Mr. Kiya Masahiko Consul-General of Japan in Sydney.

Matsuri Japan FestivalThe Story of a Japanese Community

Matsuri Japan Festival is one of the biggest Japanese events held annually in Australia with the number of visitors reaching as high as 50,000. Situated in Darling Harbour, Matsuri Japan Festival over the last decade has become a regular celebration, for the residents of Sydney and New South Wales, of both Japanese culture and multiculturalism. This is the third of the interview series I conduct with different volunteers and representatives who were behind the success of Matsuri Japan Festival.

The following interview is with Mr. Kiya Masahiko, the new Consul-General of Japan in Sydney. The Consul-General of Japan has been crucial in the success of Matsuri for many years. Here, Mr. Kiya Masahiko discusses his view on Australia – Japan relation in the coming years.

How do you like Sydney so far?”

Mr. Kiya: It’s great! I think it is such a lovely city. Sydney is good in the sense that it is a combination of strength with various traditions and cultures. Today’s Sydney was built by the British, but eventually people from other countries from Europe and Asia, including the Japanese also settled here more and more; but most importantly there is also a growing respect for the indigenous people of the land. In addition, the country is abundant with lands and natural resources. So in my view, the city of Sydney, but also wider Australia is a blessed place with its full inclusivity and respect for people of all backgrounds, all under strong a democracy. On top of that, there are nice beaches!

“Awesome! Have you been to other cities?”

Mr. Kiya: I’ve only been in Australia for more than a month but I’ve already been to many places outside of Sydney. First was to Canberra, then Goulburn, both for a meeting and due to the sister city relationship status. I have also been to Darwin. Darwin is very rich in local history, and also it is currently the biggest site of investment by a Japanese company at the moment. I also went to Port Stevens to see a football match and later joining with the Mayor for some chat. He had been to the Japanese sister city, Tatayama, previously. And then there’s Dubbo, since it was the 30th anniversary of sister city friendship celebration. I’ve been to so many places already within a single month.

“What brought you to this post here in Sydney?”

Mr. Kiya: Actually it was quite unexpected. Prior to this, I was working on some areas that were quite different. However, due to my substantial overseas experience over the course of my 30-year career: in the US, Bangladesh, Belgium, and even South Sudan, I had also studied in Britain, I felt that I would do best in this role, being able to really understand Australia’s strength and position in comparison to other countries.

I would like to ask you regarding the relationship of these countries, especially developing ones to Japan.”

I think the strength in terms of relationship between Japan and other countries comes from the Japanese demonstrating their full respect of other countries’ autonomy. Japan has its own history, surviving against superiors powers much stronger than her own. Being one of the few countries which is not colonized, we, Japanese understand the importance of self-reliance, autonomy, capacity building, leadership while both learning from others and retaining their own traditional culture. Therefore, people from various countries feel comfortable working with Japanese people. Sometimes this line of thinking fails but it does not here. Ultimately, our approach is to support autonomy, this is the main message.

“How about the relationship between Japan and Australia?”

Throughout my career, I have attended many events such as launching and completion ceremonies, I have also assisted in promotion projects and major visits of government officials. These are fairly major things for many countries, especially in developing countries. When it comes to Australia, however, it is slightly different. Australia is an advanced country and does not need encouragement, nor capacity building. When it comes to Japan-Australia, the mission is mutual learning. I have heard many Japanese including myself complementing, ‘Australia, what a nice country!’ But I have also heard of Australians going to Japan saying the same. We both have something the other doesn’t have, this exactly captures our relationship.

Indeed, Japan and Australia have a relationship that is quite different from other countries. On the one hand, Japan needs to learn from Australia’s multiculturalism. Australia can maintain her vibrancy and natural beauty despite the increasing population (through immigration), whilst at the same time, being able to harmonize between being a Western society and an emerging Asian economy. We’d really like to embrace the Australian style of respecting the indigenous people and welcoming immigrants, as we are experiencing decreasing population in an ageing society after many years of population expansion. We are still exploring a vision for the future. But embracing multiculturalism for the further development of the Japanese society is one thing we can learn from Australia.

On the other hand, the problem for Australia is more defined. What Japan has but Australia does not have is a long history of tradition and culture. For example, when we talk about Japanese culture, the spiritual, the supernatural would often come up in the conversation, and not simply just traditional arts like flower arrangement or the cuisine. These things, the horror, and the supernatural, particularly through Spirited Away and Totoro, which capture very well the Japanese attitudes, although being very attractive to the foreign eyes, to the Australian view, are not quite the core part of our culture. But it is understandable why this topic was chosen, but more importantly, Japanese culture and history would increase Australia’s cultural strength. Matsuri Japan Festival can contribute to this significantly, attracting both the young and the elderly for an eve to celebrate!

In my role, I will do my best and give it all my effort to do something for Australia. I think Matsuri Japan Festival is such an important and occasion and it will be great! It has become a part of Sydney’s festivals now, part of its multiculturalism, absorbing the strengths of other countries. Ultimately, my ambition is to bring Australia closer and make them stronger by helping with incorporating the strengths of other cultures. We hope that this would be a good occasion to present the various good aspects of Japan in order to enrich and deepen Australia culturally for the good of both countries. Throughout my career, I have witnessed successful cooperation in terms of business or security ties, but also overcoming difficult issues like the war 75 years ago. Therefore, we must continually work together and be united when addressing these challenges. The most important thing is to be able to build upon our good aspects and have a lot of confidence in being able to work together.

“I am sure Matsuri Japan Festival is one such occasion that we can cooperate to make something awesome together!”

Yes, I am looking forward to it as well. Everything is connected. It is important to have big ambitions and understand that you are not alone in order for your wish and vision to be realized through cooperating and collaborating with others. This is one of the occasions in which we can meet and get to know other people so that we can all work together. In the past, I used to think that the relationship was of mutual interest, in which strategy and common interest are tangible benefits for the short and long term. Obviously, this is very crucial, but more importantly, this can only be realized through a relationship built upon trust. If you don’t trust one another, no collaboration could ever be realized. One such first important steps  of this process is through cultural and student exchanges. I had overlooked this issue in the past, but I am gaining a better and better understanding about this, as trust is crucial for any potential mutual agreement to take place.

“I would like to thank you very much for sparing your time today to speak with us about your personal experiences and your thoughts on Australia – Japan relationship. We hope you will enjoy your time here in Sydney.”

Yes, I am new, and I wish to do my very best. I would like to do a get together soon with all the organizers from various Japanese organizations that I have been in contact with in the last few weeks at my residence as a casual gathering to express our appreciation for the efforts you are making to promote Japanese culture. I look forward to visiting your festival, and wish you all the best!

Interviewer: Tamika Ryman

Editor: Duke Nguyen