This coming July, Japan will host the Olympic and Paralympic Games in Tokyo. To mark the commencement of this outstanding event, the Olympic Flame was lit on March 12 in Ancient Olympia and the handover ceremony will be held at the Panathenaic Stadium on March 19 in Athens. Over the following four months, the Flame will travel across Japan via the Torch Relay route.
It will complete its journey at the Olympic Stadium in Tokyo in July, spreading the spirit of peace as the Flame shines. Japan and Greece should seize this opportunity and make maximum use of this historical event in order to strengthen bilateral relations in various fields, including economic relations.
I fully understand the current coronavirus situation and the anxiety of people all around the world toward this widespread epidemic. However, the International Olympic Committee, together with the Japanese Olympic Committee, as well as the Tokyo Organizing Committee, are doing their utmost to ensure the safety of the Games, and that the preparation will continue as planned. I am sure that by the time of the Olympic Games, everything will be under control.
While Japan and Greece are geographically located far apart in East and West, both countries share many things in common and have each developed their civilizations deriving from ancient times. For example, Shintoism is a traditional polytheistic religion that originated in Japan, similar to the ancient Greek worship of the Gods of Olympus, that believed in deities living in all the natural world. In another example, Japanese Omotenashi is very similar to Greek Filoxenia, which shows the spirit of hospitality toward visitors in both countries. Furthermore, the rule of law, human rights, free economy and democracy are principles that both countries share.
Based on these common grounds, Japan and Greece share a long history of exchanges. The year 2019 was the 120th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Greece and was celebrated with a series of cultural events. Among others, Japan Week, which took place in Athens last November, is still fresh in our minds.
In terms of economy, the two countries have been building a deep bilateral relationship. Greece and Japan are the world’s first and second shipowning nations, and continue their strong maritime cooperation as a key pillar in bilateral relations. Furthermore, in the field of high technology, Greek consumers are very familiar with many Japanese products. Greek products will also be further promoted in Japan under the EU-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement.
The new Greek government is now trying to attract foreign investments which will be a source of Greek economic growth. In response, Japanese companies have shown great interest in Greek markets. For example, Hitachi Rail is constructing a high-tech automatic driverless railway system for the Thessaloniki Metro – for the first time in Greece. Japan Tobacco International has invested in the Xanthi factory and created local employment opportunities, while Hitachi Zosen Inova started operating an environmentally friendly biogas plant in Epirus region last year. Japan is ready to contribute to the Greek economy through investments and tourism.
Looking back to the reconstruction of postwar Japan, the process of building a modern nation took place under the guiding principle of democracy, which originated in ancient Greece. What encouraged Japanese citizens at that time were the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964. Hosting the Olympic Games was a perfect opportunity for Japan to show that it had become a peaceful nation. Ever since then, Japan has continued to be a strong supporter of the Olympic movement as a symbol of peace. The Tokyo Olympics in 2020 will be the fourth Olympic Games hosted in Japan.
As everybody knows, the Olympic Games originated in ancient Greece and their spirit has spread from Greece around the whole world. The Japanese people have good memories of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games, since the Japanese National Team won the greatest number of medals in the history of Japan’s participation during those Games.
The Olympic year 2020 provides a great opportunity for both Greece and Japan to strengthen our bilateral relations, including economic relations. Fortunately, that effort has already began. At the end of January, Greece’s Deputy Foreign Minister for Economic Diplomacy and Openness Kostas Fragogiannis visited Tokyo and appealed for Japanese investment in Greece. I hope that this effort leads to more concrete results and high-level exchanges that will further develop our bilateral relations.
I hope with all my heart that Japan and Greece will take advantage of all the unique opportunities that the Tokyo Olympic Games have to offer.
Yasuhiro Shimizu is the ambassador of Japan to Greece.