In this episode of Mission Japan, we are honored to welcome H.E. Mikhail Galuzin, Russian Ambassador to Japan. We explore the origins of Russo-Japanese relations, the Russian community in Japan and the economic components of a thrilling trading relation. The Ambassador also gives us his insights on the possibility of a future peace treaty agreement and the so-called “Kuril islands issue”, still unresolved with their Japanese counterparts.

Join us in support for open dialogue and earnest communication between the two nations by staying informed!


Full Transcript below:

Tim : Hi, everyone. Welcome back to Mission Japan. In this series, we talk about various embassies that occupy the diplomatic landscape in Tokyo. Today, I’m honored to welcome the Russian Ambassador, Mikhail Galuzin. Welcome!

Ambassador Galuzin : Thank you. Nice to meet you, pleasure to be here.

Tim : It’s really great that you’re here, Russia and Japan has such a long history… they are close, they’re very close neighbors and the relationship between them is so critical, but the the pace of negotiations that have been going on recently with regard to the Kuril Islands is really a hot topic. But what I’d like to talk about first of all is the relationship between the nation of Japan and the Russian Federation: where it started and how we got to this wonderful piece of land that you have over at Iikura.

Ambassador Galuzin: Well, if we talk about the origin of the Russian-Japanese relations, I would say that the first information or first knowledge of Japan had arrived to Russia, I think, in the mid of the 17th century or in the second part of the 17th century. This knowledge was say broadcasted to Russia by Russian diplomats who would visit China and who would know some information about Japan. One of these diplomats was Nikolai Spathari, who visited China in the 80s of the 17th century, and he was one of the first Russian nationals who brought some information of Japan to our country.

Tim : And, I’m sorry but at that time Japan was still in the Sakoku period, right? If you came, if you fell off the boat and landed in this country, you were killed immediately. And the other kind of interesting thing about this is that this foray did not begin from the south, as it did with the Portuguese or the other countries, but actually from the north, isn’t it?

Ambassador Galuzin : Well, what you say now happened later, a bit later. But, the Russian diplomats who first learnt about Japan, information about Japan, they didn’t visit Japan during that time. As I mentioned above, they visited China and there they obtained first information. I agree, Japan was at that time in a period of Sakoku, which means closed country, and the Russian nationals could not reach Japan at that time. But in the 18th century, some of the Japanese fishermen sailors or traders they happened to arrive to Russia because the storm, or some weather disaster in the high seas, threw them to the Russian shore.

Tim: Okay, that would be up north.

Ambassador Galuzin: Yes. And they were saved by the Russian people there and some of them, let’s say, started to live in Russia. Some of them as foreign nationals from a country which Russia didn’t know about, they were received even by the Russian Emperors. For instance, a Japanese national whose name according to the archives was Denbei who was received by Peter the Great back in 1703, in Moscow. And after that, this Japanese man, Mr. Dembei, started to run the first-ever Japanese school, Japanese language school, in Russia and that is how the studying of Japanese language had started in Russia, more than three centuries ago. Then, there is a famous story described by Mr. Yasushi Inoue, a famous Japanese author in his renowned book “Dreams of Russia”. It is about the 90s of the 18th century, when Daikokuya Kodayu, a Japanese Japanese trader, a Japanese businessman let’s say in modern terms, also was forced to arrive to Russia because his ship met a very strong storm in high seas. So, he came to Russia, he lived in Russia for a while, and then Mr. Adam Laxman, a special envoy of Empress Katherina The Great, brought him and one more Japanese national who was with him to the city of Nemuro (Hokkaido) back in 1792 to return them back to their home country and to try to establish relations with Japan. But, that time, though he left Mr. Kodayu and his associate in Japan, he failed to establish relations with Japan because of this policy of the Japanese government. And finally, the relations between Russia and Japan were officially established back in 1855, when Admiral Putyatin, a special envoy of the Russian Emperor Nicholas the First, signed a treaty with the Japanese government in the city of Shimoda, Shizuoka Prefecture, currently. The first ever diplomatic mission of Russia in Japan was established in in 1858 in the city of Hakodate: it was a consulate and the first Russian head of a diplomatic mission in Japan was Mr. Iosef Goskevitch which, by the way, was one of the members of Putyatin’s mission. So, that is how our relations started, then back in the 1870s, the Russian diplomatic mission, first consulate again, arrived to Tokyo and there have been several attempts to purchase a piece of land, to build a building for a mission for our diplomatic facility..

