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Turning challenges into benefits
11 Aug 2014 Beata Balogová Foreigners in Slovakia
WHEN preparing for his diplomatic mission to Slovakia while still in Tokyo, Akio Egawa came across the name of Major Theodor Edler von Lerch, the Austro-Hungarian soldier who brought skiing to Japan. “I think in Slovakia not many people know this name, but in Japan, Edler von Lerch, born in Bratislava, is considered to be the father of skiing, as he introduced skiing to Japan more than 100 years ago,” said Japanese Ambassador Egawa in an interview with The Slovak Spectator, which covered a number of aspects of Slovak and Japanese links.
The Slovak Spectator spoke to Ambassador Egawa about cooperation between Japan and the Visegrad Group, the challenges of an aging society, Japan’s attitude toward nuclear power, investment potential and Slovaks’ passion for Japanese culture.
The Slovak Spectator (TSS): Japan has been interested in cooperating more intensely with countries of the Visegrad Group (V4). What areas of the economy are specifically of interest to Japan when it comes to cooperation with the V4? Slovakia took over the V4 chairmanship as of July 1. Will this occasion bring any special events, projects or more intensified links?
The Japan Science & Technology Agency, a governmental organisation in Japan, cooperates with the national academies of sciences in each V4 member state to promote cooperation in the sphere of science and technology.
Also last year, the prime ministers agreed to designate 2014 as the V4-Japan exchange year, meaning that we are organising numerous exchange activities, mostly in the sphere of culture. For example, there is a Japanese doll exhibition in the Slovak National Museum during the months of July and August. In September, the Slovak Philharmonic will feature a noted Japanese violinist, Yoe Miyazaki, in Bratislava. October will be the Japanese Cultural Month in Slovakia, which will, among others, feature a demonstration of Japanese cuisine or cooking, Japanese film screenings and a traditional Japanese dance performance. In November, we will be featuring a Japanese film festival as well as a performance of dance with puppets.
TSS: Japan is the world’s oldest society, with 25 percent of the Japanese being older than 65, according to press reports. However, a recent article by the Financial Times pointed out that the Japanese also work longer and stay healthier. How has Japan managed to address the issue of an aging population, also in terms of public finances?
An aged society is not a 100-percent negative thing, of course. In one way, there’ll be larger economic opportunities in certain fields. Aged people have their specific needs in the field of medical care, and here there will be bigger opportunities, for instance, for producers of medical equipment. We want to seize those opportunities.
TSS: After the Fukushima disaster, Japan actually managed to replace part of its nuclear energy with energy efficiency measures. Could you specify some of these measures?
TSS: What are the greatest challenges for Japan’s energy sector? What is the public’s current attitude to the use of nuclear energy in Japan?
TSS: At a recent meeting between EU representatives and Japan, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged to accelerate talks on a free trade agreement. What will be the biggest benefits for Japan from this agreement? What benefits, in your opinion, might the free trade agreement bring to Slovaks? How do you perceive the concerns of Slovakia’s automotive industry regarding such an agreement with Japan?
As far as the automotive industry is concerned, I will give you a very good example: last year, car sales in Japan were almost at the same level as the previous year, but sales of imported cars jumped by 16 percent over the previous year. Foreign-made cars, including cars made in Slovakia, are really popular in Japan. I don’t think that foreign or European carmakers should be worried.
TSS: In your opinion, has the potential of Japanese investments in Slovakia, as well as cooperation in the area of business, been fully explored? What areas of the country’s economy are promising for further cooperation?
TSS: Despite the remoteness of the two countries, Japanese culture is quite well received in Slovakia. How do you assess the response of Slovak audiences to presentations of Japanese culture? Do you think that Slovaks and Japanese know about each other enough?
Japanese food is also quite popular among Slovaks, as well as the Japanese traditional alcohol, sake, which is gaining popularity. I also was very impressed to find out that Japanese martial arts, like karate or judo, are popular here. For instance, I visited Kolárovo, a place near Komárno, which celebrated the 40th anniversary of judo there. We have other bonds, too, connecting our two nations that may not be well known: in the Slovak National Theatre’s ballet, there are six Japanese ballet dancers. I was surprised myself and I believe they are good performers. As for the area of sports, I am afraid not many Japanese know that the Japanese national canoe team comes to practice in Slovakia every year with a Slovak coach.
TSS: You arrived in Slovakia only in November last year. What are some of your major observations, either positive or negative? Have you observed anything in Slovakia you had not expected?
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