The FINANCIAL -- Interview with H.E Tadaharu Uehara, Japan Ambassador to Georgia
Q. What is it like to live in Georgia?
A. I have lived in Georgia for nine months since last August, and every day is enjoyable and full of curiosity. I am in awe at its natural beauty, its historical views and also gorgeous fireworks during the New Year celebrations! It is fantastic and my family is enjoying the lifestyle of Georgia.
Q. Could you please tell us about your family?
A. My wife is travelling quite often between Georgia and Japan because she has a job teaching English at university in Japan, and my son lives in London while my daughter lives in New York. Last year I talked my family into coming here, because Tbilisi seems to me the centre of the world. I told them “Why don’t you come to the centre of the world for enjoying a family gathering?” And so we all did.
Q. Is there anything that you have learned from living in Georgia?
A. Yes, many things. First of all, I was amazed to learn that about ten of Japanese ballet dancers are living, studying and performing in Tbilisi. This is thanks to Nino Ananiashvili, who has picked up talented Japanese ballet dancers. It really surprised me because we have less than fifty Japanese residents in Georgia, which means that almost 20% of the Japanese population in Georgia is made up of ballet dancers. What is also very interesting for me is the tradition of the supra. It is very difficult say “No more thanks” to Tamada at supra. As a results, I gained 3-4 kilograms weight since I came here.
Q. How are Georgian people presented in Japan, and what do Japanese people think of Georgia?
A. Two years ago it was decided that the name of Georgia would be changed from “Gruzia” to “Georgia”. I understand that this was very important decision, but unfortunately many Japanese people are still confused about whether ‘Georgia’ refers to the country of Georgia, or the state of Georgia in America.
In cultural aspects, Georgia is a wonderful country that attracts us with its historical cities such as Tbilisi, Kutaisi, Mtskheta, Signagi, etc., its mesmerizingly beautiful nature, Georgian wine and rich food culture. I would like more Japanese people to have the chance to experience the warm hospitality and friendship of Georgians.
Japan and Georgia are partners that share fundamental values such as freedom, democracy and a market economy. I would like to put forth my best efforts for the development of the relations of the two countries.
Q. Do more Georgians visit Japan now than previously?
A. I hope that more and more Georgian people will visit Japan. The relations between Japan and Georgia have been steadily becoming broader and deeper in various spheres including sports such as sumo wrestling, judo, rugby, ballet and other fields of the arts, private business, political dialogue and cooperation in the international arena. In the next few years, Japan will host the 2019 Rugby World Cup and 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games. I am convinced that these events will be the best opportunities to strengthen the ties of the two countries. On 5 June, 2017, Japan relaxed the visa requirements for Georgian citizens. We expect tourism and people-to-people contact to become even more active between Japan and Georgian as a result.
Q. Have you learned any Georgian words or phrases over the past few months?
A. Yes I did. I took 20 hours of lessons in the Georgian language for a couple of weeks in Tokyo. It’s really hard for me and I need to do it again. My 2018 New Year resolution was to restart studying the Georgian language almost from scratch, but you know, it takes time… so maybe next year I’ll do it, again.
Q. Japanese cars are some of the best known around the world, not only in Georgia. What is the advantage of Japanese car brands?
A. Maybe it is a matter of customer’s choice. What I can say is that Japanese companies take very strong customer oriented strategy to win customers’ trust and support. They know this is tips to make them sustainable. I think Japanese cars are very cost efficient and have less of a maintenance requirement. I can say that Japanese cars are eco-friendly, safe and, in nutshell, they are very gentle to our lives.
Q. Japan always remains a kind of innovator in the field of cars. How do Japanese people see the future of cars and the role of cars in their lives?
A. “Eco-friendly” and “AI oriented” are definite trends in Japanese automobile sector. No doubt, next generation ordinary cars will be self-driving, which will dramatically change the society. Please imagine almost nil traffic accident, no air pollution, aged or disabled persons can move by themselves, and so on. Japanese companies are trying to catch up with the new trend in wider scope cooperating with the relevant other industries for delivering new products responding to the new demand. In this context, automobile industry is a symbolic industry. Toyota and other Japanese car brands are pursuing to create maximum comfort to people and to be much more friendly to society under the new environment.
Q. Could you tell us about Japanese cuisine specifically, what makes it different from the food from other parts of the world?
A. Japanese cuisine is a kind of art to reproduce “nature” in a limited and reserved space of decorative dish. Every Japanese dish attempts to represent seasons, sometimes heralding an early spring baby green leaves, a mid-summer silvery moon, a melancholic autumn foliage or an enduring white winter by using seasonal flowers, leaves, or something like that. Japanese chefs try to reproduce Japanese beauty in small dishes. It is very important to know that colours of the season tell us a real sense of Japanese beauty. I’m very proud of Japanese food.
Q. Which are your favourite dishes that you most like to eat?
A. Of course sushi is my favourite. But, if I must say, I love Soba Noodle. Soba Noodle is a buckwheat noodle and it’s very classic and popular in Japan. You can find Soba Noodle restaurants everywhere in Japan. I really miss it because there is no Soba restaurant in Georgia. What I can do instead is to boil dried soba noodle and prepare cooked stock soup by myself at home.
Q. Do you often make sushi in your family?
A. Oh yes, but high quality sushi is very difficult to prepare. I need to rely on my chef to prepare sushi for my guests. The good news is that most Japanese families enjoy handmade rolled sushi at home – it’s very easy to make and it’s quite enjoyable.
Q. So, which are your favourite Georgian dishes and do you like Georgian cuisine in general?
A. I do enjoy Georgian cuisine. My favourite dish is Satisvi. I try to order it whenever I go to Georgian restaurants, but it is not common on the menu. Georgian cuisine vary by region and has wide choices of different tastes. It is quite interesting to me.
Q. There are many Japanese restaurants here in Georgia actually. Do you visit them when you miss Japanese food?
A. Yes I do, and I enjoy a bit Californian style sushi or any other innovative Japanese food. The cuisine, or maybe taste itself, must be changing by country or with the times, so I am very much welcome to new Japanese cuisine here. It’s a kind of fusion between Japanese and Western or Asian to me, but I enjoy the variety and a kind of innovation.
Q. How and where can Georgian people learn more about Japan and its culture?
A. I'm Japanese. I'm very proud of its nature, culture, and people’s way of thinking. At the same time I have learnt a lot from Georgia since my arrival. “Why this tiny country surrounded by big power neighbours has been able to survive for a long time without losing its identity”, “What is the tips for preserving Georgian integrity?”, ”How will Georgia transform its shape of the country to the future?”, etc. These are very interesting questions to me and hopefully for the most of Japanese, too. I would say that it is a time for Japanese people to learn more about the Georgia as well as the South Caucasus regions to better understand the dynamics of the geopolitics and world economy.
Let me back to your question, the Embassy will promote “Deeper Cultural Events” through the year for Georgian people so that they can touch and feel the Japanese deep culture. We will continue to make efforts to develop Japanese private business in Georgia pursuing the benefit of the people of both countries. And I would like to develop my dialogues with wider range of Georgian students for better
Interviewed by Tako Khelaia, The FINANCIAL