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Yoshio Yamawaki: It is important to make Japanese companies aware of Cyprus’ advantageous FDI environment

(Source: Cyprus Business News 29/02/2024)

In a recent interview with GOLD magazine, Japanese Ambassador Yoshio Yamawaki explored the potential synergies in shipping, innovation and space exploration between the two nations, and expressed his pleasure at the Cypriots’ appreciation of Japanese culture (and sushi) – while expressing his own delight at the local cuisine and particularly souvlaki.

He is also of the opinion that in order to increase foreign direct investment (FDI) from Japan, it is important to make Japanese companies aware of Cyprus’ advantageous foreign investment environment, which includes a stable regulatory system as an EU member state, a conducive environment for talented people from abroad, and English-speaking local staff with knowledge and experience of the financial sector, laws and regulations.

In 2023, Cyprus and Japan strengthened their bilateral ties in the maritime sector, with the appointment a Cypriot shipping attaché in Japan under consideration. Can you provide more details of initiatives that are poised to foster shipping synergies between the two countries?

The Cypriot Deputy Minister of Shipping, Marina Hadjimanolis, visited Japan in January and attended the naming ceremony of two vessels ordered by a Cypriot shipowner from a Japanese shipyard. Japan has the third-largest shipbuilding industry in the world and shipbuilding will continue to be an important industrial sector for economic relations between Japan and Cyprus. In April, the “Sea Japan” shipping exhibition will be held in Tokyo, with the theme “Clean Energy”, and many Cypriot companies are expected to participate. The development of the next generation of marine energy is a key issue for the shipping industry and one that Japan and Cyprus share. I hope to see synergies between the two countries in the development of new technologies in this sector. I am aware that the Cyprus government is considering the appointment of a maritime officer at the Embassy of Cyprus in Tokyo. We hope that the realisation of this plan will accelerate exchanges and cooperation between the two countries in the field of shipping.


Despite low Foreign Direct Investment flows between Cyprus and Japan, there have been some notable events in recent times, including the inauguration of a substantial Limassol branch of MUFG Investor Services. Do you foresee more similar opportunities arising? And how can the relationship between Cyprus and Japan evolve into one oriented towards increased FDI?

MUFG chose Cyprus as an investment destination from several candidate cities around the world and, in my opinion, this is due to several reasons, such as Cyprus’ stable regulatory system as an EU member state, a conducive environment for talented people from abroad, and English-speaking local staff with knowledge and experience of the financial sector, laws and regulations. The reality is that Japanese companies are unaware of the advantages and strengths of Cyprus. To increase FDI from Japan, it is important to make Japanese companies aware of Cyprus’ advantageous foreign investment environment. At the same time, the Cypriot business community does not have significant contacts with Japanese companies or the Japanese market. The Cyprus Chamber of Commerce & Industry (CCCI) established a new Cyprus-Japan Business Association in 2021 and we are aware that the CCCI and the Ministry of Energy, Commerce & Industry are planning to send a business mission to Japan in April this year. Expanding such opportunities for mutual exchanges in the business community would be a good first step in strengthening relations.

From a business and investment standpoint, what are the most important areas that Japan and Cyprus could pursue collaboratively?

Research and Innovation (R&I) is certainly an area in which Japan and Cyprus could cooperate. Last year, the Director General of the Cyprus Research & Innovation Foundation (RIF), Theodoros Loukaidis, participated in the Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum in Kyoto. Following this, the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), together with R&I support organisations, visited RIF, universities and research institutions in Cyprus last autumn, initiating discussions to promote mutual cooperation in this field. Cyprus is keen to promote startups based on advanced technologies, focusing on the transfer of research results from universities and research institutes to private companies to enhance innovation. Fostering startups is also an important policy issue for the Japanese government, which formulated a five-year plan for this purpose in 2022. Connecting universities and research institutes with industry to commercialise the results of their research is an important factor in Japan. Through their common policies, Japan and Cyprus can cooperate in the field of Research and Innovation. Stimulating the exchange of human resources between the two countries in this area and facilitating joint research is of primary importance. It would also be effective to share policy tools and best practices for fostering startups between the two countries.

After landing its Smart Lander spacecraft on the Moon in January, Japan became only the fifth country in the world to do so. It has also been instrumental in the Artemis Accords, which aim to promote safety and peace in space exploration. What aspirations does Japan harbour for this new-age frontier?