Tim: In Edo?

Ambassador Galuzin: Oh, maybe Tokyo, because in 1868 it changed the name to Tokyo. And finally, we received a piece of land from the Japanese government in Kasumigaseki area, according to the story, maybe I’m not aware 100% correctly, but the first-ever Russian embassy in Japan was located in the area where the Ministry of Finance of Japan is located now. And, because the Japanese government planned to build Japanese government facilities in that area, we were given, I think it was the Soviet embassy, who was given a piece of land in Minato Ward, a piece of land in Azabudai and that is exactly where we are residing now. At that time, it was a four-story building, as far as I remember.

Tim: This is over in Minato-ku, near Tokyo Tower?

Ambassador Galuzin: Yes, near Tokyo Tower. And since that period, this facilities, this land, this premise is the diplomatic facility of the Soviet Union then, now the Russian Federation. Our current building was built in the mid 70s of the 20th century. We have two buildings: one for our office and one for apartments for our staff. We also have a reception hall; we also have a sort of club with a conference hall; we also have our school facility there– we have full fledged Russian high school there for embassy staffs’ children and children of Russian nationals living here in Tokyo. We have also our Consular section on that premise, you can have small sport facilities like volleyball or mini football fields and also a swimming pool.

Tim: Okay, it sounds great. Can I ask you a couple of questions about the land? So, initially you were over in Kasumigaseki, this was a piece of land that you purchased or that was loaned to the government, do you know?

Ambassador Galuzin: I think, at that time, we received this land from the Japanese government and we built there two-story building for our diplomats to working and live.

Tim: And then, since Kasumigaseki was going under massive reconstruction, you found a piece of property or they introduced you a piece of property over by the Tokyo Tower, and that’s where you are right now.

Ambassador Galuzin: As far as I know, we were introduced to this piece of land by the Japanese government at that time and well we were happy to receive it because we had to have our facility to promote relations with Japan. And slightly after that, it was a decision of the Japanese government that, as far as I know, declared this piece of land the property of the Soviet Union.

Tim: Okay, so it was either gifted or there was an exchange of maybe property in Moscow…

Ambassador Galuzin: No, I think we were not gifted or we were not changing something for something. It was, in my view, a general decision of the Japanese government to, let’s say, to recognize pieces of land possessed by foreign missions including the Soviet foreign mission, as their property. It was a, let’s say, universal decision.

Tim: Okay, when the embassy was first occupied, they constructed a very nice building there. I think it was by a Russian architect that stood (the building) for several dozens of years.

Ambassador Galuzin: Yes, it stood, I cannot describe it in a detailed manner, but well it was a good building that, as far as I understand, has existed from the early 30s to the mid of 60s of the last century. And then, we have, you know, earthquakes etc. it causes damage and that is why the Soviet government at that time decided to build a new building or new buildings for the embassy and its staff. And that’s what we have now.

Tim: And that’s where you also reside, that’s where the residence is, as well?

Ambassador Galuzin: My residence is also inside the embassy.

Tim: One of the ironic things about the placement of the embassy is that it’s kissed right up against the Tokyo American Club there for many years. And that piece of property, we’re gonna actually do a special on that piece of property too, but we were talking about the Foreign Minister earlier and it turns out that those pieces of land initially belonged to the Kono family!

Ambassador Galuzin: Oh, really? That’s what I didn’t know.

