There were more tourists from Japan in Lithuania than from China this year; still Lithuanian Nida cannot compete for the Japanese tourists with Hawaii. Nevertheless, Lithuania has beautiful forests and lakes, its great history and Sugihara, with whom a lot of Japanese associate Lithuania, Ambassador of Japan, Her Excellency Kazuko Shiraishi said to the Lithuania Tribune. Read about similarities and differences between Lithuania and Japan, how the Japanese view Lithuania, and about Lithuania’s most successful export – Basketball. You can also read the first part of our interview with Her Excellency, Ambassador of Japan.
Do you think Lithuania is doing enough in order to preserve memory of Japanese Deputy-Consul in Kaunas Chiune Sugihara, who issued some thousands visas to Jews in 1940?
You have Sugihara House in Kaunas, you have that big plate at the park along Neris River and you have Sugihara street named after him in Vilnius and I think that you have done a lot to show respect for my colleague, Mr. Sugihara.
Lithuania and Japan are quite very different countries, not only in terms of geography but also culture. However, have you noticed any similarities between Japanese people and Lithuanian people? Also, are any similarities between our two countries?
Similarities… Lithuanians and Japanese have the similar religional belief. Before Christianity arrived to Lithuania, people believed the nature, that there are gods in nature. We (Japanese) have that same belief in religion. Japanese and Lithuanians have a great respect for the nature. We pay much attention in respecting nature. When I came to Lithuania at the end of February, it was a little bit gray, it was very cold but when spring came, I was very pleased to enjoy your beautiful nature.
What can Lithuania learn from Japan and vice-versa, apart from playing basketball?
Did you know a former coach of the Lithuanian national basketball team Mr. Antanas Sireika is now coaching one of the professional teams in Japan?Apart from basketball… Frankly speaking, your country is a little bit small. But as your country is a member of the EU, your young people speak fluently in English. Your citizens are already very much internationalised. On that front, look at the map, Japan is an island country. Whenever we live in Japan, we don’t feel that we need knowledge of English. But, we have to learn a lot from foreign countries by speaking foreign languages and specially, English, because now that the most people in the world speak English. Speaking English is the tool of better communication from each other. That is something we have to learn from Lithuanians. To answer your question, I would say that we are proud of Japanese character, which was shown last year during the tsunami. That is Japan’s aspect. We were not panicked at all. We are people who help each other very much. Almost all of the Japanese people helped the victims and the relatives and the families who suffered from the tsunami. We are proud of that Japanese national character.
And we really noted that here in Lithuania; there were a lot of information about the strength and resilience of the Japanese character in Lithuanian media.
How do official Japanese businessmen view Lithuania? As a post-Soviet country, Eastern European country, a country in northern Europe?
I think this is my task, to spread better knowledge that Lithuania is a member of the European Union (EU). There are still some people who have the mis-perception that Lithuania is a former republic of the Soviet Union. Lithuania became a member of the EU in the year 2004. Also, a member of NATO. Lithuania returned to Europe, it returned to the Atlantic region. As I said, this is my task, to convey the reality to the Japanese.
Returning to basketball but in different ways. For those Chinese who know Lithuania, the country is associated with basketball because our current national coach used to coach for the Chinese national team. How is Lithuania known in Japan? What is it associated with, when it is known about?
Mr. Sugihara. Japanese kids are taught about the humanitarian deeds of Sugihara at schools. Many Japanese know about that story. Japanese people know Lithuania to be a beautiful country, which mainly consists of forests and lakes. I would like to introduce the figure of Japanese tourists. Last year, the number of Japanese tourists in Lithuania was almost 8,000. That figure is larger than that of the Chinese tourists. They have ten times more population than Japan. The number of Japanese tourists is increasing. We have a good image of your beautiful nature and friendly people.
What should Lithuania do to raise its image in Japan? How can we make people know more about Lithuania?
In the summer, I visited the town of Nida. The mayor of Nida asked me, “please make public relations about Nida to Japan’s tourists”, but the problem is that Japan is located in East Asia. We have very beautiful and similar tourist resorts such as Hawaii and Guam. If we compare the beauty of Nida and the beauty of Hawaii, maybe there are some small differences but thinking about the differences in distances, it is very difficult for Nida to compete with Hawaii. I am sorry to say but that is the reality. But, there is a good possibility because, a Japanese airline company is thinking about launching a flight between Helsinki – Tokyo, Finnair has that same route and Helsinki enjoys this exchange, not only to Tokyo but to Osaka, Nagoya….I feel that Finnair has the most to win from this airway between Japan and Finland. I think that once that Japanese airline company’s route launches, it will make Lithuania one of the most attractive destinations, it might be a good opportunity for tourists to visit these three Baltic countries.
In terms of cultural promotions, the Japanese Embassy is very active in Lithuania. What previous projects would you like to highlight as the most successful? Are there any projects for the future that you would like to share with our readers?
This year, we organised several cultural events such as “The Tea Ceremony”, Sushi workshops, Japanese traditional dance. I think the Japanese traditional dance was pretty much liked by Lithuanians, because it was the first time that a Japanese woman, a traditional dancer, came to Lithuania. The Lithuanian audience appreciated that very much. In the future, I would like to introduce not only the culture but also I would like to organise some lecture meetings with a Japanese management professor. Japanese management is quite unique from other types of management. If Hitachi is coming to Lithuania, it might be useful for Lithuania to understand the Japanese way of thinking about management. I would like to enhance that kind of activity. We would not want to emphasise only on the culture but also on the social sciences.
There are a lot of Japanese things in Vilnius. What is the thing that you miss the most from Japan?
That would be raw-fish (smiles). For a good Japanese cuisine, it’s very difficult for us to find fresh raw fish.
What about the Japanese community in Lithuania?
It’s very small; we only have 59 Japanese residents. Can you imagine a smaller community? On the other hand, you have a bigger Lithuanian community in Japan. More than 100 Lithuanians.
Mention one thing that you like about Vilnius and one thing that you don’t really like.
I was very much impressed with the historical heritage; many churches, the Cathedral. I also really like the Vingio Park because I enjoy jogging.
One word that comes to your mind when you hear the word – Lithuania.
Lithuanian people are very proud of their history. It would be a word ‘history’. Because, from 14th century until the 18th century you had a huge territory, from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea.