While we have every reason to be proud of our past, in a more competitive global market place, a more digitally connected world and in times greater uncertainty, we must ensure we have a more coordinated and focused approach to international trade.
Over recent months at the Asia Scotland Institute we have been proud to host a series of events and seminars focused on building even stronger relationships with Japan and the response has been extremely positive. Working closely with our business and academic partners across Scotland, together with the Consul General of Japan in Edinburgh, the levels of engagement and ambition have grown significantly, including increased awareness of the partnerships already established in education and business. This has resulted in the formation of a Cross-Party Group in Scottish Parliament and our Institute has developed new partnerships with both the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Japan and the Bank of Japan, who support our ongoing programme.
As we focus on building even stronger relationships with Japan, we are approaching a unique point in history. Japan celebrated the abdication of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor at the end of last month and the succession of His Royal Highness the Crown Prince as the new Emperor on 1 May. For the Japanese, this is the start of the new era of Reiwa, which means “beautiful harmony”.
Scotland has a long history of building partnerships – it was in 1613 that James VI opened up the first diplomatic relations between then British Kingdoms and Japan, when it was governed by the Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first Shogun of the Tokugawa Shogunate.
Other historic milestones include 1858 when the 8th Earl of Elgin travelled to Japan as the representative of the Imperial British Government to conclude the Treaty of Amity and Commerce to open trade between the two countries.
These historic developments, and many others, have paved the way to create very strong and sustainable partnerships. Commercial trading activities are particularly significant, with Japan Foreign Direct Investment one of the highest among Asia. Areas of investment include supporting developments in emerging technologies, renewable energy and oil exploration. This complements well-established partnerships in electronics and in the food and drink sector, where, in particular, Scottish salmon and whisky exports continue to be a great success. Today there are approximately 50 Japanese-owned businesses in Scotland employing more than 10,000 people. These commercial activities are complemented by an ever-growing number of research partnerships across the Scottish university sector leading to new business start-ups and our international student exchange programmes play a key role in fostering new relationships.
At the heart of building new partnerships is a greater awareness of cultural differences and our Institute programme continues to develop with the support of our members, shared learnings and insight in key areas such as communication, workplace etiquette and organisational hierarchy – all critical factors in developing new ways to work together.
With regards to cultural partnerships, Scotland has also recently celebrated the opening of the new Asian Gallery at the National Museum of Scotland and the opening of the Victoria & Albert Museum in Dundee whose architect, Kengo Kuma, is also famous for designing the main stadium for the Tokyo Olympics in 2020.
As we celebrate the new era of Reiwa, we have every reason to be confident that our partnerships with Japan can flourish and grow. We must also try to ensure that we take the same levels of confidence when our rugby team participates in the Rugby World Cup later this year! Whatever the results, it will be another opportunity to establish new friendships in Japan.
David J Birrell, Institute Director, Asia Scotland Institute