Tim: And that piece of property, it’s a slight diversion I apologize, but it was first the Foreign Press Club and then they gave that up and the Tokyo American Club which was probably in the Marunouchi area came in and established a presence there. So it’s got a nice rich history too, but it’s just ironic that the Americans and the Russians are just right next to each other.

Ambassador Galuzin: Well, there we are good neighbors.

Tim: Yes! But you’re not a member of the American Club?

Ambassador Galuzin: No, I’m not sure whether the Ambassador of Russia should be a member of the American Club.

Tim: But you need someplace to go, you know, let your hair down…

Ambassador Galuzin: There are many places to go in Tokyo. There are clubs which I am a member of !

Tim: One of the other things that is so interesting about this particular piece of land is that it’s sandwiched in between Iikura kousaten and Iikura Koukan on these major intersections and from time to time, they are invaded by these trucks with the loudspeakers and they’re only coming there because of the embassy, to complain and to shout and to make a huge commotion. So, the intersections are frequently closed from time to time and it causes a huge commotion but this happens with regularity, doesn’t it? It must be a real irritation… it would be for me.

Ambassador Galuzin: Well, actually it depends on the period which we are speaking about. For instance, well there were times when these kind of activity of right-wing organizations, radical organizations of Japan, was very, let’s say, frequent and regular. Now, I would say that, well, to compare with what I witnessed here, for instance, 36 years ago when I first arrived as an embassy staff member, now this activity has been reduced greatly. But sometimes, these right-wingers conduct their activity. Of course, we do not agree with the slogans they shout, we are not happy at all about what you just mentioned: blocking the streets etc… We are sure that it’s not only the Russian embassy who suffers from it because there are people living in the area: Japanese people; foreign people who also face some difficulties because of this kind of activity.

Tim: Can we talk about you just a little bit, if you don’t mind. I looked at your biography and I noticed that as soon as you finished university, you joined the Foreign Service and your first posting was here in Tokyo. You were 22 years old?

Ambassador Galuzin: I was 23 at that time.

Tim: That’s incredible and you’re a career diplomat: you’ve had three postings here, this is your third posting. Congratulations!

Ambassador Galuzin: Thank you so much.

Tim: It’s, you know, for a long-term resident and I think for many Japanese too, to see you ,to see how active you are in the community and on TV, I think you’re doing such a great job. And also talking about this issue with the the Kuril Islands and the discussions that are going on, you know, it strikes me that Mr. Putin and Mr. Abe have a relatively good relationship, they have met more than twenty three times…

Ambassador Galuzin: 25 times, to be correct.

Tim: …over the last couple of years and that is hugely significant and we have been in anticipation of reaching some sort of an accord in the last negotiations that were made public. “Well, you know, you might be able to get two. Okay well, maybe we’ll get two. How is this going to work?” But it seems like we’re just stuck again, there seemed to be a little bit of hopeful progress and then it just kind of stopped. Can you give us a little bit of insight on where we are right now and what the prognosis is?

Ambassador Galuzin: First of all, Timothy, I would like to describe the subject we discussed with our Japanese partners and friends not as “Kuril Islands” but as a “peace treaty issue” which in its meaning is much broader than the issue you mentioned.

Tim: It is amazing that, even now, the peace treaty has not been signed. A lot of people don’t quite grasp what that means but it is very huge.

