INTERVIEW with H.E. HIRONORI SAWADA, the Ambassador of Japan in the Republic of North Macedonia

Your Excellency, Ambassador Hironori Sawada, you are the second resident ambassador to North Macedonia. What is that which left you with the greatest impression since your appointment here?

The mutual friendship between our two countries is already solid, which impressed me much. I really appreciate that the Macedonian-Japanese Friendship Society contributed immensely to build our friendship promoting the Japanese culture in this country since the times of Yugoslavia. I want to develop it furthermore.

Japan is famous around the world for its great historic legacy. If you are to promote the Japanese culture in North Macedonia, what are the three main things you can point out for us?

Japan is the place where tradition meets the future. I want to introduce in this country the traditional Japanese culture(music, theater, sports, Ikebana, tea ceremony, etc) but also the modern and cool Japan. One of my big challenges is to promote Japanese cuisine as well as Japanese “Sake”.

We are aware that the Japanese embassy helps the local governments in the field of ecology, among others. Can you tell us more about the activities and the projects of the Japanese embassy in North Macedonia?

Under the “Western Balkan Cooperation Initiative”, we promote economic cooperation in which ecology is one of the priorities. In addition to the existing cooperations like “Disaster prevention through forest management”, we are interested in ecology preservation in Ohrid, recognized as World Natural and Cultural Heritage by UNESCO. Improving air pollution and water waste management is our potential cooperation.

Among Japan’s supports in this country, the embassy’s most relevant cooperation is the Grass-roots and human security Grant assistance Project (GGP).  Since 1996, there has been 158 projects worth 7.7 million euros. Projects are such as, support for school rennovation, refurbishing of health centers and hospitals, and provision of various types of vehicles to different local institutions. For your better understanding, please check the video we recently publised (GGP in North Macedonia).

The support of the Japanese embassy is visible and in other fields besides maintaining the local ecology. Can you share some thoughts on where Japanese assistance had successfully implemented some of its projects?

To support the North Macedonian effort to fight against the COVID-19, Japan donated medical equipment worth 813,000 euros to the Government and donated another 540,453 euros directly to 10 hospitals through GGP(3 hospitals in Skopje and 7 in local municipalities).

Our other priority is human capacity building in the small and medium business sectors. We support the Skopje university’s program for improving the competitiveness of the country’s business sector in cooperation Bulgarian government.

Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) plays important role in our cooperation providing technical assistance (plus transfer of technology)through such projects mentioned above(forest management and capacity buildings in the business sector), finance, and grant.

The cooperation between our two countries goes way back. One of the most important examples for us is the contribution of one of the greatest contemporary Japanese architects, Kenzo Tange, his ideas for post-earthquake Skopje and the rebuilding of the city. Do you think Tange would be satisfied with how Skopje looks right now?

We are proud of Kenzo Tange and so grateful that many Macedonian citizens remember his collaboration for the reconstruction of Skopje from the earthquake. The creation of the memorial stamp in his honor in 2019 by the post office represents your appreciation for him. I hope the concept of Tange is alive and will be deep-rooted in Skopje.

Ambassador Sawada, what are the plans of Japan and Japanese embassy in regards of strengthening the business and cultural cooperation between our two countries? Are we going to see increased activity in this field?

It is a big challenge to promote and strengthen business cooperation. JETRO organised Japanese business delegation in 2019 and we looked forward to seeing agressive reaction wichih didn’t happen partly because of the Pandemic. But, many Japanese companies have been investing and increasing their presence in neighbouring countries(Western Balcan) in the recent years. It’s time for them to come to North Macedonia, which has huge potential to attract them making every effort to make it happen.

We are preparing a Japanese film festival in cooperation with Cinematheque and Bitola’s Cultural center in June. I hope you come to enjoy watching some Japanese movies,  in the open air in accordance with the protocol to prevent infection.

Macedonian Opera and Ballet will recieve soon musical instruments and acoustic equipments through our cultural grant program.

Chigasaki city in Kanagawa prefecture, host town of North Macedonia for Tokyo Olympic games, have been organising unique activities promotinga Macedonian culture in Japan. You might be surprised but children in Chigasaki city knows now your quebapcic and martinki!. Please visit our FB where you can see more of those activities as well as monthly introduction of Chigasaki city. The music video you will see in the charity concert program, is from the Chigasaki city’s traditional music concert.

Even though Japan and North Macedonia are somewhat different cultures, belonging to different continents, but we are united in the diversity of our people, social groups, habits, and traditions. In your opinion, what do you think is the most common thing for our two nations?

We share such fundamental common values as democracy, rule of law, human rights, which are very important to be strongly committed to working together to develop our relationship and friendship.  

Will you recommend North Macedonia as a place to visit your Japanese compatriots? What would you recommend for them to see, visit and experience here?

Tourism has huge potential in this country. Cultural and natural heritage are attractive for Japanese tourists. Tokyo Olympic games this year and EXPO 2025 are the great opportunities to promote tourism in Japan, But, you have quite a big market of Japanese resident in Europe also. FAM trip initiative organized by the Government Agent is good to attract them. Many people are visiting Western Balkan including this country.

North Macedonia can well present its attractiveness in Japan’s tourism fair, such as Tourism Expo Japan by JATA. It helps Japanese tourism agencies to produce more options for future Japanese tourists to visit here. Inviting Japanese agencies for your B2B opportunities would be also helpful.

And last, how do you see the mission and activities of Dobredojde Macedonia Welcome Centre, what future role can it aspire to have?

Fantastic! My congratulations to you for this initiative! We enjoy participating in the annual charity bazaar every year; and hope that would come back once this pandemic situation is over. For this year’s event, the charity concert, we made quite some effort to come up with our video; and look forward to watching the whole program. The organization’s effort for making the public and the international community closer is very welcoming and look forward to taking part of future activities too.