Earlier this year, the Japanese government named six Britons in the 2018 Spring Conferment of Decorations on Foreign Nationals for their “outstanding contributions to their respective areas”.
BCCJ ACUMEN caught up with one of the six, Peter Heginbotham OBE, who received the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. The former honorary consul of Japan in Manchester received the award for contributing to promoting friendly relations and exchanges between Japan and the UK for 10 years.
What did your work as honorary consul of Japan in Manchester involve?
The core of it was promoting Japan’s interests, looking after Japanese people who wanted advice, particularly on the commercial side of the businesses in Manchester and the northwest of England. Promoting cultural activities and trying to get more interest and awareness of Japan.
Is there a sizeable Japanese community in Manchester and the northwest?
I think the number of citizens here is thought to be less than 2,000 in the northwest. There were about 75 Japanese businesses in the core of the northwest.
And how did you come to be in that post?
The embassy had decided to appoint a consul in Manchester; there hadn’t been one for several decades before. A year or two before I think they had been going around looking for names. I believe they got on to the chamber of commerce, of which I am a former president, and they had also spoken to the town hall. It was the town hall which actually rang the Economic Development Office and asked if I might be interested. That led to the meeting with the then-consul general.
Had you had any real involvement with Japan prior to that?
Not as much as you might imagine. I did quite a lot of trips abroad on behalf of the chamber—not my own business—which included going to Japan, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore and so on. I did a lot of trips to the Far East as well as into the United States and one of those had been to visit Japan.
During your time in the post did you manage to make any trips to Japan?
I did, but as I often point out to people, my job was to be here—not there—in Manchester. I wanted to go back and the chamber and UK Trade & Investment, as it then was, were doing a trade mission in January 2013, so I went along with that.
What line of work were you in before you were doing this?
Well, not just before but during, because being the consul is by no means a full-time job. It’s an unpaid and honorary role. A very part-time role. I am a commercial lawyer. I’m a senior partner in Manchester. I have worked at the firm my whole career, 40-odd years. I have been retired for seven years from the partnership. Now I do some business consultancy and non-exec directorship work, but I’m winding down.
How did you come to be awarded the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon. What was your response?
Well, surprise and delight was the response. How it came about, I don’t know! You get a communication, in this case it was a phone call, from a consul general telling you that the award is going to be made to you and would you accept it. I was a bit dumbfounded and very pleased and honoured.
Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
One of the things that was a particular highlight, for a sad reason, was last year.
After the Manchester Arena bomb, I was contacted by the embassy. Some Japanese children had done some drawings and sketches, and they had been sent for display at the embassy and then they asked me to find a suitable school to receive them.
So, I approached the school of the youngest victim of the bomb, who was eight at the time. My wife and I went and had a delightful half-day there with the school, and met the school council that is made up of primary school children and we presented these drawings.
The school is making a project out of this and there is going to be an event. It was quite a heart-warming thing to see the British children there, receiving that and how excited they were about it and being aware of the interest of the Japanese children of a similar age. It’s that sort of thing that makes it all worthwhile.