JICA Chief Representative Yumiko Asakuma who returns to Japan at the end of this month after completing her three-year tenure in Bhutan spoke with Kuensel’s Gyalsten K Dorji on her time here. Excerpts of the interview
What are some fond memories you will be taking away?
During my tenure, the President of JICA visited Bhutan twice, and during the first visit by Mr Tanaka, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of our cooperation which started in 1964. Before that, for more than 10 years, no JICA president had been here. Mr Tanaka after going back to Japan, he mentioned that Bhutan is one of the good examples of successful Japanese cooperation and that we should continue our cooperation with Bhutan. I was so happy to hear that and I was able to confirm our role here in Bhutan. Last year, our new president Mr Kitaoka visited. His first visit was to Africa and the second to South Asia, and Mr Kitaoka visited only Bhutan and Nepal. And Mr Kitaoka was also very impressed with the Japanese cooperation here and he also mentioned to local media that Bhutan remains a priority country. The government of Japan as well as JICA, consider Bhutan as a very important country for Japanese cooperation.
What about in your personal life here?
I was born in Osaka and then moved to Tokyo, and Delhi was my first overseas appointment and then Bhutan. As a community and people-to-people relationship is very tight. For example, there is a slope just in front of our office and in the beginning I was not so good at driving because once you stop on a slope it is difficult to start again. But people were very kind to come and push and move my car to our parking without saying anything and just leaving. One of my colleagues also had the same experience. So this kind of people-to-people relationship is very comfortable. I may be coming from outside but I feel that I’m a member of society. I hope that this kind of mentality remains.
What do you consider your major achievements during your tenure in Bhutan?
Now, we’re expanding our cooperation, not only in figures but also in areas. For example, agriculture and infrastructure is our traditional sectors but also we’ve expanded our cooperation to disaster management and last year, we also had a request for mining development and also lanad planning. Now, the government of Japan has decided to carry out these projects so we can start these new projects after both countries agree.
We share similarities in culture but our working culture may differ in terms of timing and punctuality, among others. What was your experience and what advice will you give your successor?
Bhutan has its own advantages, for example, a very relaxed, sometimes people say easy-going, attitude, like if something happens, it’s very easy to leave the office and attend to personal work or a family issue. This we can learn from Bhutan. But the situations in Bhutan and Japan are different. Japan cannot become Bhutan and Bhutan cannot become Japan but both countries can learn from each other. This mutual understanding is important. Impressions will be one-sided and to see the real Bhutan you will have to meet as many people and to visit as many places as possible, not only in Thimphu but remote areas where life is so different.
As you know it is the 30th year of diplomatic relations between Bhutan-Japan. Will a Japanese consulate or embassy in Thimphu further enhance our cooperation?
I think that if a Japanese embassy opens here, I’m sure it would be useful for both countries. But I’m not in a position to comment about this. But I’m sure with establishment of an embassy our cooperation, friendship, relationship, will be enhanced, I believe. That’s all I can say.
What do you plan to do once back in Japan?
I will become the director general of the Yokohama International Centre which accepts training participants from all over the world, and also carries out projects in developing countries initiated by Japanese NGOs or local governments.
Do you ever plan to visit us again?
I hope so. This is my second home.