Imtiaz Gul reports on the many initiatives taken by Pakistan’s diplomatic mission to Tokyo in laying the foundations for bilateral ties
Contemporary Japan represents a fascinating blend of tradition and modernity, social ‘patience’ and breakneck technological change, professional workaholism and rich, elaborate culture. Often, these attributes, coupled with politeness of tone, softness of demeanour and the general cleanliness of the surroundings, leave the Pakistani visitor baffled. While it is home to the some of the world’s most cutting-edge technologies, it has found space for cultural values, some of which date back millenia. Self-respect, dignity, and deference to others are some of the hallmarks of this society. Japanese people grow up picking up the subtleties of this unique, seemingly complicated culture as they go through life, respecting the invisible and varied societal rules. In Japan, multiple religions coexist: people are born Shinto, get married Christian and die Buddhist. Manners and customs are an important part of many facets of daily Japanese life.
Negotiating these niceties represents a huge challenge, particularly for people traveling from South and Southwest Asia. The same holds true for most diplomats based in Japan, who have to navigate through a sea of self-effacing but confident and self-respecting Japanese bureaucracy and business. You have to be really innovative, bold and confident to connect with the locals, particularly when you represent a country whose image hardly inspires confidence in a risk-shy society. Pakistan’s current ambassador to Tokyo, Farukh Amil, seems to have done exactly this. He has tried to offer a dimension of the country that is usually less known abroad: soft power via culture and performing arts from a culturally diverse country.
The NEC and Mitsui Corporations brought young Pakistanis from small towns to Japan for internships
Projecting Pakistan’s soft image – unlike the perception of the country – is a daunting task that Ambassador Amil took upon himself and arguably he has ended up achieving many firsts as far as Pakistan-Japan relations are concerned: reaching out to over 52 universities, dozens of business CEOs, the Royal family and numerous artists. He even opened the doors of his residence to visiting scholars, artists and students to facilitate their stay, free of cost. Clearly, this was a diplomat driven by the passion of his mission. And in this way the Ambassador and his team have been able to achieve many firsts in terms of bilateral relations.
For the first time in history, a member of the Imperial Family, Princess Takamado, inaugurated the Calligraphy Exhibition by Lt. General(Retd.)/Ambassador Humayun Bangash. Princess Takamado drew comparisons with traditional Japanese calligraphy and appreciated its meaning and beauty. Subsequently one of the artworks was gifted to her, which is now placed in the Imperial Palace. Later the same Calligraphy Exhibition was also held at the Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Arts and the Governor of Hyogo Prefecture Mr. Toshizo Ido graced the occasion as the Chief Guest.
The embassy organised, for the first time, a two-week Artists-in-Residence Art Exhibition with young artists of Pakistan, who created inspiring work, showing a fusion of cultural motifs from Japan and Pakistan. The famous Japanese artist and actor Mr. Tsurutaro Kataoka graced the occasion as Chief Guest.
For the first time, also, in the history of the Embassy, the Japanese First Lady Madam Akie Abe, wife of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, attended a unique event “Connecting Pakistan and Japan through Peace and Harmony in Faith, Art and Culture” to promote peace, harmony, love and tolerance. The First Lady was particularly enthused by the Pakistani Prime Minister and President attending the Diwali, Christmas and Easter celebrations in Pakistan. The First Lady caused quite a stir when she shared photographs of the event with tens of thousands of her followers on social media.
Earlier, the embassy was able to convey strong messages of interfaith love and harmony within Pakistan through visits to Tokyo of Syed Muhammad Abu-ul-Khabir Azad, the khateeb of the Badshahi Mosque in Lahore and the Reverend Dr. James Channan OP, Director of the Peace Centre and Archbishop of Lahore.
The diplomatic mission organised a series of events to celebrate the arrival of the Chaunsa mango in Japan
In the last four years or so, the Ambassador consciously promoted interactive sessions between Pakistani and Japanese academics, proving intellectuals from both countries with a platform to exchange ideas. The Presidents and CEOs of major Japanese corporations were persuaded to hire young Pakistanis to work as trainees. As a result, the NEC and Mitsui Corporations brought young Pakistanis to Japan for internships. The focus has been on encouraging youth from smaller towns of Pakistan, so that the relatively disadvantaged can be brought into the mainstream of economic activity in Pakistan. The embassy also launched an internship programme with over 50 students from top Japanese universities, which created a new research resource within the diplomatic mission at no cost and simultaneously propagated Pakistani perspectives amongst the Japanese students. Students from villages, small towns and cities in Pakistan were invited and hosted at the Pakistan Residence and they were provided opportunities such as visiting important sites and meeting high-profile luminaries including the First Lady of Japan, as well as living legends and Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry during their study tour. Moreover, a programme of Skype interaction between the Ambassador and schoolchildren in Pakistan was also initiated, which was widely appreciated
Above all, perhaps, Pakistan’s ‘king of fruits’, the mango, was made available in Japan after years of effort, resulting for the first time in exports from 2014 onwards. The diplomatic mission also organised a series of events to celebrate the arrival of the Chaunsa mango in different places in Japan.
The list of ‘many firsts’ also includes visits by inspirational individuals who have a marvellous story to tell such as a the mountaineer Samina Baig, leading entrepreneur and philanthropist Seema Aziz and prominent media and literary personality Moneeza Hashmi – who was awarded the prestigious Japan Prize 2015 (the President of the NHK prize) for tremendous achievements in educational media. The politician of Japanese heritage Hameeda Waheeduddin and Yasmeen Lari were also involved. The latter became the recipient of the prestigious Fukuoka Prize in a ceremony presided over by the Emperor’s son and daughter-in-law, Prince and Princess Akishino. In short, this was a series of interpersonal interactions which collectively highlighted the vibrancy and strengths of a modern and progressing Pakistan.
And such a “list of firsts” would have been incomplete without the famous wrestler Antonio Inoki; taking advantage of his fame and current status as a member of the Japanese parliament, Pakistan appointed Inoki as its Goodwill Ambassador for Sports Diplomacy.