Interview to H.E. Mr. Oe Hiroshi, Japan Ambassador in Italy

By Ivan De Stefano

Prime Minister of Japan, Kishida Fumio, visited Italy last May 3 and 4, holding a summit meeting and joint press statements with Prime Minister Mario Draghi. What was the significance of the visit and what were the results achieved?

The international community is currently at a major historical crossroads. At this critical juncture, in view of the ending of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine and the defense of a peace-based order, Prime Minister Kishida visited Italy, a G7 liked-minded country. The two leaders reaffirmed that, continuing the cooperation within the G7, they will implement tough sanctions against Russia and further support Ukraine in several fields, making it a meaningful meeting that will lead to stronger cooperation among the G7 countries in the future.
Moreover, Russia’s aggression is not only a European problem, but also for the international order, including the Indo-Pacific region. In this regard, the two leaders shared the view that the security of the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific is inseparable and that unilateral change of the status quo by force is not acceptable anywhere in the world, and also agreed to promote cooperation to realize a ‘Free and Open Indo-Pacific’. In light of Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, they also agreed to work together on issues of global energy security and food security.
Furthermore, the two leaders shared strong concerns over the attempt to unilaterally change the status quo by force in the East and the South China Seas, as well as the rapid and uncertain build-up of military power and increased military activities in the region, and confirmed their united and resolute response to such attempts and to economic coercion. They also reaffirmed their continued cooperation in dealing with North Korea regarding the nuclear and missile issues, including the launch of a ballistic missile on the day of the meeting, 4 May, as well as the abductions issue. While very good bilateral relations exist across a wide range of fields between the two countries, meaningful discussions were held to further broaden them and deepen cooperation. Prime Minister Kishida, while welcoming the progress being made in cooperation between Japan and Italy in the security field, explained the ‘new form of capitalism’, which he launched as a “policy initiative” to direct the transformation of the entire economy and society, and gained understanding from Prime Minister Draghi.
The two leaders also confirmed that their governments will cooperate to encourage collaboration between Italian and Japanese companies that contribute to the renewable energy transition and the promotion of connectivity. Furthermore, they welcomed the signing of the “Italy-Japan Working Holiday Agreement” prior to the summit meeting. As a signatory of this agreement, I strongly hope that this agreement will further strengthen the human exchange between our two countries.

Currently, Japan, the world’s third-largest economy, and Italy boast friendly relations of mutual trade and cultural exchange that aim to intensify; what new opportunities lie ahead for Italy with the launch of Japan-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) that came into effect on Feb. 1, 2019?

Japan-EU EPA demonstrates to the entire world the unwavering political will of Japan and the EU to move forward strongly as the standard-bearers of free trade. At the same time, it will contribute to the economic growth of both countries by creating a huge economic zone with a population of 600 million and accounting for about 30% of the world’s GDP, stimulating trade and investment through mutual market opening, creating jobs, and strengthening the competitiveness of companies.
In fact, most of the tariffs between Japan and the EU were eliminated under this agreement, and exports of wine and cheese from Italy increased by about 15% and 10%, respectively, in the year before and after the agreement entered into force. Since Japanese border measures have been eased, we can expect to see not only an expansion of trade between Italy and Japan, but also the opening of new business possibilities, including investment and personnel exchange.

Italian exports to Japan appear to be very strong in established sectors such as, made-in-Italy clothing, design and food and wine; in which specific new sectors could Italian companies register new flows?

Japan, like Italy, is an aging society.  
I believe that there are many business opportunities in the approach to solving related social issues faced by the two countries. Issues arising from an aging society include medical care, long-term care, and mobility (securing local transportation). In Japan, we seek to achieve both solutions to social problems and economic development in parallel by incorporating new technologies such as IoT, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI), and big data in industries and social activities. In addition, not only in Japan, but also in other countries, addressing climate change is an urgent issue, and hydrogen, for example, is positioned as an essential and important area for achieving carbon-neutral by 2050.
I am aware that Italy is implementing the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (NRRP) by allocating approximately 50 billion euros for digitalization, innovation, etc. and approximately 70 billion euros for the green revolution and ecological transformation. I believe that Italian companies can leverage their strengths and collaborate with Japanese companies in these areas.

Your beautiful country boasts a geo-environmental heritage rich in thousands of years of history; to date, what strategies is your government putting in place to promote and enhance Japan’s cultural and tourism heritage?

Since the inscription of “Buddhist Monuments in the Horyuji Area” in 1993, up to the Jomon Prehistoric Sites in Northern Japan’s one, in 2021, we can now count 25 Japanese properties inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
Moreover, the Japanese government recognizes ‘stories’ that tell about Japan’s culture and traditions through the historical charm and characteristics of each region as “Japanese Heritage” and supports efforts to comprehensively utilize a variety of tangible and intangible cultural properties that are essential to telling the storySpecifically, in order to further improve the attractiveness and PR of the certified “Japanese Heritage” sites, we support the development of convenient facilities, improvement of barrier-free accessibility, and other efforts to make the sites shine as tourist attractions, as well as the dissemination of information domestically and internationally through portal sites and other means. In this way, we are promoting initiatives to enhance the value of cultural heritage scattered throughout the territory presenting it as a “package” of tourist resources while previously we had focused only on its preservation. Here is a concrete example: “Henro- The Pilgrimage Route and 88 Temples of Shikoku”. The Shikoku Henro is a pilgrimage route of 88 temples that was established by the great Buddhist priest, Kukai (Kobo Daishi).This circular pilgrimage route, extending some 1400 kilometers across Shikoku’s Prefectures of Tokushima, Kagawa, Ehime and Kōchi, gets back to over 1200 years ago and is still practiced nowadays. Mountain roads, up long stone stairways, through pastoral countryside, along calm seashores and around remote promontories: the landscapes that pilgrims encounter on their way represent the essence of the region. This circular type of pilgrimage is different from those practiced under Christianity or Islam, which focus on the voyage to and return from a holy place. Here, anyone can be a pilgrim regardless of nationality or religion, and all are sure to receive a warm welcome from the locals. Walking the “Henro Route” and retracing the footsteps of Kukai (Kobo Daishi), whether for the sake of a memorial, personal discipline, redemption, or health, is a spiritual journey and an opportunity to experience this culture of pilgrimage, unique in the world. If you have a chance, please visit Shikoku and walk this pilgrimage route. You will discover a new charm of Japan beyond Tokyo, Kyoto, or Osaka.