An interview by Caucasian Journal with His Excellency Hideki Ishizuka, the newly appointed Ambassador of Japan to Georgia.
Alexander Kaffka, editor-in-chief of CJ: Your service in Georgia had started in summer, so you must have got already some local experience. Can you name three impressions in Georgia, which you did not expect, and which have surprised you?
Hideki Ishizuka: My first impression was the view from the airplane, just before I arrived at Tbilisi. I am deeply impressed by the breathtaking scenery of the white shining mountains of the Great Caucasian Range and the beautiful forests. But I was more impressed by the well cultivated crop field at the brink of deep gorge in the mountainous region. It shows the diligence of people of Georgia, and I feel sympathy because it is very similar to Japan’s “terraced paddy fields”.
My second impression was the Georgian hospitality, which many foreign people are fascinated by. Japanese people are also proud of their way of hospitality “omotenashi” to consider guest first with respect, but Georgian hospitality “Maspindzloba” is more proactive and generous with friendship. Georgian people are very friendly to guests with gentle smiles. I found in many cases people are polite to each other (except for traffic jam…) and I often hear “Ki Batono!” in their conversations. This kind of politeness is also very comfortable to Japanese people, as we have the same culture.
Third, I am impressed with the friendship that the Georgian people have towards Japan. Beyond my expectation, many Georgian people are interested in ancient tradition like Judo or Sumo, and pop culture including Anime and Manga. I am learning Georgian language and it always makes me encouraged to see Georgian people learn Japanese language eagerly. I am happy to hear that Tbilisi State University has opened Japanese language major courses this year.
AK: I am sure you also now have a very clear vision the full spectrum of interrelations between Japan and Georgia – in political, economic, cultural fields. Are there any tendencies, achievements, or particular projects that you want to emphasize?
IH: As 2022 remarked the 30-year anniversary of establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Georgia, I feel that the bilateral relations are developing year by year.
I am very happy to say high-level visits become frequent. As a proof, Japan-Georgia Parliamentary Friendship Association visited Georgia and the Georgian counterpart also visited Japan this year. Deputy Prime Minister – Minister of Culture, Sport and Youth, H.E. Ms. Tea Tsulukiani visited Japan remarking FIBA Basket World Cup held in Okinawa prefecture.
Our bilateral relationship entered new stage of cooperation to address common agenda. Both countries have already signed cooperation scheme such as JCM (Joint Crediting Mechanism), Investment Agreement, Tax Convention and so forth.
Before my diplomatic mission in Georgia, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan dispatched me to Hitotsubashi University, and I was teaching history of diplomacy and international relations. Taking advantage of my academic background, I would like to encourage intellectual exchange. In 2024, Georgia will host ADB (Asian Development Bank) General Assembly for which Japan has been the biggest funding country since its establishment. Therefore, I will spare no effort to strengthen the political and economic ties between the two countries.
AK: Can you tell us a bit about yourself, and your appointment to Georgia? From your publications I see that your professional interests are quite far from our region, and more related to China and USA.
IH: It is true that most of my career has been dedicated to the diplomatic missions in China and other countries such as Sweden, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Vienna etc. However, as the geopolitical significance and connectivity Georgia contains is getting more important, every piece of my knowledge and experience, for example promotion of economic cooperation and cultural exchange, is also helping me to work in Georgia.
I was a professor in Hitotsubashi University; the historical path which Georgia, since millennia BC to this century, has been walking on, teaches us all kinds of important elements necessary to study international relations. No wonder that more and more universities in Japan have been interested in Georgia and Caucasus region as well.
Also, I used to be the Director of Country Assistance Planning Division III of International Cooperation Bureau in charge of ODA (Official Development Assistance) policies. I understand that ODA is one of the best ways to assist other countries and build stronger ties with Japan.When it comes to Georgia, Japan has implemented more than 200 projects in the framework of the GGP (Grant Assistance for Grassroots Human Security Projects) to support the development of Georgia. Actually recently I have signed two grant contract to provide vital services to persons with disabilities for promoting their independent living in Khobi Municipality and to improve the mobility of the local people to gain access to the goods, essential services and critical facilities in Oni town and 21 villages.
AK: Speaking about your interests, I have noticed that you have also authored many scholarly articles and books on cultural and historic subjects. They are very wide, ranging from ancient Chinese architecture to medieval Pashtu poetry, and from Japanese numismatics to folk songs. May I ask what’s the role of arts and history in your life? And how do you manage to combine such versatile research interests with a daily diplomatic work?
IH: I believe purpose of philosophy and science is “to know yourself”, as all the ancient wisemen said. Humanity like arts and history helps us to find ourselves directly. One of my conclusions of my diplomatic career is this is the world of humankind wherever it may be. My academic discipline is area study in East Asia, and it should not only find the unique points of a region but also consider the universal human aspect of a specific regionality. One of the methods is comparative study of cultures.
