Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | August 29, 2002, Thursday // 00:00

H.E. Yasuyoshi Ichihashi has been Japan's Ambassador to Bulgaria since December 2001. Before coming to Bulgaria, he was General Consul in Japan's consulate in Shanghai, China. He has significant diplomatic experience. H.E. Ichihash worked at different top positions at Japan's Embassy in China as well as in Japan's Foreign Ministry.

H.E Ichihashi kindly answered questions of Milena Hristova

Q: Do you share the fears that Japan's fledgling economic recovery is still in trouble?

A: As you may know, during the last 10 years the Japanese economy has not been in good shape. There are many different reasons but the main one is the delayed start of the process of restructuring of Japanese economy. In that regard, at present the cabinet of Junichiro Koizumi makes significant efforts for execution of coordinated structural reforms in the financial and economic sectors. In today's world of globalization most countries direct their efforts toward economic restructuring. The execution of economic reforms is a painful but necessary process for the improvement of business environment and revitalization of economic activities.

Q: Two-way trade with Japan has gone down for the last ten years, currently being just a half of the 1989 levels. In which sectors do you think Bulgaria should seek to boost its economic cooperation with Japan?

A: The government of Japan has been supporting the efforts of your governments during the years of transition after the start of reforms in 1989. On one hand the success of ongoing economic reforms of Bulgarian government is evident, but on the other they are accompanied by some economic difficulties. These difficulties are one of the reasons for the decline of two-way trade with Japan. The focal question when we talk about the possibility for promotion of two-way trade is the strategy of the private company. I hope, along with the improvement of the business climate and in the process of ongoing economic reforms aiming to cover the criteria for Bulgarian membership to EU and NATO, the trade with Japanese firms will increase.

Q: What impact would Bulgaria's eventual accession to EU have on bilateral relations with Japan? What do you think is the most realistic date for Bulgaria's EU entry?

A: I expect that with eventual accession of Bulgaria to EU the number of Japanese companies maintaining activities here will increase, and they will increase the size of the Japanese investments by making use of Bulgaria's comparative advantages such as cheap and qualified working force.

Q: Japan has gone through a lot of changes because of its westernization. Is there anything that the Japanese can learn and adopt from the lifestyle of Eastern Europeans and Bulgarians in particular?

A: I think that Bulgarian people appreciate the beautiful nature and enjoy their life during the four seasons. The Japanese people will be able to learn from Bulgarians about their culture and lifestyle.

Before coming to your country I knew that Bulgaria is a country of roses, wine and yogurt. Since I wanted to learn something more I browsed through the Internet sites about Bulgaria. Most information was in English and very little in Japanese. For the Japanese people to learn something more about you country the Japanese Embassy in Sofia will have to open its own web site where some useful information about Bulgaria will be presented in Japanese.

Q: How can Bulgarians tap the Japanese experience for increasing the economic efficiency in the country?

A: There are different forms for learning the Japanese experience but most important is to promote the exchange of people. For example, the Japanese International Cooperation Agency dispatched experts for assisting Bulgarian government in formulation of key government policies in industry. Many Bulgarian specialists attend training courses in Japan in different fields. Japanese Overseas Cooperation Volunteers also come to Bulgaria and exchange their experiences with the Bulgarian counterparts in different sectors but mainly to those related to culture, education and social policy.

Q: The Japanese government released financial aid for a number of projects to Bulgaria. What are the medium-term plans in this respect?

A: Japan extends assistance under different forms. At governmental level we provide general grant aid, non-project grant assistance, cultural grant assistance. For example, in 1999, Japan provided a general grant aid of 10.4 mln USDs for construction of purification plant facility in Sofia City-Bistritsa. In 1999 our country extended a non-project grant-aid of 500 mln yen in support of the structural reforms in Bulgaria.

Within the frame of cultural grants assistance, in the period 1991-2001 Japan donated equipment to the National Library, the State Musical Academy, the National Institute of Monuments of Culture, the National Academy for Theatre & Movie Arts, the Sofia Philharmonic Orchestra.

Other form of assistance is the provision of yen loans. For example, until now were provided loans for construction of hotel in Sofia (present Kempinski Hotel Zografski), for industrial pollution improvement project in the Plovdiv region, for the Port Burgas expansion project, etc..

On February 4, 2002, I signed and exchanged notes with Foreign Minister Solomon Passy concerning the agreement for a loan in Japanese yen for the Sofia underground Extension Project. I hope that through improvement of transport infrastructure a vast circle of people in the capital of Bulgaria will benefit.

Technical assistance is another form of assistance. Within the frame of this program we accept Bulgarian specialists for training courses in Japan, dispatch Japanese experts to Bulgaria and Japanese Overseas Co-operation Volunteers. Besides, we extend project-type technical cooperation and technical cooperation program to support he formulation of the key government policies in industry of the Republic of Bulgaria.

The Japanese Bank for International Cooperation provides also financial assistance in cooperation with some international financial institutions as World Bank to the total USD 100 mln.

Along the assistance at governmental level, Japan also executes so called Grant assistance for Grass Roots Projects. The program started in 1998 with main purpose to provide assistance of projects for social and economic development, executed by NGOs, local governments, research institutions, etc.. It allows Embassy of Japan to establish direct contacts with the above structures and to conclude contracts for projects whose realization has been approved. The program is very popular. We receive over 500 applications every year but can realize approx. five of them. Priority have projects in the field of education, of social policy related to measures in support of orphans, unemployed and socially disadvantaged. In the period 1998-2001, Japan provided grant assistance for 12 grass roots projects.

In 2001 we have launched Cultural Grant Assistance for Grass Roots Projects and donated audio equipment for $90 439 to the Central Puppet Theatre in Sofia.

On August 20, I signed and exchanged notes with Foreign Minister Solomon Passy for donation of audio equipment to the National Palace of Culture for 4.6 mln yen.

The total amount of assistance provided by Japan to Bulgaria in the field of economy amount to 328 mln USDs, and in the field of culture- 4 mln and 600 thousands USDs.

In addition, I wish to say that Japan will continue to support further the ongoing economic reforms aiming to match economic criteria for Bulgarian accession to Euro-Atlantic structures.

Q: How does Japan's Embassy engage in the task of introducing Japanese culture to Bulgarians?

A: Further promotion of bilateral cultural exchange is one of the most important tasks of the Embassy of Japan in Sofia. As you may know, in 1990 the Embassy of Japan in Sofia has organized and performed for the first time the Days of the Japanese Culture. This autumn the Days of the Japanese Culture will take place for 13 consequent time. Every year we try to introduce to Bulgarian audience different dimensions of Japanese history, culture and traditions and various aspects of modern Japanese Arts. The official opening of the 13th Days of the Japanese Culture will take place on September 26, 2002. They will continue until November 16, 2002. This year our program includes presentation of raku-go, Bulgaria-Japanese joint exhibition of children's drawings, Bulgarian-Japanese textile exhibition, joint concert for violin with the Japanese conductor Mitsuyoshi Oikawa and the violist Atsuko Temma, performance of traditional Japanese Theatre "NO", modern Japanese dances, exhibition of Japanese kimono, lecture entitled "Bushido -the way of the warrior", Japanese Pop-Music performance, Tea Ceremony demonstration and Festival of the Japanese movie. I hope that many Bulgarians will enjoy our program and will learn more about Japanese culture and arts that will promote further the mutual understanding and friendship between our two people.

Q: How would you describe Bulgaria in three words?

A: I appreciate highly the serious and hard-working people of Bulgaria, its beautiful countryside and the ancient history, culture and traditions.

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