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Japan: an Unforgettable Experience

By Luis Vicente León
August 08, 2018

I had the honor of being invited by the Government of Japan to visit the country, within the context of a program titled “World Influencers”. I arrived at the airport in Tokyo at 9 am, and at 12 pm I was already being picked up to go to the first meeting in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), a visit to the Imperial Palace, and an interview at the Nikkei, the most important newspaper of the country that focuses on economy.

The entire week’s schedule was just as full, just like of any other Japanese throughout his/her productive life. We started with the president of the Venezuelan-Japanese Association, the director-general of the Bureau for Latin America and the Caribbean at MOFA, and an encounter with Aki Sakaguchi, a Japanese academic specialized in the analysis of Venezuela’s context, and who in the past had lived in our country, where she married a Venezuelan and where their children played baseball with the Criollitos (Venezuelan baseball’s Little League). After the interview with Dr. Hosono, from Japan’s Cooperation Institute, I was allowed to know more about Japan’s contribution to our region; and the former Ambassador of Japan in Venezuela, Mr. Hayashi, gave me key thoughts about Japan and its society, the mix of tradition and modernity, the interest in developing relations for the long-run, and a more broader vision of international cooperation. I also had a closer approach towards the vast themes regarding Japan’s security, principally connected to its territorial affairs with China and the risks with North Korea: something that undoubtedly is a cause for worry and for work.

I had the opportunity to give a conference at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, to talk about Venezuela’s economy, political and social contexts. From there I took the Shinkansen to visit Kyoto. The prefecture has about 20 World Heritage sites. I went to most of them and walked its typical small streets, tasted and fell in love with the tea ceremony, and I went to the theater of the geishas. During the evening I met with two Venezuelan students who came to visit me. I left filled with hope, as I realized that there are so many young talents who are preparing themselves all over the world to take on the challenge of developing our future. Our pending task is for all of them to return.

Once again in Tokyo, I had breakfast and then dinner with Venezuelan friends who by coincidence were in the city, and I celebrated my longest birthday ever, starting in Japan’s time zone (13 hours before) and ending in Venezuela’s (13 hours after). The next day, I carried out a presentation in the Inter-American Dialogue (IAD) seminar on the role of Japan in the relations of Latin America and Asia Pacific. In my presentation I highlighted the importance of re-launching relations of Japan with our region, whose guidelines are included in the speech given by Prime Minister Abe during his conference in Sao Paulo, in which he spoke of “Working together.” It is important to clarify that, in contrast with other places, when a Japanese person proposes something, his objective is to really carry it out. During the evening we attended a welcoming cocktail event at the BID seminar in Japan. It was an opportunity to meet with several Venezuelan friends and to informally get to know the Venezuelan Ambassador in Tokyo, a nikkei born in Guayana, Venezuela, a professional and intelligent person.

My visit ended with some last-minute-shopping at the supermarket, a visit to the highest telecommunications tower of the world, and a last task at the airport, checking in my luggage as if in a movie scene: a “flexible” Venezuelan and a Japanese woman rigidly stuck to following rules, discussing about the length of one of my suitcases carrying the karate bokken for my sons. As you may imagine, she won and it cost me a high price.

I would like to thank the Government of Japan for showing me their wonderful country, something that for me became an unforgettable experience.

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