President Nov / Dec 2020

Brighter, more hopeful 2021

In the months since January, we have experi­enced what it is like to live in a volatile and uncertain world. The pandemic has taken a terrible toll on human lives and livelihoods, and the path to recovery is uneven. We should be confi­dent though that journey will take us into a brighter and more hopeful 2021.

For the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ), there have been challenges but also upside surprises—most recently the 2020 British Business Awards (BBA) on 5 November. With stellar nominees and outstanding judges, the quality of the awards was always assured. The decision to deliver virtually, however, was a leap of faith. Challenges were different to those of hosting a gala dinner for 400 guests, but no less daunting, and the organising team (led by BCCJ Executive Committee member Heather McLeish) far exceeded expectations.

Incredible achievements

For business, this is an exciting time to be involved in UK–Japan relations. Crucially, the ingenuity and stamina of negotiating teams from both govern­ments has produced the UK–Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement, providing essential continuity for bilateral trade and commer­cial interaction. This is, of course, not the first trade agreement between the countries—the original being signed in 1613, thanks to the good offices of William Adams, the first Englishman in Japan. A fitting reminder that this year marks the 400th anniversary of his death!

Resilience was a key theme of this year’s BBA, and sports fans will forgive me recalling the achieve­ment of Wales rugby captain Alun Wyn Jones, who, the previous week, became the world’s most capped interna­tional player of all time. The Welsh Rugby Union has done incredible work to develop relation­ships with Japan, and business is building on that—most recently with a Welsh Government virtual trade mission.

Nine of Jones’ caps have been for the British & Irish Lions—incredible, yet short of the record 17 earned by former Lions captain Willie John McBride. McBride hails from Northern Ireland, which has become an important destination for Japanese technology investment into the UK (Rakuten Inc. established its Blockchain Lab there in 2016). Educational and research links flourish, too, with recent collaboration between Queen’s University Belfast and Hiroshima University in the field of conflict resolution and peace studies.

Eyes to the sky

Education and research are UK-wide strengths—particularly in Scotland, with three universities dating back to the 15th century. Prior to the BBA, though, one of its newer institutions—Edinburgh Napier—was mourning the loss of its most famous honorary graduate, the actor Sir Sean Connery. Iconic as fictional spy James Bond, his fifth film, You Only Live Twice, opens with a rocket ship capturing another in Earth orbit and returning with it to land in a volcano in Japan! In the spirit of such ground-breaking ingenuity, I like to think Connery would be proud of the University of Glasgow’s  current collaboration with Japan’s Astroscale and Fujitsu on a UK Space Agency-funded project to make space debris removal missions commercially viable.

England also has its share of world class uni­versities, and there is no more vital work at this time than the  University of Oxford’s pursuit of an effective vaccine for Covid-19. We hope for their success and applaud, through the BBA, the achievements of their industry partner in Japan—AstraZeneca K.K., BBA Company of the Year 2020. Congratulations to them, and to all of this year’s winners and nominees, at the unique—and very special—virtual 2020 BBA.