Athens celebrates 120th anniversary of Greek-Japanese relations

Screen Shot 2019 02 04 at 8.46.01 pm

Screen Shot 2019 02 04 at 8.46.01 pm

Japan’s Ambassador to Greece Yasuhiro Shimizu noted the significance of Greek – Japanese relations and their 120-year history, during an interview with Greek news agency ANA.

According to Shimizu, his embassy in association with local cultural organisations will be holding a series of cultural events to celebrate the anniversary and remind all of the need and willingness to further strengthen Greek-Japanese relations in the coming period.

On the occasion of the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement implemented as of February 1 and the completion of 120 years of diplomatic relations between Greece and Japan, Shimuzu referred to the Greek-Japanese cooperation as well as the prospects of this cooperation.

The full interview follows:

-This year marks the 120th anniversary of Greek-Japanese relations. What is their significance for Tokyo?

- In 1899, Japan and Greece signed the "treaty of amity, commerce and navigation", which established the diplomatic relations between them. Since then, two countries have built good bilateral relations for about 120 years. In Japan, Greece is known as the birthplace of western civilization and democracy, and both countries are in strong cooperation in terms of business, as among one of the world's leading shipping powers. This year is a year to re-confirm and celebrate the strong bonds that two countries have spun in diverse fields, an important milestone for developing their mutual understanding and relations further and for promoting cooperation in the future.

- Thinking about the mutual understanding between peoples, my heart is always sent to Lafcadio Hearn who has played an important role of a bridge as a window for not only Greeks but also other Europeans to catch glimpses of unfamiliar Japan of late 19th century.

- Lafcadio Hearn has played an important role as a window for not only Greeks but also other Europeans to catch glimpses of unfamiliar Japan of late 19th century. In my country, he is very famous as an Irish- Greek man who naturalized to Japan and acquired Japanese name ‘YakumoKoizumi’ in 1896. But his greatest achievement is his works archiving and translating Japanese traditional literatures and folktales into English which popularized them to the world for the first time. He also wrote many original stories based on Japanese folktales, including the most famous one ‘ghost stories (Kuaidan)’. Even after 115 years from his death, most of the Japanese citizens still enjoy reading his works.

Compared to Japan, unfortunately, Hearn has not been popular among Greek people. However, thanks to some advocators of Hearn, such as the city of LEFKADA where Hearn was born and American College of Greece he becomes better known these days and his spirit of “open mind” is slowly but steadily prevailing in Greece. Without doubt, Hearn makes an important contribution to cultural and interpersonal exchanges between Greece and Japan. We are lucky to have a person like Hearn.

- What events will be organized for the 120th Greek-Japanese anniversary?

- In order to celebrate the 120th Anniversary of Diplomatic Ties between us, following the 31th Ship for World Youth Program and the Photo Exhibition in Byzantine and Christian Museum which are two big kick-off events, we will hold Japan Film Festival at Cacoyiannis Foundation and Japanese Dolls & Toys Exhibition at Benaki Toy Museum in February. After these events, in March, we will have the Japanese Print Exhibition in cooperation with Greek Printmakers Association and Japan Print Society. We are also planning to have Exhibition of Meticulous Techniques of Japanese Crafts in the Meiji Period (1868-1912) with the cooperation of Ministry of Culture and Sports. Finally, as the event to conclude this 120th Anniversary, in cooperation of Municipality of Athens and Greek-Japan Association, to have Japan Week in which over1,000Japanese performers from 70-80 grassroots-cultural groups will visit Athens to organize various performances and exhibitions.

- What are the prospects for bilateral relations?

- The bilateral cooperative relations between Japan and Greece refer not only to politics but also to other fields like economics and culture. As Japan is preparing for the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020, we are working to further promote cooperation in the sports field in Greece, which is the birthplace of the Olympic Games.

Furthermore, as Greece got out of the Euro group’s Bailout program last year, and the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement will enter into force from February this year, it is expected that great progress will be made in the field of economics as well.

In addition to the fields of law, marine transportation, and tourism, we will work towards the strengthening of cooperation in fields such as disaster management and protection of cultural heritage and I believe that on the grounds of mutual trust, it is important to achieve the goal of mutual development for both countries.

- In 2002, the two countries signed the action plan to promote Greek-Japanese relations. How do you evaluate its course?

- In 2002 at the occasion of the first official visit of a Greek Prime Minister to Japan, the Japan-Greece Joint Action Plan was signed by the then Prime Ministers of Japan and Greece, Mr. Junichiro Koizumi and Mr. Costas Simitis. The Action Plan expresses the intention to enhance bilateral cooperation in the political, economic and cultural fields and explains the specific topics which our two countries should focus on. Although almost 17 years have passed since then and the international situation has changed, one can see that this Action Plan is not outdated. On the contrary, one can see that most of the topics stated in the Plan continue to be important issues for the relations between two countries with shared values such as democracy and the rule of law.

For example, in the political field, both our countries attach high importance to the Rule of the Law at the Sea. At every bilateral meeting, we have confirmed our adherence to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea. I believe that our continued efforts have strengthened our relations and at the same, we have contributed to the promotion of this position on international level.

Regarding the economic cooperation, as mentioned in the Action Plan, shipping is one of the most important fields for both our countries. After my arrival here in Greece, as Ambassador, I had many chances to meet people of Greek and Japanese shipping communities. I can say that every time I talk with them, I find the strong ties and mutual trust between them which have been established through the long course of our cooperation.

As for the cultural cooperation, the Plan stressed the importance of Athens 2004 Olympic Games as the chance for the enhancement of the bilateral relations. Seeing that more and more Greek people are learning Japanese martial arts, I believe that this event greatly contributed to our mutual cooperation in the field of sports. Actually, the Olympic Games are always a great chance to enhance the interest of people not only in sports but also in the culture of other countries.

