Japan’s Ambassador to Bhutan Kenji Hiramatsu, who was in the country to host a reception to conclude the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Japan and Bhutan, spoke with Kuensel’s Tshering Palden.  Excerpts of the interview.

Q&A: We have come to the end of the celebrations of the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Reflecting back, what were some of the salient features of the celebrations?

I have come to celebrate the end of an important year and the 30th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Bhutan-Japan. Yesterday was the 83rd birth anniversary of His Majesty the Emperor of Japan.

Many important events took place to celebrate the 30th anniversary during the course of this year. From May to July the Bhutan exhibition ‘A Hint of Happiness’ was held with great success. Many Japanese visited the exhibition to know more about the beauty and attraction of Bhutan.

From our part, a team from Fukushima prefecture consisting of experts on flower shows, tea ceremony, and Bonzai tree came to participate in the Royal Bhutan Flower Exhibition.

In September during the Japan Week, a series of events were held in Bhutan including dance and festivals, which increased the understanding of Bhutanese people of Japan.

Thanks to the special package offered by the Bhutanese government to invite more tourists from June to August, the number of tourists from Japan has increased five fold compared to the same period last year. It was a great moment to attract more people from Japan to Bhutan to enjoy the beauty and friendly hospitality of the Bhutanese people. So it will be very good for the future to have more such exchange between the two countries.

What in your opinion, have the events achieved? 

We have been having friendly relations for many years but I would like to highlight  people to people exchange and grassroots understanding between the Japanese and Bhutanese. Thanks to these events, I am sure that Bhutanese have more understanding of various aspects of Japan and also Japanese like Bhutan more even though we already have great affinity for the Bhutanese.

Japan has been a significant development partner for Bhutan. Bhutan is currently planning its 12th Five Year Plan. How much assistance is likely in the coming years?

We’ve been having dialogue with regards to how to support Bhutan’s economic and social development. I understand that Bhutan is in the process of developing the 12th Plan, we are happy to continue to support to realise the Plan.

We have been providing official development assistance to Bhutan on an average of almost USD 20 million every year. We would like to keep this level of assistance to support the Bhutanese government especially focusing on your priority areas. As an ambassador, I’d like to increase the assistance even more.

People to people contact is important. Are there any plans for exchange visits between the two countries?

Of course, a scholarship programme to invite more students to Japan to study in universities is a very important scheme. I hope that many talented Bhutanese students apply for this scheme and have a chance to study in Japan. Also we have started from this year a scholarship programme to invite school teachers to Japan to attend trainings and educational programmes for students. Three teachers are studying in Japan under this scheme. Not only scholarships but we also have short term exchange programmes for students in the science and technology fields. These projects and programmes are available for youngsters and students. I hope the youth will apply for these programmes also.

We have the Olympics in Japan in 2020 and sports exchange is important. Under the Sports for Tomorrow scheme, we invite young promising sportspersons and sports trainers for training. In view of the 2020 Olympics and Paralympic games, we would like to expand our cooperation programmes under the Sports for Tomorrow scheme. Seven tables tennis players are here to participate in the Japan-Bhuan table tennis camp. I hope that many Bhutanese have a chance visit japan under this scheme and have a better environment to improve their skills so that many Bhutanese players can get gold, silver or bronze medals in 2020.

Japan has supported Bhutan’s efforts towards cleaner and greener transport with the establishment of four quick charging stations for electric vehicles. Will there be any more support on this sector?

I remember attending the inauguration ceremony of the quick charging stations together with Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay earlier this year. I know this is an important project for the government to have a more eco-friendly and clean environment especially in this capital. So based on the experience of these quick charging stations, we are very happy to consider further cooperation programmes to Bhutan in the field of clean energy and technology.

Based on any requests, which may come from the Bhutan government we are very happy to consider future cooperation programmes in a positive manner.

The Japanese government approved a grant of USD 2.4 million to procure 353 power tillers that will likely arrive next year. Earlier the Bhutanese Prime Minister has indicated that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has responded positively to his request for 1,450 power tillers. Any further developments on this?

Of course, we took very seriously Prime Minitster Tshering Tobgay’s request directly to Prime Minister Abe for assistance to provide 1,450 power tillers when he visited Japan in 2014. In April 2015 we have handed over 239 power tillers and two months ago we have signed notes to hand over 353 sometime next year.

It means that to address the PM’s request we have another 858 power tillers. We are always ready to consider in a positive manner the remaining power tillers to Bhutan. So we will wait for more requests coming from Bhutan. These power tillers should be used effectively, for that Bhutan needs some preparation for another round of power tiller operators training. We are happy to provide more power tillers based on your requests, we hope that preparation for receiving more power tillers will be coming up soon. Like I said we are happy to provide another provision of power tillers to honour the request from such a good friend of Japan.

We’ve had 30 years of excellent bilateral relationship. Where do you see it going from here?

I am happy to note that every time I come here the cities of Thimphu and Paro are becoming more vibrant with lot of construction works, and modernisation. We would like to continue to support the social and economic development of this country making use of the ODA and also private investment, and trade between the two countries. Like I said people to people exchange especially young people is very important. So another aspect is to have more private level cooperation private companies of Japan looking into investment opportunities in the country.

Not only government-to-government cooperation but also business-to-business cooperation will flourish in the years to come. In this way our cooperation and relationship will be more multifaceted and become a more solid bilateral relationship. And Japanese people have a very strong affinity for the people of Bhutan without any doubt. Based on this feeling between the two countries, I hope  a more concrete outcome will emerge in the near future. That’s the work I would like to accomplish during my tenure as the ambassador to Bhutan.