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Interview with Ambassador of Japan, Kishiro Amae


His Excellency Kishichiro AMAE, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Japan to Ukraine, has kindly granted an interview to Welcome to Ukraine (WU) Magazine.


Did you visit Ukraine before coming to this country as ambassador?

Yes I did. It was a long time ago when I was in Moscow in 1969. I wanted to see as much of the country as I could but I was given a permission by the soviet authorities to travel only to Kyiv and Odesa. Ukraine is very different from Russia, its culture and mentality of the people are all different. My first impressions were very positive.

Did you have a chance to see more of Ukraine as ambassador?

I did. Now, nearly three years since I came here, I have many friends and as ambassador I have no problems of traveling wherever I want. The more I see of your country, the more I like it.

An ambassador should know as much as possible about the country he is posted to. What helped you most to learn more about Ukraine?

Yes, you are absolutely right about an ambassador posted to a foreign country learning as much as possible about the country he goes to. I had a very good book about Ukraine which was written by the former Japanese ambassador Yuji Kurokawa. This book is only two-hundred pages, so you can keep it in a pocket but it has a lot of information about history and culture of Ukraine. Ambassador Kurokawa stayed in Ukraine for two and a half years and then returned back to Tokyo, and then spent another two years writing this book, which is sort of a bestseller among the books about Ukraine. There are a lot of books about the history of Ukraine written by Japanese scholars but they are very difficult to read.

If you tried to read them, you would fall asleep. All those scholars had never stayed in Ukraine and they expressed views that they learnt from reading Polish, Russian and other historians. During his stay in Kyiv, Ambassador Yuji Kurokawa collected many books about Ukraine and read them. Books on Ukraine written during the soviet times were full of misinformation. Mr Yuji Kurokawa wrote about the Ukrainian history in a different way providing a lot of interesting information. For example, he wrote about the Ukrainian Insurrection Army fighting at the end of the Second World War both against the Nazis and the soviets for Ukrainian independence. Such things had never been mentioned in the soviet era.

One of the ways to come to know any country better is to learn its language.

Correct. I have started learning Ukrainian language as well although, I can tell you frankly, for a 60-year-old man like me its not easy to learn a foreign language starting as a beginner.

I think Ukrainians may have some difficulties in communicating with Japanese people, because Japanese, when they meet foreigners, they feel a little bit reserved. In England, where I stayed too, Englishmen are also so reserved. When you go to the US, you find Americans to be much more open.

At first you may find it difficult to communicate with the Japanese but gradually they open their hearts and their minds and then you can develop a very good relationship. Sooner or later, Ukrainians and Japanese get to know each other and then this understanding and this friendship will last forever.

Have you seen anything in Ukraine that reminded you of Japan?

You know, we are living in one world. There are some similarities and there are differences. But Ukraine and Japan are far away geographically, and the landscapes of these countries are very different. Seventy five percent of land in Japan is covered with mountains and ninety five percent of Ukraine are plains. The Japanese mentality has been influenced by our landscape We are surrounded by the ocean and we have to cross the ocean to find out about other peoples and countries. In Ukraine, you dont have to cross the ocean if you want to visit other countries. I am of the opinion that the mentality and national character depend upon geographical environment. In that sense, Japanese and Ukrainians are a bit different. In the late medieval times, there emerged in Ukraine an interesting historical phenomenon  the Cossacks. The Japanese Samurais and Cossacks are different but still have some similarities such as loyalty to society, to the Lord and family. The Samurais and the Cossack belong to great cultures, they both shared the spirit of courage and self-sacrifice, but there is a little difference between them  the Japanese Samurais did not drink as much sake as the Cossacks drank horilka (laughs).

Japanese art and poetry are very popular among the Ukrainian young people now. Are any translations by Ukrainian authors done into Japanese?

I know that there are a lot of Japanese novels which have been translated into English and Ukrainian. And I know there are translators who are excellent in translating Japanese literature into Ukrainian. In the soviet times, a lot of Japanese literature was translated into Russian. Lyudmila Skirda, the wife of the Ukrainian Ambassador Kostenko, has been staying in Japan for almost four years and she has a very deep knowledge of Japanese literature. When she was a student here in Kyiv, she read a translation of medieval story written in the eleventh century by the Japanese woman author Murasaki Shikibu and she was very much impressed. Ever since she has been developing her interest in Japanese literature.

