Ambassador Tadaharu Uehara on Japan-Georgia Relations

Exclusive Interview

GEORGIA TODAY knocked at the door of the Japanese Embassy for an amicable chat with His Excellence Ambassador Tadaharu Uehara to discuss the relations between the two countries.

“The political cooperation between Japan and Georgia has worked very well since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1992,” the Ambassador told us. “Japan was one of the first countries to recognize Georgia’s independence. Since then, Japan has persistently supported Georgia in its territorial integrity and sovereignty. Just after the conflict with Russia in August 2008, the Government of Japan provided one million USD through the UNHCR as emergency humanitarian aid for IDPs.”

Since 1998, Japan has been implementing various human security grassroots projects (GGP), which has continued for more than 20 years as an icon of Japan’s assistance to Georgia. It also strongly supports Georgia’s solid aspiration, based on the will of the citizens of Georgia, to consolidate its democracy and to be further integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community.

“As the path towards democracy is always a long and winding road, I do hope that the citizens of Georgia are voluntarily taking part in creating the country’s democracy in a calm, healthy, and constructive manner,” the Ambassador noted.

Japanese Foreign Minister Kono visited Georgia last September, launching the “Caucasus Initiative,” which focuses on development of human assets and infrastructure in Georgia. Under this initiative, Japan has developed many standout initiatives, among them the expansion of invitation programs, education programs, the Bilateral Investment Treaty, the provision of credit and investment insurance, and numerous large-scale cultural events, dialogues with students, business roundtables and forums.

“Georgia is a very important country not only for this region but also for the international community, because it has the capacity to play a big role as the crossroad hub between east and west, north and south,” the Ambassador says. “With all this in mind, I think the cooperation between the two countries is on the right track and we’re now gaining momentum to develop this relationship even further.”

What is Georgia’s potential in the role of a crossroad hub?

Georgia has few natural resources, like Japan, but it is located at the crossroad of economies, between east and west, and north and south. This is one asset, as is its potential human capital. If Georgia utilizes these inherited assets, I trust that it will overcome the difficulties and successfully pave the way to being a young, democratic, green and inclusive country.

Everybody sees Georgia as a kind of economic corridor and also a communication corridor. To fully benefit from it, the country must have a strong stance on fundamental values such as democracy and rule of law. I really want Georgia to be a very democratic country; to be a showcase of what an independent, democratic country can be like in this region. This is also to the benefit of the international community.

Would you say Georgia is on the right track?

Democracy is not an easy path. When we think about the long history of humanity, democracy, in its more modern form, only emerged about 200-300 years ago. The international community welcomes and supports Georgia’s stance to take the path to democracy, but my personal opinion is that we have a variety of democracies; our background is a different, cultural way of thinking, meaning we need to build our own democracy. Japanese democracy is different from that of the United States and European countries, and so I deeply believe Georgian democracy should be built and developed by Georgians, while keeping in mind that, fundamentally, democracy is supposed to represent people’s power and respect of individual rights. I really support Georgia’s path, because we too, the Japanese, need to make every effort to develop our own democracy. It’s a mutual challenge.

Please tell us about the economic cooperation between the two countries.

Until a couple of years ago, Japanese economic interest in Georgia was not so high and because there was considerable economic growth in the East Asia countries and most Japanese companies were focused on the Asian market. That, plus they had a very stereotypical notion: that Georgia is relatively small and there might be the risk of a second conflict after the war and Russian invasion in 2008. But things are changing. Last year, the Japanese Foreign Minister visited Georgia and this kind of high-level exchange is very important because Japan came to notice that this region has a very important role to play in peace in the Middle East and that it can act as a crossroad between East and West. Japan believes that it is very important to support this economic corridor, this bridge between Europe and China; in China there might be some Japanese companies interested in exporting goods from the west part of China to Eastern Europe through this kind of corridor.

Another Japanese concern comes from the awareness that investment always requires stability of income and of the political situation. The rule of law and justice are also important for any potential disputes between stakeholders. I want to emphasize how important the rule of law and justice are. Of course, companies will want to sort out their private business without going to court, within the confines of their own headquarters, but sometimes we need to go to court for legal decisions and the importance of a well-working judiciary needs to be understood.

Do you think that there is a deficit of it in Georgia? Do the Japanese companies think so?

Yes, I think so.

What does the general public of Japan think of Georgia?

