The Embassy of Japan will celebrate its 50th birthday on Sunday, June 1. In the last half century, our embassy has always received close cooperation from the people and government of this country.
Our bilateral relationship has a long history. The first recorded visit by a Japanese to Kenya dates back to 1903 when an explorer visited Mombasa. Many visitors from Japan soon followed, and our commercial interaction became quite active.
A Japanese cotton trading company, Nihon Menka, opened its branch office in Mombasa in 1919. Then, in 1926, Osaka Commercial Shipping Company opened a regular monthly steamship line between the Japanese port city of Kobe, and Durban via Mombasa.
As the bilateral interaction became vibrant, the Japanese Government opened a consulate in Mombasa in 1932. In less than six months after Kenya’s independence, Japan opened its embassy in Nairobi.
In the last half century, Japan and Kenya have built strong ties on various levels: Government, private sector as well as the grassroots. The first official visit by a senior Japanese government official was by Foreign minister Sonoda in July 1979. Since then, more than 40 high-level government delegations have set foot in Kenya.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Kenya in January 2001 when he accompanied then Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, as his Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary.
Japan’s Royal Family has also visited this beautiful country several times. There were official visits by His Majesty Akihito, the Emperor of Japan (then the Crown Prince) in 1983, and by His Imperial Highness Naruhito, the Crown Prince, in March 2010.
Japan has also received a number of high-level guests from Kenya, including former President Moi and former President Kibaki. Recently, Deputy President William Ruto visited Japan to attend the Fifth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD V) in May and June 2013.
Our people-to-people interactions are not limited to politics. The Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers (JOCV) were first dispatched to Kenya in 1966. Since then, more than 1,500 have worked side by side with Kenyans. In fact, almost 30 Japanese NGOs are active in various parts of this country.
Japanese wazee (seniors in Kiswahili) have also played an important role in strengthening Japan’s presence in this country. For example, Mr Yoshiyuki Sato, who moved to Kenya in 1966, introduced Japan’s corporate management style that cares for each employee.
He founded the Kenya Nuts Company which is known for its brand, Out of Africa, and started a staff loan system as well as an office clinic for his workers.
Another mzee, Mr Toru Seki, opened a Japanese restaurant in Nairobi in 1981 and promoted Japanese cuisine.
Sports is another area in which the Japanese and Kenyans cooperate. In fact, Kenya has the largest number of foreign athletes living in Japan.
Mr Douglas Wakiihuri, who won the gold medal during the 1987 World Championships and the silver medal during the Seoul Olympics, moved to Japan at the age of 16 to become a marathon runner. The late Samuel Wanjiru, the gold medalist of the Beijing Olympics, was also trained in Japan.
As the 17th Japanese Ambassador to Kenya, I take this opportunity to express my gratitude for the friendship between the two countries.
Mr Terada is Japan’s ambassador to Kenya