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Friday, April 25, 2003

Competition showcases diplomats' Japanese-language skills


Staff writer

Some took the opportunity to look back on the historical relationship between their countries and Japan. Others focused on everyday life in today's Tokyo, like sending e-mail by mobile phone.

News photo
Some of the winners in the Japanese Speech Contest 2003 for Foreign Diplomats are France's Fabien Fieschi (left), South Korea's Park Young Hae and Singapore's Kek Chee How.

In all, 22 diplomats from 17 countries took part in the annual Japanese Speech Contest for Foreign Diplomats in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Saturday.

Fabien Fieschi from the French Embassy won the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister's Prize for a speech titled "The Day When Tokyo Becomes Edo." This year marks the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Tokugawa Shogunate in Edo, or premodern Tokyo.

In his speech, Fieschi referred to a 20-year-old Frenchman who visited Edo in 1867, near the end of Tokugawa's reign. The man climbed a hill called Atagoyama and wrote about how impressed he was with the fantastic view of the city, made up of green hills and gardens, according to Fieschi.

In an attempt to follow the young man's steps, Fieschi said he went to the top of Tokyo Tower, which now stands on the hill.

"But the majority (of the city) is covered with concrete and asphalt, not with green," Fieschi said. "The view of the city of Edo only remains in the records, and there are few vestiges left today."

Fieschi said that while the scenery of Paris has remained almost the same in recent decades, the landscape of Tokyo changes so rapidly that he was surprised when he returned in 2001 after being away only five years.

The French diplomat asked the audience to imagine what Tokyo will look like 400 years from now and suggested that efforts be made to bring greenery to the capital while still developing the city's modern facilities.

In her speech, "Life in Japan After the World Cup," Park Young Hae, from the South Korean Embassy, commented on Japan-South Korean relations, bearing in mind current issues between the two neighbors.

Park, who won the Cultural Agency Director General's prize, said friendship and cultural exchanges between South Korea and Japan gained momentum last year, when the two nations jointly hosted the FIFA World Cup soccer tournament.

During the World Cup, some Japanese Diet members cheered for the South Korean national team as they watched games on TV at the South Korean Embassy, Park said.

"(The Japanese Diet members) put on the same red T-shirts worn by South Korean supporters and shouted 'Dae-han-min-guk' (Republic of Korea), together with us," said Park, adding that she felt South Korea and Japan had become both closer and more familiar with each other at that moment.

By cooperating in such events, the people of the two countries should be able to further promote friendship, which will lead to better diplomatic relations, Park told the audience.

Kek Chee How, of the Singaporean Embassy, won the Foreign Minister's Prize for speaking on the different ways Japanese communicate.

During the three-hour presentation, before an audience of about 300, other participants also delivered speeches in Japanese, many offering insights into Japanese culture through diplomats' eyes.

The event was supported by the Foreign Ministry, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, The Japan Times and other organizations. The contest, the sixth of its kind, is designed to provide foreign diplomats with an opportunity to present their ideas in Japanese and promote exchanges with local people, according to organizers.



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