Azerbaijan International

Spring 2000 (8.1)
Pages 8

Reader's Forum
Japan Takes Notice

I've visited Baku periodically over the past ten years to do research. During the Soviet period, I wasn't able to visit Azerbaijan, so I had to study the country while working in Turkey instead. There were many limitations on visiting the Caucasus; Japanese scholars weren't allowed to study or do research there. Even though many studied and analyzed Russian matters and issues, few studied the Caucasus or Azerbaijan.

During the Cold War, the relationship between Japan and the Soviet Union had become rather strained because the Japanese islands were occupied by Soviet troops after World War II. Japanese people liked Russian literature, music and ballet, but they had a bad sense about the Communist country in general.

Japanese businessmen weren't interested in trade or commerce with the Soviet Union because the Soviet authorities imposed so many strict limitations. Japanese engineering companies did have some projects in Soviet Azerbaijan, but very few.

Many Japanese tourists visited Soviet cities like Moscow, Leningrad, Kiev, Bukhara, Samarkand and Baku, but only on group tours. They weren't permitted to go there on their own.

Once Azerbaijan became independent, American and European petroleum companies began business activities in Baku at once. Japanese companies heard of these activities through Western mass media and started opening Baku branches about ten years ago. For example, Itochu Ltd. participated in the "Contract of the Century" and now plays an important role in developing the petroleum of the Caspian Sea.

About five years ago, Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto announced a Silk Road Diplomacy intended for Central Asia and Russian Siberia; unfortunately, the Caucasus was in the second stage. Japanese diplomacy toward the Caucasus has moved rather slowly.

In the end of January 2000, the Japanese Embassy officially opened at the Hyatt Regency Business Center in Baku. In February, Akira Motoyama, who speaks Turkish fluently and has had a diplomatic career in Ankara and Istanbul, began diplomatic service in Baku as counselor, chargé d'affaires. In May, Tetsuya Hirose, former consul-general of Vladivostok, will go to Baku as Japanese Ambassador. He also speaks Turkish very well and has served as a diplomat in Ankara and Istanbul.

My hope for the 21st century is that the relationship between Japan and Azerbaijan will deepen and strengthen.

Dr. Akira Matsunaga
Research Associate
Sasakawa Peace Foundation (Tokyo)
Visiting Professor of Tafakkur University (Baku)

Editor's Note: Dr. Matsunaga told us about two books available to Japanese speakers who want to learn Azeri: "Azerbaijan Dilini Mustagil Oyrananlar uchun" (For Those who are Learning the Azeri Language Independently), which she wrote, and "Azeri Conversation Book" by Hironao Matsutani. Both books were published by Daigakushorin Publisher in Tokyo in 1999. Matsunaga writes, "I think that it's fairly easy for Japanese people to learn Turkic languages, including Turkish and Azeri. Although there is no overlap in vocabulary, the syntax is quite similar. Unfortunately, there's not much opportunity to study Turkic languages in Japan."

From Azerbaijan International (8.1) Spring 2000.
© Azerbaijan International 2000. All rights reserved.

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