Episodes of our Bilateral Relations
1. Relations with Japanese Imperial Family
Japanese Imperial Family
(Picture Courtesy of Imerial Household Agency of Japan)
In March 1921, the Emperor Showa when he was the Crown Prince visited Sri Lanka (then Ceylon) aboard a cruiser, “Katori”for five days while on his way to Europe. His Imperial Highness visited Colombo and the ancient city of Kandy as well. He was welcomed by the then British Governor General as it was during the colonial period.
After sixty years in March 1981, the present Emperor Akihito, the then Crown Prince together with his wife, Princess Michiko, visited Sri Lanka and were welcomed by the then President J.R. Jayawardane. Their Imperial Highnesses, The Crown Prince and Princess Michiko, visited Kandy and made great contributions to promote bilateral friendship and goodwill through various programs such as planting trees and naming a new orchid “Michiko”.
2. Visits to Sri Lanka by famous Japanese personalities
Colombo prospered as a spice trading port for a long time and played an important role as a transit point of economy and culture between Asia and Europe as well. Some exotic rows of buildings along the streets remain even today.
At the end of the Edo period, when many Japanese visited Europe, they also visited Colombo in transit and changed their traveling outfit on their way as well as on their return to Japan. Among the visitors, there were diplomatic delegations of the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate as well as several famous Japanese famous personalities such as FUKUZAWA Yukichi, MORI Ogai, NATSUME Soseki, YOSANO Akiko and others.
Japan has implemented ODA to the Colombo Port Development Program since 1980 and cooperated in enlarging and maintaining the historical port.
3. Disclaim of the war reparations from Japan
The late former President (then Minister for Finance) Mr. J.R. Jayawardane attended the San Francisco Peace Conference as a representative of Ceylon in 1951 and made a moving speech. He quoted from the words of Buddha, saying, “Hatred ceases not by hatred, but by love” and declared Ceylon disclaim of war reparations from Japan and requested other representatives to accept Japan as a member of the international community. The speech was said to have moved some of the victor countries which demanded severe sanctions on Japan, and this is remembered as a symbolic event returning Japan to the international community later on.
4. Sri Jayawardanepura General Hospital
Sri Jayawardanepura General Hospital was completed with the grant of 8.5 billion Yen from Japan in September 1983 as the foremost medical hospital in Sri Lanka. It is the largest general hospital in Sri Lanka with 1,001 beds, many doctors in the fields of internal medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, otolaryngology together with rehabilitation facilities, Intensive Care Unit, Computerized Tomography Scan for total body as well as brain. The largest general hospital in Sri Lanka with its 24 hour emergency medical care service not only provides the highest standard of medical service but also is utilized as a key medical centre for clinical training for doctors.
The General Hospital contributes to educating nurses by coordinating with the National SJDP Nursing School which was also completed with Japanese grant in May 1999.
In 2004, a cardiac surgery building ward with 2000 beds was added to the original building with Sri Lankan funds. This is a good example of self-sustaining development with Japanese assistance.
5. The Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Cultural Fund
The Japan-Sri Lanka Friendship Cultural Fund was established in 1993 by the Japanese Association and the Japanese Commerce and Industry Association in Sri Lanka, in collaboration with the Embassy of Japan for preserving and developing colorful and rich traditional culture in the multi ethnic and multi religious country of Sri Lanka, cooperating to promote cultural activities and deepening warm-hearted people to people exchange between Japan and Sri Lanka. It is not for promoting research on Japan or Japanese language education, but for contributing to the Sri Lankan culture in general. Awards are granted to the people and organizations which contribute in various cultural activities in Sri Lanka, and are also expected to make outstanding performances in the future. The awarding ceremony is held every year in Colombo and is televised all over Sri Lanka by the national TV since 2004.
6. Scrub brush
Coconut is one of the indispensable commodities for Sri Lankan daily life. Sri Lankan coconut fiber is very popular in foreign countries, because of its fiber length and good quality compared with those in the South East Asian countries. Since Japanese people have long used scrub brush made of coir, the brush made of coconut fiber is familiar with them. Some Japanese companies have set up corporate joint ventures manufacturing scrub brushes in Sri Lanka. Japanese people have come recently to use the scrub brush for massage and relaxing bath time and those companies manufacture various scrub brushes according to the demands. The demand for scrub brush is increasing abroad as eco-friendly products and scrub brushes of Sri Lankan origin have been exported all over the world via Japan.
