Japan and Austria – 150 years of friendship

SOCIETY Magazine spoke with the Ambassador of Japan to Austria, H.E. Akira Mizutani about the long lasting relationship between the two countries.

Last year, Japan and Austria celebrated 150 years of diplomatic relations. What connects the two countries and in which ways do they differ from each other?

Both countries highly appreciate the universal values of democracy, fundamental human rights, the rule of law, and market economy. We also share the experience after the Second World War, when the people joined forces in reconstructing their own countries and we have an excellent bilateral friendship. Austria is a very popular travel destination for Japanese tourists. Many Japanese love classical music represented by Austria, and many also study here.

Austrians, on the other hand, have a positive image of the Japanese as reliable and diligent people who cherish their traditions and culture. They are not only interested in historical traditions of Japan, but also in different aspects of modern Japan such as science, technology, economy and movies as well as anime or the “Kawaii” aesthetic in popular culture.

The last two years saw the introduction of direct flights between Austria and Japan. Austrian Airlines relaunched direct services in 2018 for a limited time. In 2019, a non-stop flight between Vienna and Tokyo was launched by All Nippon Airways. The Japanese government has also started a campaign to attract more tourists to the country.

Six months have passed since my arrival in Austria and I got the impression, that we share a similar mentality. We appreciate a softer approach to things and do not like to impose ourselves on others.

There are also differences between our countries. For example, after WW II., Japan’s national security focused on the relations with the US while at the same time improving bilateral relations with other Asian countries. Austria, on the other hand, chose to adopt permanent neutrality for its foreign policy and strengthened its ties to other European countries. Japan and the EU are both important global players in the fields of politics and economy. Austria has been playing the role of a bridge builder between Western and Eastern Europe, which coincides with the basic philosophy of Japan in the world community.  

You have been accredited as Ambassador of Japan to Austria in December 2019. What would you like to accomplish during your term?

As the year 2020 marks “150 Years Friendship Japan-Austria plus 1”, I will further strengthen the bilateral ties. In the past two decades, our mutual relationship grew closer, especially relations between the Imperial House of Japan and the Office of the Federal President of Austria. Since 2002, there have been many official visits on the highest level from both sides.

Currently both governments are making their utmost efforts to overcome the novel coronavirus infectious disease, which is impeding the movement of people.

In Austria, the 150 Years Friendship Japan-Austria was celebrated with more than 200 events. I would like to keep up this momentum. The Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games, which are postponed to 2021, should offer a good opportunity to intensify our friendship.

With regard to the economy, the Japan-EU EPA provides an excellent foundation for further strengthening the economic relations between our countries. I would like to support an early conclusion of a Social Security Agreement between Austria and Japan, and promote the bilateral economic cooperation regarding the West Balkan Region.

My Embassy is in charge of the cooperation with the OSCE as well. While continuing the close cooperation with the OSCE. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the OSCE Asian Partnership for Co-operation. While continuing the close cooperation with the OSCE, I would like to tackle security challenges from a global perspective.

I am also serving as the Japanese Ambassador to Kosovo. Last year, we celebrated the 10th anniversary of diplomatic relations. This year, with the opening of our Embassy in Kosovo, I would also like to deepen the friendship between Japan and Kosovo by contributing even more to the development of the country and the stability of the region.

Outside the diplomatic sphere – how is Japan represented here in Austria and how big is the Japanese community?

About 3000 Japanese citizens (as of 2018) are living in Austria, 66% of which are in Vienna. There are the Japanese Association of Austria and the Japanese International School. The Japan External Trade Organization has also an office in Vienna. Besides our Embassy, the Japanese Government is also represented by the Permanent Mission of Japan to the International Organizations.

Approximately 120 Japanese companies are active in Austria. They are not only “big-name” companies like Daikin, Toyota or Panasonic, but also steady companies like Amada (metal processing equipment and machinery), Nichicon (capacitors), or Shiraishi-Omya (material products and applied development). Some medium-sized production companies indispensable for the manufacturing industry are also doing good jobs.

The COVID-19 is viciously hampering our bilateral relations. My embassy has been eagerly responding to the COVID-19. However, when the situation recovers, I do want Austrians to get to know more about Japan. The Embassy has been cooperating with Japan-related organizations in Austria, we are providing information about Japanese government scholarships and you can get information about the chances to work in the Japanese local communities or at the junior high schools through the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) programme.

In 2019, the European Union-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement, which is considered the world’s largest economic area, came into force. How important is this Agreement for both sides, and how would you like to see the EU-Japan relations in the future?   

The Japan-EU EPA eloquently embodies that both parties are global partners sharing fundamental values such as democracy, basic human rights, and the rule of law. In the mood of protectionism, this high-level agreement between Japan and the EU forms the foundation of a free, fair and open international trade and economic system. Together with the Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA), it will raise Japan-EU relations to a new strategic level.

Photo: SOCIETY/Pobaschnig