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Japanese consul general boosts culture, old and new

By Sneh Duggal      

The jazz lover talks of anime and cosplay.

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Shouting “wasshoi” loudly, Japanese Consul General Yasunori Nakayama and his staff members circled through Toronto’s Yonge-Dundas Square on July 26.

Supported on their shoulders was a mikoshi, or portable shrine.“Wasshoi” is the word people yell when carrying a mikoshi.

“I felt a bit awkward at first, but after a while, I started shouting very loudly,” said Mr. Nakayama while sitting in his downtown Toronto office on July 30. He was smiling as he talked about the experience. “It’s so nice; after 10 [or] 20 minutes shouldering it and walking around with this mikoshi, people taking pictures; it’s so exciting.”

Carrying the mikoshi around on a hot summer day was part of the Matsuri Japanese Summer Festival, organized by event planner Kurakake Company, which drew thousands.The consulate invited Japanese pop group LinQ to perform.

Promoting Japan’s traditional and pop culture by participating in such events and working with organizations like the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre was one of Mr. Nakayama’s goals when he arrived in Toronto in September 2014. The consulate also organized a fringe event at the Anime North convention in May to highlight places to visit in Japan for tourists interested in anime or cosplay, which is short for costume play. The office also welcomed Japan’s national rugby team to the city, hosting a reception for them. Consul Yuka Hananogi is one of the staff members focused on planning such events.

Mr. Nakayama and his team have also been working to promote Japanese businesses and Japanese-related studies at universities and other educational institutions in Ontario. A particular business focus has been on the possibility of Japanese enterprises contributing to the public-transit sector.

“I’m sure that there is lots that the cities in Ontario can learn from Japanese experiences,” Mr. Nakayama said. “We have a lot of advanced technologies which can be beneficial to the improvement of transit in Ontario, in this country.”

Japan’s consulate, which includes consular, cultural and economic sections, has seven diplomats and 20 locally-engaged staff members. The Asian powerhouse also has consulates in Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal.

Riots, evacuations at earlier posting

Mr. Nakayama joined his foreign ministry in 1982. He said his mother told him that he said in his teens that he wanted to become a diplomat, but he doesn’t recall that.

His first posting abroad was in London during the ‘80s, and certain words he says still reveal a hint of a British accent.

From 1996 to 1999 he served in Jakarta, Indonesia—a posting that left the strongest impression on him. It was a time of rioting and big political change in the country. He and his colleagues were working to evacuate thousands of Japanese nationals. This meant planning transportation from hotels to airports and ensuring their safety.

“It was, well, a big experience for me as a diplomat. You seldom encounter…this big change in the political leadership,” he said. “I guess it’s…destiny to undergo this kind of thing from time to time.”

While the families of some embassy officials were evacuated, Mr. Nakayama’s wife stayed with him.

Mr. Nakayama also served in Belgium at the Japanese permanent mission to the European Union and in Geneva, Switzerland as minister of the Japanese delegation to the Conference on Disarmament.

Back in Japan, he worked as director of the foreign nationals' affairs division of the consular affairs bureau helping adopt a visa waiver for Korean tourists visiting Japan. In this capacity, he was also part of trade talks with the Philippines and Indonesia and worked to develop policies allowing nurses and caregivers from these countries to be permitted to work under certain conditions in Japan.

He got more involved in trade talks in 2012 as deputy director-general for international trade policy within Japan’s economy, trade and industry ministry. He was part of the trade talks with Australia and dealt with manufactured goods like autos.

Canada and Japan are in the midst of negotiating a bilateral trade deal and are both members of a 12-country bloc trying to hammer out another Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. Both are important, said the envoy. He said they are pursuing both deals in parallel, but that there are a limited number of trade negotiators.

“It’s the same with every country and currently they are focusing on the TPP. Physically, we cannot engage in the Japan-Canada at the same time at this moment, but it doesn’t mean that we are putting the bilateral negotiations on the backbench,” he said.

“I’m very optimistic that we will see the successful conclusion of the negotiations.”

Toronto-based journalist and former Embassy staff writer Sneh Duggal writes columns for Embassy on foreign consulates in Canada.



Rapid fire with Japan’s consul general


Favourite restaurant?

A very small Italian trattoria at the village near my residence. It’s called [Pizza] Banfi. People are nice and the food is nice and it’s close to my place.


Typical Sunday afternoon?

After lunch on the patio, we have about half an hour of power-walking around the neighbourhood and [then] just relax. And for me, some gardening…flowers. But now because of the weather, the watering and weeding the grass is my main job.


If you could have any job besides being a diplomat, what would it be?

A novelist. When I was young I was vaguely dreaming of becoming a novelist, but as I said, accidentally became a diplomat and I gave up.


What do you like to do around Toronto?

I’m a great fan of jazz music. [We] love Oscar Peterson and Glenn Gould…from time to time we go to the concerts and related events. In my residence there is an upright piano by Yamaha and when we invited the widow of Oscar Peterson to my residence, she spotted that piano. And according to her, that piano was once played by Oscar. And she kindly gave me the photo of Oscar playing that piano. Now that piano sits in my salon; it’s by pure coincidence, but it’s a wonderful thing.

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