So it seems to me that the Ukrainian readers know a lot about Japanese literature. However, we, in Japan, have very few Ukrainian poems translated into Japanese, except Taras Shevchenko. Many of his works were translated from Ukrainian into Japanese. I think Ukrainian culture should be made better known in Japan. Sometimes I feel that we should have been doing more translations from Ukrainian literature. We have about half a dozen of people who can translate from Japanese into Ukrainian. Recently, one of Mr Andrey Kurkovs novels (Penguins sorrow) was translated into Japanese but he writes in Russian, not in Ukrainian.

Are you a theatre-goer?

I like drama, ballet and opera  opera in particular. I enjoy music by such Ukrainian composers as Mykola Lysenko and Hulak-Artemovsky because their operas were inspired by the rich Ukrainian history (Mazepa, Zaporozhets behind the Danube). Also I am very fond of Tchaykovskys music. Everybody knows that Tchaykovsky is a Russian composer. But it is not a wide-known fact that his music was greatly influenced by Ukraine  every summer he visited his sisters family in the town of Kamyanka (Cherkassy Oblast) deriving inspiration from the Ukrainian beautiful nature and tremendous culture.

Cuisine is part of the national culture too.

Very much so. When Ukraine was part of Russian Empire, and then of the Soviet Union, the Japanese did not see much difference between Ukraine and Russia. There are several Russian restaurants in Tokyo, and they served borsch as a traditional Russian dish and Chicken a la Kiev too was also part of the Russian cuisine. Now things have changed. The Japanese know that the Ukrainian cuisine is different from Russian. An increasing number of Japanese tourists come to Ukraine and enjoy the Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian cuisine.

But still not too many Japanese tourists come to Ukraine. Every year 14 million of Japanese tourists travel abroad. They visit Europe, the USA, China and other Asian countries. Many Japanese tourists go to Turkey, Italy and Hungary. If the new government of Ukraine wants to encourage more tourists to come to this country, not only from Japan but from other countries as well, they should launch a large-scale advertising campaign.

Foreign investors, show some interest in the development of the tourist infrastructure in the Crimea. Do you happen to know whether any Japanese investors show any interest?

Oh, I love the Crimea very much. I traveled to the Crimea four times. Yalta, Foros and Sevastopol are beautiful places. The atmosphere in Bakchisarai is also great

As far as investments are concerned, the Japanese invest a lot into Ukraines industries. Two years ago, for example, Japanese company Yazaki Corporation invested about 35 million dollars into the plant in Zakarpattya, employing 1,400 personnel, and now they are producing the spare parts for cars. A lot depends on the political stability in this country and introduction of the European standards into the Ukrainian economic policy as soon as possible.

For instance, the Check Republic set up an investment promotional office in Tokyo years ago and tried to convince the Toyota cars to invest into the Czech industries. And now there are more than 150 Japanese investors who invest into the Czech Republic which is a small country compared to Ukraine. And if your government sets up an investment promotional office, it may help bring more investors to your country.

Recently President of Ukraine visited your country. Did the visit help to establish better economic relations?

Yes, it did. The Japanese people know a lot about the Orange Revolution and President Yushchenko is a symbol of this Revolution. And many Japanese felt that Ukraine became very close. And it is the most significant result of the visit. Gradually the Ukrainian market will be explored by Japanese businessmen. Japan supports Ukraines entry into WTO. We have already agreed upon the Japanese assistance in the further development of Boryspil Airport. We also discussed a new stage in economic cooperation between Japan and Ukraine.

Did you visit the Ukrainian Pavilion at EXPO 2005 in Aichi?

I did. I visited the Ukrainian Pavilion with President Yushchenko. It is very nice that Ukraine has its own pavilion though it is of a small size in comparison with the pavilions of Poland, Russia, Romania and other countries. But the Ukrainian pavilion is very popular and many Japanese visitors come to have a look around. And I appreciate the efforts of all those people who worked hard to set up the Ukrainian exhibition in that pavilion.

Would you like to write a book about work as ambassador to Ukraine?

Yes, I would like to do it, a kind of digest about my staying in this country. One of the Japanese ambassadors, Mr Kurokawa, as Ive mentioned before, did write such a book, and I would be very happy to write a book about Ukraine too.


Photos are from the Kishichiro AMAES archive

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