In a diplomat’s life, every day is the comparative study, for example translation of languages. It is quite interesting process not only for curiosity but also for pursuit for academic knowledge.
Because of the increasing global tensions, Middle Corridor and its pivotal country Georgia have been drawing positive attention from the entire world, including Japan.
AK: Sometimes, when speaking to a diplomat there is a risk to receive nothing but a “diplomatic answer”, but this should not discourage the interviewer. The situation in our region is rather complicated, in particularly in the field of security. How is Georgia and this region in general viewed from Tokyo?
IH: In my view, Georgia has been increasing its geopolitical significance because of the regional and global challenges. For example, Georgia has good relations with both Azerbaijan and Armenia, and plays an important role as intermediator to ensure peace and stability in the region. In fact, I witnessed the Prime Ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan visited Tbilisi at the same time on the occasion of Silk Road Forum in October this year, which represented Georgia’s role in the region. Because of the increasing global tensions, Middle Corridor and its pivotal country Georgia have been drawing positive attention from the entire world, including Japan.
Japan and Georgia share the basic values such as democracy, rule of law, human rights etc. Georgia is an important partner for Japan to build free, open and rule-based international order. That is why Japan has been assisting its nation-building from the day 1 and has been fully respecting and supporting Georgia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
AK: Can we touch upon the economic side of our relations? What can be done, in your view, to make Georgia more attractive for serious Japanese investors?
IH: With its oldest history of wine, various tourism spots and business-friendly environment, Georgia has many attractive points in terms of business. Georgia is now enjoying very rapid economic growth. Georgia is reportedly reaching soon to 8000 USD per capita national income. There are several Japanese companies such as Toyota-Caucasus, JTI (Japan Tobacco International), TEPCO (Tokyo Electric Power Company) and so forth, which make investments in Georgia. In order to increase business activities between two countries, we need to foster more people-to-people exchange and mutual understanding. I hope a platform between Japan and Georgian businesses can provide business information for each other.
I heard that more than 70% of Georgia’s electricity is generated from renewable energy. Green energy can attract Japanese investment. As I mentioned earlier, Japan and Georgia are working on concrete projects in the framework of JCM (Joint Crediting Mechanism). Japanese companies with high technology can contribute to Georgia’s sustainable development and I see many rooms for bilateral cooperation in this field. How wonderful it is if green energy of Georgia would be combined with global digital transformation (DX) as GX (Green Transformation)!
Education, research, science and technology have been the key elements of development, and traditional virtues like diligence and politeness helped the stability of society.
AK: We at the Caucasian Journal are strong believers in the importance of wide dissemination of the world’s best practices, reform experiences and other advanced know-how – to make them better known and eventually adopted in our region. As Japan has exemplary achievements in many fields, can you point us to any such subjects, that might be useful to adopt in Georgia, so we could help by providing media coverage on them?
IH: Japan has achieved rapid economic growth while preserving its traditions and cultures. Japan has no big oil-gas field, coal or gold mine nor other big natural resources, and is a small country in comparison with surrounding big powers, but human resources are available for Japan’s socio-economic development. Education, research, science and technology have been the key elements of development, and traditional virtues like diligence and politeness helped the stability of society.
There is a narrative almost known to all Japanese: In 1868, when Meiji Restoration started, Nagaoka city was involved in Civil War and once ruined. Later the government subsidized 100 bushels of rice as reconstruction aid. Citizens discussed how to use it, for food assistance or reconstruction of municipality, but they decided to sell the rice for the construction of the school and because of the rich human resource, the city had developed very rapidly in a few years. I believe, education is the priority for the socio-economic development.
It is quite interesting that Illia Chavchavadze highly evaluated such Japan’s efforts to westernize the education system, and pointed out the possibility of Japan’s further development in 1889 in his newspaper Iveria.
AK: If there is anything that you would like to add for our readers, the floor is yours.
IH: My good counterpart, Ambassador of Georgia to Japan, H.E. Teimuraz Lezhava has been actively promoting Georgian culture in Japan through social media. I also would like to promote people’s understanding of Japan and Japanese culture in Georgia. To this end, our embassy has been conducting various cultural events and activities and will plan more.
We also have Facebook page where you can find relevant information such as new cultural events, interesting facts about Japan, Embassy’s recent activities or Japanese Government (MEXT: Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) Scholarship program which encourages Georgian students to study in Japan.
It has been around a half year since I started to work as Ambassador of Japan to Georgia. I am thankful for a lot of people welcoming me. I would like to do my best to strength the ties between our countries.