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Matahiro Yamaguchi (Ambassador of Japan):

Lebanon and Japan.. A 63 years story

Of growing commercial & cultural relations

1-  History of economic bilateral relations between Japan and the Lebanese Republic. Stability and change. What are your plans to promote and solidify these relations?

After the establishment of Japanese delegation in Lebanon in 1954, Japan built close economic relationship with Lebanon, which was considered as a center of trade, commerce and economy in the Middle East. In reality, Beirut became a center of Japanese economic activities in the region, and in the 1970s, there were around 1500 Japanese living in Lebanon. However, Lebanese civil war that started in 1975 forced Japanese companies to leave the country, and since then the economic activities of Japanese companies in Lebanon have not recovered to the pre-war level. Nevertheless, I would like to contribute to revitalize the bilateral economic ties through introducing Japanese high technology such as cars, electronic products and robots as well as Japanese soft power such as cuisine and animation, in both of which Japan has strengths in all over the world.

2- Volume of trade with Japan , present and past? Exports? Imports? What Lebanon imports from Japan and what it exports  to Japan? Japanese investments in Lebanon , if any? Lebanese investments  in Japan?

The total volume of trade between Lebanon and Japan has remained at the same level for the past several years. In 2015, the total value of Japan’s exports to Lebanon was $544.5 million which mainly consists of cars and electronic products, while its imports from Lebanon include base metal products are valued at $18.4 million. In Lebanon, Japanese machinery products are known as strong and durable; thus, Japanese products, especially the cars are very popular among Lebanese people.

Currently, there are no inward or outward direct investments between Japan and Lebanon; however, as the Ambassador of Japan to Lebanon, I am determined to exert the efforts to increase the interests in the investment through promoting the mutual understanding between the two countries.

3- Lebanese nationals in Japan, Japanese nationals in Lebanon?

There are 110 Lebanese living in Japan as of the year of 2016, whereas 91 Japanese nationals are living in Lebanon.

4- Volume of Japanese Loans to our country? Grants? Nature of the technical Cooperation Japan offers to Lebanon?

The Government of Japan has provided Lebanon with over $150 million in economic aid since 2012 to support the host communities that are affected by the large influx of Syrian refugees as well as Syrian refugees in need of humanitarian assistance.

The large number of refugees had a negative impact on the creation of new employment opportunities for the Lebanese residents; therefore the Japanese Government has put greater importance on supporting Lebanese youth and host communities through vocational training and capacity building and focused also on the education, health, protection, livelihood, border control and demining sectors.

Additionally, Japan has been providing technical assistance to Lebanese officials through JICA training program in Japan, by utilizing Japanese technology, skills and knowledge, as more than 180 Lebanese officials have participated in the training in various sectors for the past 35 years. The JICA Alumni Association that is organized by the former JICA trainees is very active in Lebanon, serving as a bridge to connect Japan with not only Lebanon, but also with other countries in the Middle East. I strongly hope that this active economic cooperation will help strengthen the economic and commercial ties between the two countries.

5- Besides exchanging cultural figures and specialists, Japan has been providing cultural grants to whom and on what basis? What is the number of Lebanese students enrolled in Japanese   Educational and Academic institutions?

The Japanese government has extended cultural grant for around 20 projects and our latest grant for example is the grant for the Project for the Improvement of Archaeological research Equipment of National Council for Scientific Research of Lebanon which aims at promoting archaeological research in Lebanon (total amount of the grant is 72,700,000 JPY (around 0.65 million USD). Also, we have extended grant to the Gibran Museum for the lighting and sound equipment in 2004, as well as grant for the innovation of the museum and Audio guide equipment in this year. In sports field, we have also extended grant to Lebanese JUDO Federation, ISKF (International Shotokan Karate Federation) and Ministry of Sports and Youth…When it comes to Music, we have extended grant to   the Lebanese National Higher Conservatory of Music for its music instruments.

Many Lebanese students have studied in Japan through Japanese MEXT scholarship program. More than 70 Lebanese students have obtained their master degree and PhD since 80’s. I hope more and more Lebanese students go to Japan for study.

6- What cultural projects the Embassy oversees in Lebanon? Will you be re-launching the “Japan Week” in Lebanon again specially that it attracted approximately  2000 people?

We are always seeking to expand our cultural activities here in Lebanon. This year, we have organized “Japan Weekend” in Bsharri in August as well as “Japan day” in cooperation with LeBAM in September. We are planning karate event in Tripoli in February. We are willing to activate our cultural events.

7- How much Japan seeks to spread the values of its civilization and culture? You will be surprised with the proliferation of Japanese restaurants, a majority of Lebanese turned into Sushi lovers.

When I came here last January to take up the current post, I was very surprised to know that there were so many Sushi restaurants/bars, and I heard that there are currently around 190 Sushi restaurants/bars all over Lebanon, that number is actually superior to the number of Japanese living in Lebanon. And I’m very glad to know that many Lebanese people, both youngsters and aged people have becoming Sushi lover.

8- How much is Lebanon benefitting from Japan’s technical cooperation programs and technological advances in general?

As far as the technological field is concerned, as I mentioned, a lot of Lebanese students have obtained their master’s degrees and PhDs in Japan through the MEXT scholarship. Many of them have obtained their degrees in the scientific field.

9- Was Lebanon involved in the Cultural Grassroots Grant Program(CGGP) launched by Japan?

As I have already mentioned above, we have been supporting Lebanon in the cultural field under the framework of CGGP.

10- Japan’s touristic policy towards Lebanon, touristic exchanges?

Last year, over 24 million foreign visitors came to Japan. The Government of Japan is now aiming for 40 million foreign tourists visiting Japan in 2020. We hope many Lebanese people will visit Japan, thus promoting mutual understanding between two countries.  2020 Tokyo Olympic and Paralympic Games will also be a good opportunity of exchange of our people.

11- What is on your diplomatic agenda for 2018?

Since I took up my post as the Ambassador of Japan to Lebanon last January, I have been working on strengthening the bilateral relationship between Japan and Lebanon, and I’d like to express that the Government of Japan will continue to support Lebanon, which is hosting a large number of Syrians despite its hard economic situation.

12- How do you anticipate this diplomatic assignment? Where have you served previous diplomatic assignments?

I have been posted in many Arab countries. Before coming here, I was Consul-General in Jeddah. I have studied the Arabic in Egypt around 38 years ago, and Sudan was my first post as a diplomat. I have been assigned to posts in Yemen, Palestine, Jordan and so on.