Interview: Tonga Ambassador to Japan, Her Excellency Lady Tania Laumanulupe‘o Talafolika FUSITU’A
Q. Please tell us about the relationship between Tonga and Japan.
In July 2015, the Prince and Princess of Japan attended the coronation ceremony of Tonga’s King Tupou VI. As you can see, Tonga and Japan’s relationship is based on the connection of the royal families, before politics come into play. For example, King Taufalahua Tupou IV visited Japan numerous times, and spread Japanese culture throughout Tonga. This is why Tonga’s people have a sense of familiarity towards the Japanese. The Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan has visited Tonga three times for important events, such as funerals and coronations.
Q. Could you tell us in what ways King Taufalahua Tupou IV spread Japanese culture in Tonga?
King Taufalahua Tupou IV believed that a strong and long-lasting bilateral relationship between countries could only be attained by understanding that country’s culture, and so he spread traditional Japanese culture throughout Tonga, specifically sumo and soroban (abacus). He met with Professor Toshio Nakano of Daito Bunka University, who was active in spreading soroban to the rest of the world, and upon their meeting King Taufalahua Tupou IV sent two students to Japan to study the soroban under Professor Nakano.
Actually, those two students also became Japanese rugby representatives-Hopoi Taione and Nofomuli Taumoefolau. Although they came to Japan to study the abacus, their talent for rugby was recognized and they were chosen to represent Japan in the world rugby cup. This paved the way for Tonga’s rugby players to become active in the Japanese rugby scene. Currently, almost all teams of Japan’s top rugby tier have active Tongan players.
Q. Please tell us about Tonga’s current exchange student situation.
Tonga does not have a university, thus if students can get a scholarship, they will definitely take the chance and study abroad. Unfortunately, however, in reality only 5% of students can get a scholarship.
Popular study abroad locations are Fiji, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan. At the moment, there are Tongan students in Japan. Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University is a famous institution, and currently five Tongan students are enrolled. Tongan students feel close with Japan, and since there are students who learn Japanese in high school, it’s an easy choice to come to Japan to study. Incidentally, Tongan and Japanese pronunciation are quite similar, making Japanese relatively easy to acquire.
(During the interview)
First off, I want to give my sincerest appreciation for Japanese disaster support to Tonga. We share many geographical similarities with Japan, and we want to continue learning from Japan, particularly regarding disaster prevention. Tonga and Japan discussed that the procurement of potable water and evacuation facilities is of upmost importance at the UN World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction held in Sendai last year.
On the topic of Japanese aid, Japan has given aid for the introduction of a water supply system and installment of solar panels. Thanks to these investments, damage due to lack of water has significantly reduced.
Additionally, there is the oral health ‘Malimali Program’ that the South Pacific Medical Team is carrying out. In Tongan, malimali means ‘smile’. With the support of JICA, a Japanese NGO shows Tongan children how to brush their teeth; with the change in eating styles a sudden increase in lifestyle diseases has appeared in Tonga, making this program extremely important. Other programs include airports and general hospitals; there are many buildings and things that have been built with Japanese aid.
Q. As one of the few female ambassadors in Japan, what is your perception on gender equality in Tonga?
There isn’t a single woman in the Tongan cabinet nor in Parliament. On the other hand, there are many women CEOs. This is in part because of a cultural aspect of Tonga called the ‘Fahu system’. When a child is born or when a couple gets married, the father’s sister is the most respected person of the event, and it might be because of this culture that there is no resistance of women entering the workforce.
However, there are many problems in Tonga, and we want more women to be active, in the world of politics as well. On the other hand, raising children is also an important role, and cannot be ignored. This is a difficult problem for the people of Tonga.
(From left: Ms. Matsuo, Ambassador Tania, Former Japanese Ambassador to Jamaica Mr. Takase, Ms. Matsukawa)
1962: Entered Ministry of International Trade and Industry
1980: Director, Machinery and Information Industries Bureau Aircraft Weapons Department
1982: Counselor, Minister’s Secretariat
1984: Director, Industrial Policy Bureau, Industrial Finance
1985: General Director, Machinery and Information Industries Bureau
1986: Director, Minister’s Secretariat
1987: Leader, International Economic Affairs Department, Trade Policy Bureau
1988: Leader, Petroleum Department, Agency of Natural Resources and Energy
1990: Director General for Commerce and Distribution Policy
1991: Director, Basic Industries Bureau
1992: Director, Machinery and Information Industries Bureau
1993: Director, Trade Policy Bureau
1994: Councilor, Trade and Industry Bureau (until 1996)
1996: Advisor, MUFG Bank, Ltd. (until 1998)
1998: President, The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan (until 2003)
2000: Director, Osaka Gas
2000: Director, Research Institute for Peace and Security
2001: Trustee, Nakasone Peace Institute
2003: Trustee, Research Institute of Economy, Trade and Economy
2003: Advisor, The Institute of Energy Economics, Japan
2003: President, CEO, Arabian Oil Company Ltd. (until 2006)
2004: President, CEO, AOC Holdings (until 2006)
2007: Advisor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd.
2007: Senior Advisor, UBS Securities
2007: Chairman, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries
2010: Advisory Board, Accenture
*As of February, 2016
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