Obituary August 2015

Anglophile par excellence

A lifetime of service to Japan−UK relations

Sukeyoshi Yamamoto OBE and the BCCJ’s Sanae Samata

Sukeyoshi Yamamoto OBE and the BCCJ’s Sanae Samata

Sukeyoshi Yamamoto OBE, who has died at the age of 75, was the first Japanese elected to the Executive Committee (Excom) of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ). He served from April 2000 to March 2012 and rarely missed a monthly meeting.

He was also a regular attendee at chamber events and took part as often as possible in executive briefings for visiting businesspeople and government officials, bringing his valuable perspective to the proceedings.

Yamamoto was an Anglophile par excellence. He developed this strong affection as a result of having lived for eight years in the UK, where in the early 1970s, he oversaw the setting up and management of the first Japanese direct investment in the North-East of England.

It was a plant for NSK Bearings Europe Ltd. in Peterlee, County Durham. Even years after returning to Japan, Yamamoto could turn a Geordie phrase with consummate ease.

In 1999, he was awarded an Honorary OBE for over 20 years of service to Japan−UK relations at grass roots level. But he also has much earlier family connections with the UK.

Yamamoto hailed from a distinguished family, though he never knew his father Yuji, a rear admiral in the Japanese navy who perished in the 1945 sinking of the Yamato, when Sukeyoshi was just four years old. Yamato and her sister ship the Musashi were considered the epitome of Japanese naval strength.

It was Sukeyoshi’s lifelong quest to discover as much information as he could about his father and his ship. The navy was in his blood; his maternal grandfather was Admiral Teijiro Toyoda, who for a time served as naval attaché to the Court of St James’s, the royal court for the British sovereign.

Toyoda had studied at Oxford and would become deputy minister of the navy and secretary of state for industry in the cabinet of Prime Minister Fumimaro Konoe. He also served in the same administration as secretary of state for foreign affairs and later for transport and ammunition.

Toyoda’s daughter, Yamamoto’s mother, served as a lady-in-waiting to the Imperial Household.

Despite his distinguished background, Yamamoto was a modest man who generally shunned the spotlight. He always attached importance to the Anglo-Japanese relationship and was proud to serve on BCCJ Excom, for whom he wrote a much-appreciated monthly “weather report”.

This was an economic summary of what was happening in Japanese business and industry, expressed in terms of weather conditions by sector: “Manufacturing: sunny periods”; “Construction: overcast”; “Pharmaceuticals: heavy rain”, and so on.

Many recipients found the “weather report” extremely useful in giving briefings to their head office and, indeed, in local internal meetings. Yamamoto presented a report at each monthly gathering of the Excom and continued his preparation even after ill health prevented him from attending and forced him to step down.

At the BCCJ Annual General Meeting in April 2012, Yamamoto announced his retirement from Excom.

“I wish the BCCJ continued success, not just in increasing its members but in its quality. Please continue to keep British identity and British dignity at events and show that the BCCJ is different in quality from any other chamber”, he said.

The UK and all things British were close to Yamamoto. At heart he remained a proud and distinguished Japanese gentleman, who will be missed by all who knew him well.

He is survived by his widow, Kimiko, and daughter, Yumiyo.