Ambassador Galuzin: Please be sure that the absence of a peace treaty between Russia and Japan doesn’t mean a state of war between our two countries because the state of war was ceased back in 1956, when the Soviet Union and Japan signed a joint declaration of the Soviet Union and Japan which first ceased the state of war between the two countries, reestablished peace and diplomatic relations and stipulated that both countries will continue peace treaty negotiations, to conclude a peace treaty. This is the starting point and since that, well there was a very long process of dialogue etc… and finally, due to time limits, I cannot elaborate about this, but finally last November in Singapore on the sidelines of the East-Asian Summit, President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe agreed to speed our peace treaty negotiations on the basis of the above-mentioned joint declaration of the Soviet Union and Japan. People often write an equal mark between the joint declaration and islands (the so-called Islands issue) saying that a joint declaration stipulated that Shikotan and Habomai may be transferred, may be passed, to Japan. But I would like to draw attention to some very important aspects. First if we talk about speeding up negotiations, peace treaty negotiations, on the basis of the joint declaration, and if we talk well in a broader way about further promotion of the Russian-Japanese relations on the basis of the joint declaration, we should not focus only on one article of this document, namely the article that stipulates this or that certain things about the islands. We also, I think, believe that we should always remember the article first, for instance, of that joint declaration, which stipulates that the relations of good neighborship and friendship, friendly and good neighbor relations, are established between Russia and Japan and it is also, or first of all, a starting point of our relations. And what we mean by saying that is that ,as President Putin trusted at the news conference after negotiations with Mr. Abe last January in Moscow, we think that both sides should work on the creation of conditions for seeking mutually acceptable solution of the peace treaty issue: a solution which would be accepted and would be supported by the people of Russia, by the people of Japan. That is the task. Speaking frankly, for instance, participation of Japan in anti-Russian sanctions baselessly imposed by the United States of America and its allies under false pretext of the Crimea issue, is does not correspond to friendly and good neighborly relations, which are established by the joint declaration. So, if we talk about the joint declaration, we must consider it as a whole without taking this or that formulation from this document. That is why we, and if we read this document correctly with attention, will understand the meaning of the words that the transfer of Shikotan and Habomai will be realized after signing a peace treaty. So, the first step is to sign a peace treaty. This is the first point. Second point is that if we talk about peace treaty and further relations, further development of relations between Russia and Japan, it is needed to settle at least three, let’s say, packages of issues: first, is recognition by Japan of the results of the Second World War, including the Russian sovereignty over the Kuril Islands. This is not a kind of a condition that we say, it’s the common sense of present-day international relations because they are based on the international ones, codified, first of all, in the UN Charter which recognizes the legal status and legitimizes the results of the Second World War. It’s the first point. Second is that our concerns coming from the functioning of the US-Japan military alliance should be also settled and we have a lot of questions with regard to these. My third point would be that the relations between Russia and Japan should be elevated to a qualitatively new level because we have a huge potential for that. For instance, now our volume of trade is about 20 billion US dollars which is good, and our trade grew about 20 percent last year, but still it does not reach the record high level of our trade which we enjoyed 10 years ago, for instance. The volume of trade at that time was about 30 billion US dollars, so we have a huge potential. That is my point.

Tim: Yeah, I think everybody that follows this issue is just astounded at how much potential is there. It’s just stymied, it’s just not gelling well and I completely agree with you that this cohesion that really needs to occur at the human level really is the foundation. I was really surprised at the protests in Moscow about the discussions about the return of the islands: how against it were the Russian people and similarly the Japanese people too. So, yes there’s a lot of coming together that needs to happen. Let’s talk a little bit about the trade flow between Russia and Japan and the very small number of Russians that are here, that are operating businesses and Japanese that are in the country manufacturing or doing things, it just seems, for the size of the two countries, it’s just not representative of what should be there.

Ambassador Galuzin: Yes, Timothy. I would agree with you but I would like to respond to your remark which, if I understood it correctly, was about your sort of a surprise over the protests in Russia about the negotiations between Russia and Japan, over what you call “islands issue”. Again, we negotiate about a peace treaty, but the the origin of the problem of the peace treaty between Russia and Japan is in the results of the Second World War. You know, your country and my country were allies at that time and we together fought against Nazi Germany and its satellites, one of which, unfortunately, was Japan. Of course, saying Japan I don’t mean the present-day Japan, I mean past Japan… that Japan that existed in the 30s and 40s of the last century. And for the Russian society, for Russian people, the sovereignty over the Kuril Islands, which the country obtained as a result of the Second World War in accordance with the Soviet, American and British agreements, is a part of that big war that the country was conducting against Nazi Germany and its allies for four years and for the victory in which it lost, in accordance to the latest estimations, 27 millions human lives. And this is why our society is very sensitive on this issue.