7. The Singhalese and Japanese languages
Once the Sri Lankans stay in Japan for six months, they come back home speaking fluent Japanese in general. We Japanese, who are not good at foreign languages, envy them very much. The Singhalese language has almost all of the Japanese phonetic sounds in itself so that the Singhalese speakers have little difficulty in pronouncing Japanese. (Notes: There is no pronouncing sound of “tsu”and Japanese “za”row of sounds in Japanese alphabets, that is “za”,”zi”,“zu”,”ze” and “zo” in Singhalese.) Word order of the Singhalese is quite similar to Japanese. In Singhalese, a sentence starts with subject and finishes with verb, for example, “Mama rankawater yanawa”(Watashi ha Sri Lanka ni ikimasu=I go to Sri Lanka.). The similarity in word order is an advantage for Japanese. However, there are many sounds in Singhalese which Japanese does not posses. For example, there are four kinds of sounds in the “ta”and “da”rows of sounds in Japanese alphabet and two kinds of sounds in “ba”and “pa” rows of sounds. And there are two kinds of sounds in the row of “a”which are not common in Japanese. Taking an example of “bankua” (=bank) and “bankwa” (=bench), it is quite difficult to tell the difference for Japanese. There are some words Japanese people are familiar with, for example, “Naraku”, “Naraku”in Japanese (=abyss), “nirvarna”, “Nehan”in Japanese (=Nirvana), “bodhisattva”, “Bosatsu”in Japanese (=Bodhisattva), and “Sewa”, “Sewa”in Japanese (=care).
8. “The moment you touched my heart”
A “Heart-to-Heart” exchange between Sri Lanka and Japan
A group of 14 Japanese visitors made their way to a remote village named Unakuruwa in the Hambantota District and were received by members of a Japanese NGO named JEN engaged in a grassroots development project to support the livelihood enhancement of tsunami-affected people in the southern region. The activities of JEN in Unakuruwa were funded by the Government of Japan. The 14 Japanese were members of a Civilian Monitoring Mission of the Official Development Assistance (ODA) Japan, dispatched by the Government of Japan. They were in Sri Lanka from 22nd to 28th July 2006 on a mission to evaluate Japan’s ODA projects in Sri Lanka and to ensure effective utilization of Japanese ODA funds.
The visit of these Japanese to the remote village was to evaluate the progress made by JEN in fulfilling their mission on behalf of the people of Japan whose tax monies were utilized through the ODA to fund this laudable project.
Before the Tsunami, the livelihood of the people in Unakuruwa was entirely dependent upon the fisheries industry. However, due to the severe destruction caused by the tsunami, the community lost their only source of income and livelihood. In these circumstances, JEN had initiated a project to support the villagers by providing them with equipment and know-how in view of encouraging self-help efforts. As a result of the project, the Unakuruwa community, especially ladies, was encouraged to manufacture ropes, broomsticks, rugs and many more products using coconut wastes, which were abundantly available in the locality. This enabled the villagers to earn their livelihood and these excellent skills of craftsmanship were displayed to the visiting Japanese delegation. It touched their hearts to know that the people of this village had indeed worked hard with the help of the Japanese funds to recover from their misfortune and earn a decent living. The visitors tried their own hands at rope making and this warm exchange touched the hearts of the villagers who felt encouraged by the appreciation shown by the visitors. In recognition of the difficult task in manufacturing coir products, some of the members of the mission brought some of these coir products back to Japan.
One such member of the mission whose heart was touched by the villagers was Mr. C. Sakaguchi, a freelance announcer in Japan. Mr. Sakaguchi brought a rug made out of coir and placed it at the entrance of his home in Japan. In appreciation of the sincere efforts made by these villagers to earn an honest living in this manner, Mr. Sakaguchi also took a picture of the rug at the entrance to his home with himself and his son admiring the skilful talents of the Sri Lankan villagers and sent these photos to the villagers in Unakuruwa.
On seeing these pictures of their products adorning a Japanese home, the villagers were delighted and moved by this rare gesture and conveyed their happiness and appreciation in a warm letter to Mr. Sakaguchi. “It was the moment you touched my heart” could be the message of this warm encounter.