Interview of Ambassador Monji by NATO Association of Canada


Ambassador Monji was interviewed by NATO Association of Canada, in which he talked about himself as well as his daily life as Ambassador of Japan and discussed key aspect s of recent Japan-Canada relationship.


Please tell us about your personal and educational background, and some of your interests.

I was born in 1952 in Kitakyushu City in the southernmost major island of Japan. I had an opportunity to spend my senior year in high school in the U.S. as an exchange student in 1969-1970. I lived in a small town near Syracuse, N.Y., only three hours’ drive from Ottawa. During that time, I made my first visit to Canada to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls.

After having graduated from Tokyo University, Faculty of Law, in 1975, I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the same year. I have served on 9 oversea postings, the last 4 of which were as Ambassador, namely France, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, the European Union (Brussels), Iraq, Qatar, UNESCO (Paris) and Canada. In Japan, I had been mainly in charge of national security and defence, treaties, international law, cultural, educational and sports exchanges.

I am interested in many things. I like reading, listening to music, whistling, taking photos, drawing, and visiting galleries and museums. I am an enthusiastic fan of Japanese pop culture such as manga, anime, pop idols, etc. I like eating and drinking; in particular, I am expert of all kinds of alcohol. I have the title of Sake Samurai, awarded by the Younger Council of Japan Sake Brewers’ Association for my contribution to the promotion of Japanese sake. There are only 66 Sake Samurais in the world. I also have a French title: Chevalier de Tastevin of Burgundy, and I have been promoting Belgian beers in Japan since the early 90s, having tasted more than 400 different kinds and visited 25 breweries in Belgium. I have tried more than 100 kinds of blended whiskeys and 60 kinds of single malt. I have a passion for neckties and enjoy wearing an appropriate tie for each occasion from my collection of more than 400 neckties.

As Japan’s Ambassador to Canada, what does an average workday look like?

My job is to strengthen Japan-Canada relations in various areas; economic partnership, security and defense cooperation, cultural, educational and youth exchanges, cooperation on global issues, etc. For that purpose, I meet and exchange views with many people; ministers and government officials, MPs, business people, journalists, academics, artists, and others. I host many cultural events, receptions, lunches and dinners. I often attend various events hosted by government and public institutions, colleagues in the diplomatic corps, or think tanks and private enterprises.

I make official visits to the Provinces to meet the Lieutenant Governor, Speaker of the House, Premier and other Ministers, business people, academics, and Japanese Canadians and Japanese nationals in order to further relations between Japan and the Provinces.

You have worked in France, Australia, Belgium, the United Kingdom, and have served as Ambassador to Iraq (2007), to Qatar (2010), as the permanent delegate of Japan to UNESCO (2013), and most importantly as a Saké Samurai. What are some of the highlights of your previous and ongoing postings? What are some important issues that you’ve dealt with in your many roles?

I assumed my first ambassadorial post in Iraq in 2007, during the most dangerous period after the end of the Iraq War. However, I thoroughly enjoyed my year and a half in Baghdad. Japan was the number 2 donor to Iraq after the US. Japan was respected, trusted and appreciated greatly by the Government and people of Iraq for her contribution to the humanitarian and reconstruction assistance. I felt that a good image of Japan helped me to pursue my objective as Ambassador. In Iraq, where military or so-called “hard power” was believed to prevail above all, I recognized the importance of soft power in diplomacy.

I was assigned to Qatar from 2010 to 2013. I had a truly good time in the richest country in the world. Qatar could become richer thanks to the export of LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), the development of which Japan fully supported. 2012 marked the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Qatar. I was so happy to organize, in cooperation with the Qatari side, more than 50 events to celebrate that memorable year.

Then, I moved from Doha to Paris in 2013 as Ambassador, Permanent Representative of Japan, to UNESCO. I was lucky to be able to achieve three major objectives in my first year at UNESCO: Japanese cuisine (Washoku) and Japanese hand-made paper (Washi) were recognized as Intangible Cultural Heritage for Humanity in 2013 and 2014 respectively, and Tomioka Silk Mill was registered as World Heritage site in 2014.

I have been promoting Japanese sake for more than 25 years at home and abroad, for which I was awarded a title of Sake Samurai in 2008, as I already mentioned. Promotion of sake in Canada has been one of my biggest challenges due to the strict control over alcohol. I am now working closely with the LCBO in order to make sake more accessible for Canadian people. I am pleased by a notable increase in Canada’s sake importation from Japan in 2017.