Tim: Well, I think the reason why I was so surprised is because in the past that human element didn’t really hit my radar very much, maybe it was because the mass media didn’t report on it that much, but what I noticed was that the passion that’s associated with those islands and as you said, you know, the loss of human life during the war, yes, that’s something that people can’t forget.

Ambassador Galuzin: So now about trade etc… First of all, I would like to emphasize that Russia is a very reliable trade partner, I’m sure you’ve heard a lot about Russian exports of natural gas to Europe, which is growing despite all the obstacles created by certain countries against it. We are a reliable supplier of strategically important energy resources not only in Europe but also here in the Asia Pacific. For instance, about 9 or 10 percent of the consumption of LNG plant in Japan is covered by Russia from an LNG plant located in the south part of Sakhalin Island. So, I would like to emphasize, first of all, that we are a reliable trade partner with Japan and we want to see more and greater mutually beneficial trade with Japan. We export here not only LNG but also crude oil, aluminium, a lot of minerals, a lot of diamonds etc… timber, coal etc… We think that there are many opportunities for further development of our trade & investment corporations. For instance, now more than 220 Japanese companies have their offices in various parts of Russia: in Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Vladivostok, Khabarovsk etc… And, we are now launching new projects, new types of business activity and one of the examples is the engine plant of Mazda, Matsuda corporation, in Vladivostok where it produces engines for the cars assembled here in Japan, so it’s a new supply chain which we create now. So we have many opportunities in doing mutually beneficial business including the innovation area. For instance, a couple of weeks ago here in Tokyo, we organised a presentation of the Russian Strategic Initiatives Agency, it’s an NGO which is working under the guidance of President Putin and which task is to implement innovations in our innovation policy in the Russian regions, in the Russian industries, and together with JETRO, we organized very interesting seminar a couple of weeks ago here in Tokyo, which confirmed once again great prospects for mutual beneficial cooperation.

Tim: You’re not stopping there though. I mean this year has been tagged “the year of cultural exchange” as well and you’ve got a lot of activities that are going on between Russia and Japan to blender, to share these two cultures.

Ambassador Galuzin: Quite right you are, but what you say it’s not actually a cultural cross here, it’s broader than just a culture exchange because the project you mentioned is called its official title is “Crossing years of Russia and Japan”. They include culture, they include tourism, they include science and technology, they include economic cooperation, they include even military exchange etc… And the start of this program, crossing year program, was done last May in Moscow on the stage of the historic Bolshoi Theatre by President Putin and Prime Minister Abe and there was also a great pictures performance of Japanese traditional arts on the Bolshoi’s theatre stage on the 26th of May, last year in Moscow. And in total, we have about 400 events which are included in the program of this year. Again, it’s also about culture, for instance, Russian National Orchestra, Mariinsky ballet, many other Kabuki theaters from Japan and other prominent musicians, prominent artists, performed respectively in Russia and Japan. Then, we had such events such as Russian-Japanese universities rector’s forum last May in Sapporo. The event which I mentioned, the innovation forum here in Tokyo, was also part of crossing years, so we have a very interesting program ahead.

Tim: And the president will be visiting Tokyo as well ?

Ambassador Galuzin: It is now under discussion with our Japanese partners. We hope that we will successfully realize the program of the crossing years and the crossing years’ closing ceremony will take place here in Japan during president Putin’s visit to Japan in the end of June, in connection with the G20 Summit in Osaka.

Tim: Thank you very much!

Ambassador Galuzin: Thank you, it was my pleasure.

Tim: A fascinating discussion on Russia-Japan relations: how deep they are; where they’re going in the future… We’re going to continue to follow this you should too! Please stay tuned!

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