From this viewpoint, our Embassy is now considering a plan for various events to be held here in Greece on the occasion of the Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games in 2020.

I believe that this Action Plan has helped our two countries since it was and will be used as a compass, which leads us in the right direction. It will be useful for us to keep this Plan in mind when we take any new step in further enriching our relations. It is true, however, that there is no perfect plan. Therefore, we need to refer to this Plan regularly and revise its contents in order to correspond to any new situation that may arise in the future.

- Are you satisfied with the current level of Greek-Japanese economic relations? Are there any further possibilities for development? What investment prospects are there in Greece for Japanese businesses?

- I expect that the level of the bilateral economic relations between Greece and Japan could be further boosted up in the coming years. Traditionally, Japan and Greece share a long history of strong economic ties in the area of maritime business. Currently, there are more than 15 Japanese maritime business companies represented by Japanese businessmen in Greece and they have fostered strong trusting partnerships with Greek shipowners in the last several decades. Additionally, over the years, the quality of the ships built in Japan under our traditional craftsmanship has gained confidence from Greek ship-owners. We believe that these strong ties and trust between the two countries’ citizens through maritime business are essential and could be expanded further into other areas.

Our bilateral economic relations are not limited to maritime business only. There are about 45Japan-related companies and agents engaging with other industries in Greece, such as automobiles, machineries, pharmaceutical products, tobacco, tourism, etc.; namely Toyota, Nissan, Yamaha, SONY, Panasonics, Canon, JTI, Takeda, Astellas, etc. These “Japanese brands” offering high-quality products are also competitive in Greece and could play more significant roles to boost Greek economy since the business and investment environment of this country has been improved.

Conversely, we also expect that more Greek products, such as Greek wine, cheese, yogurt, olive oil, will be exported to Japan in the coming years. On February 1st, 2019, the EU and Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EU-Japan EPA) will come into effect. More than 90% of customs duties to each market will be eliminated immediately from the date.  This will offer more business opportunities for free and fair trades between Greece and Japan. I recommend that businessmen of both countries take advantages in this window of opportunities.

- Which areas of Greek-Japanese relations do you think the EU-Japan trade agreement will strengthen? Do you think that it opens new ways of cooperation?

- The EU-Japan EPA is an important pillar of Prime Minister Abe’s Economic Growth Strategy, so-called “Abenomics.’ The signing of the EU-Japan EPA in last July by PM Abe together with Mr. Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission and Mr. Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, sent a strong message of commitment to the world of promoting free and fair trade. This EU-Japan EPA will create one of the largest free and advanced economic zones in the world, with approximately 30% of the world GDP and 40% of world trade. For Japan, the EU member countries including Greece are important partners among others who share common basic values, such as democracy, rule of law, and human rights. This agreement is to show our strong commitments to build a solid basis for a free, fair and open trade system as a model for the international community in the twenty-first century. So far, Japan has exchanged more than 18 Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with different regions and countries, including EU-Japan EPA as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 countries recently entered into force at the end of 2018, and some others are under negotiations. Japan commits to keep the flag of free trade waving high. Japan will host the G20 OSAKA summit in June this year and world leaders will discuss on trade issues there as well.

The EU-Japan EPA could open new windows for trade opportunities in both countries, Greece and Japan. Especially for EU or Greek businessmen, customs duties on general machineries, industrial materials, some services, or agricultural and food products such as wine, cheese, and olive oil, will be eliminated in immediately after the EPA comes into force.  Brand image will be also protected through geographical indications; for example, feta cheese has to be a product from Greece. EPA also provides some fair rules, in the area on state-owned enterprises, small and medium-sized enterprises, public procurement, intellectual property, and transparency, etc. We hope that businessmen in both counties take advantages to enhance business in this opportunity. For further information, please visit the website: or

- What is the aim of the youth exchange program «Ship For World Youth» (SWY)?

- The Ship for World Youth (SWY) program is the biggest youth exchange of the planet and has been organised and fully funded by the Cabinet Office of the Government of Japan since 1988, but its origin has started on 1967, for the purpose of international youth exchanges and leadership trainings.

The current SWY program titled as ‘Ship for World Youth Program -Meiji 150th-‘ is the 31st one, it marks the kick-off of the series of cultural events for the 120th anniversary of Greek-Japanese Diplomatic Relations in 2019 by inviting 12 Greeks delegates. This Greek delegation with 108 more overseas youths from 9 other countries of the world and 122 Japanese youth are going to reside the cruise-ship ‘Nippon Maru’ for almost 50 sailing days, sail through the Pacific Ocean and gain abilities to deal with different cultures, communication skills, leadership skills and management skills through discussions, cultural exchanges and workshops that are organized by experienced facilitators and participants.

- What do you think about the Greek economy? Are you optimistic?

- Greece finally completed the bailout program last year and has still committed to make further efforts to improve its business environment.

Some Japanese businessmen are watching situations in Greece and are ready to seize the chance to open up new businesses in Greece.

Stumbling blocks for Japanese companies have been unstable business environment in Greece, in particular, fluctuation of fundamental indexes of Greek economy, unpredictability of Greek taxation system, as well as deferred repayment to private sectors. Japanese companies value stability and security above all else and need to feel that their business environment is secure and profitable.

Fortunately, Greek economy has recently shown some positive signs after completing the bailout program. If it continues improving business environment to be fair, transparent, and stable for foreign investors, more businesses would come back to Greece. I expect that more Japanese companies as well as tourists will enjoy Greek hospitality in the coming years and strengthen our bilateral relations further.

GCT Team

This article was researched and written by a GCT team member.