complex (check it out on YouTube), and a real statement of confidence in renewables technology.   There are no shortage of Japanese businessmen coming to our commercial events in the Embassy to pursue partnership with British firms.    And Japan remains a centre of real innovation and creativity.
 
I understand the gloom.   It's the sense that there's absolutely nothing that can be done about it that puzzles me.   Am I missing something?

David Warren
05 March 2010
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Posted 07 December 2009 by David Warren | Comments

I spoke to an audience of about 60 (mostly new) Japanese MPs last week, at the year-end party for the Democratic Party of Japan's UK/Japan Parliamentary Group.

I was invited to talk about the relationship in the UK between politicians and civil servants.   This is a hot topic in Japan, because a key part of the DPJ's manifesto has been to argue that Japan has been too strongly controlled by the bureaucracy, in league with the former ruling Liberal Democratic Party, for too long.   DPJ politicians have visited London to see what they can learn from the UK in this area.  Their first few months in office have seen new Ministers make clear that they want to be in charge of policy management, and that they have no intention of delegating this to bureaucrats.  Civil servants have been summoned to televised meetings of the Government Revitalisation Unit, a cost-cutting panel that has challenged them, often uncomfortably, to justify specific programmes and projects.  The relationship between the two groups is quite tense.

I made the point, speaking as a civil servant, that most public servants I know would much rather work for strong than weak political managers.   But the role and responsibilities of civil servants have to be carefully defined, as they are in the UK through the Civil Service Code (http://www.civilservice.gov.uk/about/values/cscode/index.aspx); the independence of the Civil Service from political interference has to be respected, so that civil servants can give independent advice to Ministers; and there has to be a relationship of trust between politicians and bureaucrats - the sort of trust that allows for mutual challenge and sometimes disagreement as part of the process whereby policy is made and public services delivered.

I'm deluged afterwards with incredibly detailed and very well-informed questions about how the system in the UK actually works.   This could be a growth area for UK/Japanese collaboration, as the DPJ government settles into its stated intention of fundamentally changing the way in which the Japanese government operates.



David Warren
07 December 2009
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