Until a few years ago, many Japanese people had few, if any, idea about Georgia. However, I’m very happy to say that Georgia is becoming a hotspot among Japanese people. This is something to do with the incredible success of Sumo wrestler Tochinoshin and the recent growing popularity of Georgian orange (amber) wine. Japanese travelers are fascinated by the rich Georgian history, nature, culture, language, gastronomy, wine, and hospitality. Georgia can offer a lot of things to the Japanese. There is no doubt that Georgia can touch the heart of Japanese tourists.

Although our journey for discovery of Georgia is relatively new, I think most Japanese travelers feel an affinity to Georgia when they come to know how deep the spirit of Japanese martial arts is rooted in society here, and when they experience the heart-felt hospitality for guests. To me, Georgian people seem to be more passionate in their quest for the virtue of Japanese martial arts than the Japanese. I believe we two nations have a very good chemistry.

What could Japan teach Georgia about being on time and organized?

Very interesting question. But it’s no magic, just a matter of education and practice. When we’re school pupils, we are strictly taught not to be late for class. Your delay affects not only you but also those around you. This mentality continues in the workplace. It’s a kind of etiquette for Japanese to be punctual. Toyota cannot operate Just in Time (JIT) manufacturing if the auto assembly plant workers are not punctual. Shinkansen (the 300km/h Bullet Train), departs every three minutes with bumper-to-bumper operation, passengers’ getting off and on, complete seat cleaning at the destination station, and Shinkansen has enjoyed no fatal accident since the beginning of operations 55 years ago. Shinkansen cannot safely operate if it is not punctual and its safety is not strictly controlled.

This is the uncompromising commitment of the Japanese to the passengers, customers, co-existing society, family members, classmates, and any other stakeholder.

When you do business with or work for Japanese companies, you are regarded as a family member and must meet the standards to keep the quality of products and services, and to meet customer satisfaction. This is a promise to the people, company and society you deal with.

Georgians being much more “chaotic,” how can these contrasts work together?

I wouldn’t go so far as to call it chaos, but if you insist, I have to admit that I love this kind of chaos - because everybody wants to be flexible and enjoy a moment to themselves, to have breathing space, forgetting about any burden- it's really wonderful! But Georgia needs to understand that business always requires efficiency to be competitive. In such an environment, even one minute, one second, is precious. Georgia is now starting to export wine to Japan and honey to Europe. It's all very good, but if we want to make the business more competitive, then delivery should be very punctual. Customers want to have your wines and honey today, but if you can't deliver on time, you will lose those customers. Such efficiency and competitiveness need to be maintained, because you can be sure that your competitor is doing so.

Another important point would be creating what is called a “corporate culture.” In the very competitive global economic environment, management and employee discipline are the keys to success in business. I hope that the Japanese management philosophy valuing “long-term sustainability” for the benefits of the multi-stakeholders- customers, employees and society - can significantly contribute to creating a competitive Georgian corporate culture. I believe that a business empowering people will always win customer trust, consistently create jobs and eventually sustainably make a profit.

The Japanese are also famous for their infrastructure. Any ideas what we can do to solve the traffic problems plaguing Tbilisi?

That is a problem we share. Our congestion was very severe, and we made every effort to change the traffic lights, introducing time limits and so on. But we still have roads packed with traffic and too many cars coming to one and the same place. It’s about adaptation and finding a solution, bringing traffic under the control of the police and infrastructure ministry.

What works best: fewer cars or building more roads?

Both. And also improving public transport. People opting for public transport is one of the most celebrated stories in Japan, reducing the number of private cars. We find youth don't even want a car these days because they know they can use public transportation.

Tell us about the role the Japanese Embassy in Georgia plays in promoting the relationship between two countries.

As Ambassador of Japan, I would like Georgians to feel closer to Japan in many ways, whether its education, culture, business, or diplomacy.

It is very important for us to reach out with our cultural events, countrywide and among the younger generation. I believe that developing people-to-people grassroots relations is crucial for the establishment of a good political, economic, and business relationship between the two countries.

Culture, in particular, is very powerful in fostering peoples’ understanding and chemistry. I’m sure that cultural understanding and attachments are the foundation of diplomacy, and I’m happy to see that Georgian people are becoming more widely familiar with Japanese culture and people’s thinking. Our mission is to bring the two countries’ relations closer, for mutual benefits.

I also want young Japanese to be more interested in the unforgettable experience to be had in Georgia, and I want young Georgians to understand the path Japan has taken, its failures and many successes, that helped it to get to where it is today.

By Vazha Tavberidze

23 May 2019 16:15