When do you feel Japanese-Canadian relations were at their peak? What lessons can we learn from that time? How would you characterize the current state of Japanese-Canadian relations?

Until 2002, Japan had been the number 2 trading partner of Canada, after the US. But since 2009 Japan occupies 5th place, surpassed by China, Mexico and the UK. The number of Japanese tourists visiting Canada peaked in 1997 to 620,000. Then, it continuously went down to the level of 220,000 in 2011. I am pleased to see a good sign of this picking up recently to reach 300,000. Canadian visitors to Japan, on the other hand, have been increasing steadily, breaking records for the past three years to reach 270,000.

I believe that there is a potential to expand our relations again. The situation today is totally different from that of the last peak period around 20 years ago. Therefore, I would like to touch upon the current state of our bilateral relations rather than to try to draw some lessons from our past experiences.

Japan and Canada have enjoyed excellent relations over the years as important members of the advanced industrial democracies, especially the G7, sharing fundamental values such as democracy, respect for human rights and rule of law. Today, our bilateral relations are about to enter into a new stage. On his first official visit to Japan in 2016, Prime Minister Trudeau and Prime Minister Abe agreed to establish a “New Era for Canada-Japan Cooperation,” focusing on economic partnership, security cooperation, and cultural and youth exchanges. The two Prime Ministers also agreed to revitalize the Joint Economic Committee (JEC), established in 1976 on the occasion of the visit to Japan of then-Prime Minister Mr. Pierre Trudeau.

Since this is an interview by the NATO Association, I would like to emphasize the importance of our security cooperation. Under the drastically changing international situation, including growing uncertainty in East Asia, Japan and Canada agreed to strengthen security cooperation at the prime ministerial level in 2016. We now have various frameworks for dialogue, such as the 2+2 meeting (Deputy Minister’s level for the foreign and defense authorities of both sides), Symposium on Security, and Politico-Military/Military-Military talks. Our two countries are about to sign an Acquisition and Cross Service Agreement (ACSA) that will facilitate cooperation between the Japanese Self Defense Forces and the Canadian Armed Forces. I welcome the current visit of two Canadian frigates to Asia- Pacific including Japan. Japan also hopes to pursue cooperation in the area of PKO in the future.

Canada is both an Atlantic and a Pacific nation. Yet, Canada has been always looking East and South. It is only recently that Canada has started to pay attention to West, but mostly from the economic point of view since the Asia Pacific region has the fastest growing economies in the world. I have been saying that Canada should have a balanced view of Asia Pacific, including security perspectives, because, in order to promote economic relations with Asia Pacific nations, a sound security environment is essential. I truly welcome Canada’s increasing attention to the security of the Asia Pacific region.

(Cultural exchanges, etc.)
Cultural, educational and people-to-people exchanges are vital in promoting mutual understanding between our two peoples. Japanese and Canadians have a good impression of each other’s country. However, I discovered that we actually know very little of each other. All the Canadian reporters are based in Beijing and Japanese journalists are in the US. Only the biggest news headlines – both good and bad – are reported in the media. Various kinds of exchanges are one of the effective ways to make our two peoples familiar with each other at a grass roots level.

Canada is a popular destination for students. In 2015, around 11,000 Japanese students were staying in Canada and that number is increasing thanks to agreements among universities and other initiatives. In contrast, the number of Canadian students studying in Japan was only about 350 in the same year. Nevertheless, there is a wonderful scheme of inviting young Canadians to Japan called the JET (Japan Exchange and Teaching) Programme. Japan receives more than 200 young Canadians each year. They are spread all over Japan to teach English in elementary and secondary schools as assistant language teacher or to help local governments in their external relations. More than 8,600 Canadians have participated in the JET Programme since its launch in 1987. Japan hopes to promote youth exchanges through all available means including KAKEHASHI (meaning “bridge” in Japanese) exchange program, the Working Holiday scheme (Youth Mobility scheme in Canada), sports exchanges, especially in relation the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo, internship programs, etc.

I am very pleased to find that Japanese art and culture are so popular in Canada. Each year, the Embassy of Japan organizes a number of cultural events from traditional to modern, including pop culture. Japan intends to further promote our bilateral relations through various exchanges and events in 2017, the 150th anniversary of the Confederation of Canada, as well as in 2018, the 90th anniversary of Japan-Canada diplomatic relations.

