Chief Editor: Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

Pakistan’s “firsts” in Japan By Imtiaz Gul

imtiaz gul

Japan represents a fantastic blend of tradition and modernity, social patience and technological speed, professional work alcoholism and adorable cultural mannerism. Often, these attributes, coupled with politeness of tone, softness of demeanour and cleanliness of the surroundings, leave you baffled. While it is home to the world’s best technologies, it has carried on its cultural values that date back thousands of years. 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, where people are born Shinto, get married Christian and die Buddhist. At the same time, manners and customs are an important part of many facets of Japanese life.

Negotiating these niceties represent 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 the risk-shy society. Pakistan’s current ambassador to Tokyo, Farukh Amil, seems to have done exactly this and tried to offer a dimension of the country that is usually least know abroad ; soft power via  culture and performing arts in a culturally diverse country.

Projecting Pakistan’s soft image – unlike the perception – is a daunting task that Ambassador Amil took upon himself and ended up achieving many firsts as far as Pak-Japan relations are concerned, reaching out to over 52 universities, dozens of business CEOs, the Royal Family, numerous artists. He even opened the doors of his residence to visiting scholars, artists and students to facilitate their cost-free stay. Only passion of the mission can drive such things it seems. And this way the ambassador and his team have been able to achieve many firsts in the bilateral relations.

  1. For the first time in history a member of Imperial Family, Princess Takamado, inaugurated the Calligraphy Exhibition by Lt. General/Ambassador (Retd) Humayun Bangash. Princess Takamado drew comparisons with traditional Japanese calligraphy and appreciated its meaning and beauty. Subsequently one of the art works was gifted which now is in the Imperial Palace. Later, the same Calligraphy Exhibition was also held at the Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Arts and the Honourable Governor of Hyogo Prefecture Mr. Toshizo Ido, graced the occasion as the Chief Guest

  1. The embassy organized for the first time a two-week Artists-in-Residence Art Exhibition with young artists of Pakistan,  who created inspiring work, showing fusion of Japan and Pakistan. The famous Japanese artist and actor Mr. Tsurutaro Kataoka graced the occasion as Chief Guest.

  1. For the first time in history of the Embassy the First Lady Madam Akie Abe, wife of the Prime Minister Abe, attended a unique event “Connecting Pakistan 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 Prime Minister and the President attending the Dewali, Christmas and Easter celebrations in Pakistan. The First Lady generated quite traction when she shared photographs of the event with tens of thousands of people through the social media.

  1. Earlier, the embassy was able to convey strong messages of interfaith and harmony within Pakistan through visits to Tokyo of Syed Muhammad Ab-ul- Khabir Azad Great Imam, Khateeb of Badshahi Mosque, Lahore and Reverend Dr. James Channan OP, Director Peace Centre and Archbishop, Lahore.

  1. In the last four years or so, the ambassador consciously promoted academics, interactive sessions’ between Pakistani and Japanese academics intelligentsia, scholars and researchers to help them promote the soft image of Pakistan.

  1. Presidents/CEOs of major Japanese Corporations were engaged to hire young Pakistanis to work as trainees. Resultantly, NEC and Mitsui Corporations had brought young Pakistanis to Japan for internship. The focus has been on encouraging youth from smaller towns of Pakistan so that the relatively disadvantaged can be mainstreamed into economic activity of Pakistan.

  1. The embassy also launched an Internship Programme with over 50 students from top Japanese Universities, which created a new research resource within the Mission at no cost and simultaneously propagated Pakistan’s point of view amongst the Japanese students into hitherto previously untapped.

  1. Students from villages and small towns and cities in Pakistan were invited and hosted at Pakistan Residence and they were provided important opportunities such as visiting important places and meeting high profile luminaries including the First Lady of Japan Mrs. Akie Abe and living legends and Nobel laureates in physics and chemistry during their Study Tour. Moreover, Skype interaction between the Ambassador and the school children in Pakistan was also initiated which was widely appreciated.

  1. The Pakistan’s King of Fruits mango was made available in Japan after years of trying, resulting in first time exports in 2014 onwards. The Mission also organized a series of events to celebrate the arrival of King of Fruits- Royale Chaunsa in different places in Japan.

  1. The list of  “Many Firsts” also includes visits of inspirational individuals who have a marvellous story to tell ‑ such as the mountaineer Ms. Samina Baig, leading entrepreneur and philanthropist Ms. Seema Aziz, prominent media and literature personality Ms. Moneeza Hashmi who was awarded the prestigious Japan Prize 2015 (the President of the NHK prize) for tremendous achievements in educational media, politician of Japanese heritage Minister Ms. Hameeda Waheeduddin and Ms. Yasmeen Lari, Pakistan’s first architect and recipient of the prestigious Fukuoka Prize in a ceremony presided over by the Emperor’s son and daughter-in-law, Prince and Princess Akishino all collectively highlighted the vibrancy and strengths of a modern and progressive Pakistan.

And such a “list of firsts” would have been incomplete without famous wrestler Antonio Inoki; taking advantage of his fame and current status as member of the Japanese parliament, Pakistan appointed Inoki as its Goodwill Ambassador for Sports Diplomacy and also selected President of Major Corporation as the Honorary Investing Counsellor of Pakistan.