This year marks the 75th anniversary of the start of Japanese-Canadian internment during the Second World War. Is the Japanese Embassy doing anything in collaboration with the Canadian government to recognize the anniversary?

I have learned about the 140 years of checkered history of the Japanese Canadians, including the internment from 1942 and the redress in 1988, and must express my most sincere respect and tribute to Japanese Canadians for their dedication and contribution to the multi-cultural society of Canada. There are about 70,000 Japanese Canadians and the Embassy of Japan hopes to closely cooperate with them to further strengthen Japan-Canada relations. I understand that some commemorative events were or will be held this year, such as the one at Cumberland Museum & Archives in BC. The annual general meeting of the National Association of Japanese Canadians, an organization that had worked very hard for the redress movement, will be held in Ottawa in September and the 75th anniversary of the internment will be on the agenda.

In 2015, Canada hosted close to 7,000 Japanese students. When we spoke previously, you mentioned that marijuana legalization in Canada might change the dynamics of Canadian-Japanese student exchange programs and possibly tourism. Can you expand on that?

I follow closely the development concerning the legalization of marijuana in Canada, on which various views have been expressed. I do not wish to prejudge the outcome of the deliberation, since it is Canadians who decide Canada’s policy through Parliament. I simply would like to point out that there are many countries that take a different approach toward marijuana, including Japan. I think it important to ensure proper understanding of the issue by all the parties concerned inside and outside of Canada. Although I cannot say anything about the impact of the legalization of marijuana on tourism or student exchanges, I would like to promote activities in these two important areas in our bilateral relations.

Since the United States has officially withdrawn from the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), how do you think Canadian-Japanese trade relations might change going forward?

Japan attaches much importance to the TPP, as it is the most advanced rules for trade and investment which should set the standard for the 21st century. That’s why Prime Minister Abe repeatedly explained the strategic and economic significance of the TPP to President Trump when they met in February. Japan will continue to try to persuade the US on the importance of the TPP.

Japan believes it is important to preserve the main elements of the TPP agreed upon after long and hard negotiations, and Japan will closely communicate with all the countries concerned, including Canada, with a view to developing high-level rules for trade and investment in the region. Canada and Japan took the initiative to host a meeting of the chief negotiators’ of the TPP signatories, except the US, in Toronto in early May, which led to the ministerial meeting between those 11 countries on the occasion of the APEC trade ministers’ meeting later in May. Over the course of these communications, we expect to have various discussions about Japan-Canada trade relations, including on the bilateral economic partnership agreement, the negotiations of which preceded the TPP but were halted in view of the rapid progress of the TPP negotiations.

The Canada-Japan Joint Economic Committee Meeting took place in October 2016 and focused on future collaborations, particularly on clean energy and environment. What other important alliances have Japan and Canada undertaken recently?

The first meeting of the renewed JEC discussed possible cooperation in five priority areas, namely, infrastructure, energy, science and technology cooperation, improvement of business environment and promotion of investment, and tourism and youth exchanges.

With respect to the priority area of science and technology cooperation, we celebrated the 30thanniversary of the Canada-Japan Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement in 2016. And the two governments agreed to launch a new bilateral initiative for cooperation in such areas as nanotechnology, sustainable energy, life science, polar research and exchange of researchers.

I welcome the initiative of the private sector that is the main actor in our economic activities. I attended the 3rd Joint meeting of Japan-Canada Chambers Council in April in Japan with my counterpart, Canadian Ambassador to Japan, Mr. Ian Burney. Japan intends to promote such cooperative initiatives with Canada in close collaboration with the private sectors of both countries.

What are some of the most interesting aspects of Canadian society that you’ve encountered since being posted in Canada?

I was impressed with the vastness and diversity of Canada not only in geographical terms but also from the multi-cultural point of view. My participation in the Northern Tour organized by the Global Affairs of Canada made me further realize the challenges and potentials with which Canada has to deal to effectively govern this huge country.

I was surprised by the actual implementation of the Canadian federal system in which the competence and power of the Provinces are very strong compared to other federal countries, as has been seen with respect to the issues of pipelines, carbon taxes, etc. I was also surprised by the New Brunswick beer court case and the fact that free trade among Provinces has not been fully realized yet.

And, on a person-to-person level, I discovered that Canadians are very kind and welcoming. My wife and I are fully enjoying living so close to nature in the “village with a population of one million” called Ottawa… even in winter.

(Reproduced with the permission of NATO association of Canada)