The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) recently landed a probe on the Moon for the first time. It achieved a “pinpoint landing” with a margin of error of less than 100 metres, demonstrating its superior technological capability. In its Basic Plan for Space Policy, Japan has announced its programme to promote scientific research on the Moon as part of its scientific exploration of space. Japan is participating in the ARTEMIS mission, which aims to realise sustainable lunar exploration and is promoting internationally coordinated research and development. It also aims to be the first country after the US to place an astronaut on the Moon in the late 2020s. Japan’s space strategy is not limited to science and exploration, pursuing a wide range of space policies, including using space technology to solve global problems, promoting the space industry and contributing to space security. Last year, I visited the Cyprus Space Exploration Organisation (CSEO). I found that there are areas of common interest between Japan and Cyprus, such as Earth observation from satellites. I hope that cooperation between CSEO and Japanese space agencies will develop in the future.

Cyprus aspires to establish itself as an innovation cluster and, in your country, initiatives like the University of International Research Excellence programme and a massive US$82 billion university endowment fund indicate the strong desire to create an environment conducive to innovation. How do you expect these initiatives to help Japan solve its problems and boost competitiveness?

One of Japan’s current problems is the decline of research capability in universities and research institutions. About 15 years ago, Japan ranked fifth in the world in the number of high-impact research papers but the latest data shows that its ranking has fallen to 13th place. R&D capacity, especially in universities, is a driving force for social and economic development and a source of innovation. The Japanese government is actively addressing the improvement of R&D capability as a key policy challenge. Although research funding is essential as an input for improving research capabilities, the growth rate of R&D investment in Japan has been sluggish in recent decades compared to that of western countries. Another problem is that the number of young students entering Ph.D. programmes is declining. Encouraging young researchers and improving the research environment for researchers are also key issues. In light of this, a new system has been launched to support universities conducting world-class research by selecting universities of international excellence and creating a 10 trillion yen (approx. €63 billion) fund to be supported by the investment income from the fund. The challenge of building truly internationally competitive universities through this system is now entering the main stage. Many universities in Japan support local industries and economies. Supporting these universities is also essential.

The opening of Kampos Sakura Park in 2022 serves as a symbolic representation of the enduring friendship between Japan and Cyprus. What additional opportunities for cultural cooperation are currently in progress or under consideration?

In cooperation with the people of Kampos village, we opened a cherry blossom park two years ago. Last year, we increased the number of saplings and 45 cherry trees have grown. Although the trunks are still thin and small in stature, they produced beautiful cherry blossoms last April. We look forward to seeing them grow into magnificent cherry trees in the years to come. We would like to continue to nurture the Sakura Park as a symbol of exchange between Japan and Cyprus. To introduce Japanese culture, the Embassy of Japan held several events last year, including an Origami workshop, a Shakuhachi concert, and a Japanese film festival. We would like to continue our efforts to familiarise Cypriots with traditional Japanese culture and arts. In Japan, artists and creators are active not only in traditional culture and performing arts, but also in various other fields such as music, painting, theatre and ceramics. Japanese anime and manga are proud representations of a new culture that is highly popular, particularly among the youth, even in Cyprus. We would like to continue to provide opportunities to share and enjoy a wide variety of Japanese culture and arts with the people of Cyprus.

What can you tell us about the number of Japanese citizens residing in Cyprus and their main occupations?

In Cyprus, there are about 100 registered Japanese residents, making it a small community. Last year the number was about 80, so it has slightly increased. They are businesspeople, UN staff, foreign students, etc., but there are also some Japanese who are married to Cypriots or foreigners and live in Cyprus. Although a small community, we hold an annual New Year’s party to celebrate and deepen our friendship and there are also many cultural events in which Japanese people living in Cyprus participate. Last year, a traditional Japanese tea ceremony demonstration was held for the first time, and the lecturer was a Japanese woman living in Cyprus. Several creators from Japan exhibited at the Larnaca Biennale last autumn and Japanese artists living in Cyprus also took part. Although the number of Japanese citizens living in Cyprus is small, they have actively contributed to cultural exchanges with Cyprus. It is delightful to note that many Cypriots love Japanese culture. The Ikebana Club of Cyprus has been holding ikebana workshops for a long time and many people who love ikebana gather there. There are also Cypriots who enjoy haiku, the shortest form of Japanese poetry in the world – Cypriots who write excellent haiku in Greek are honoured every year. It can be said that all these individuals form a Japanese community in a broad sense. Two years ago, the Japan-Cyprus Friendship Association was established. Together with Cypriots who love Japan, I would like to deepen exchanges between Japan and Cyprus.

How do you perceive Cyprus’ lifestyle and culture? Are there specific aspects of local life that have left a lasting impression on you during your time here?

Over a year has passed since I took up my post in Cyprus. I have thoroughly enjoyed the cuisine and lifestyle of Cyprus, exploring its cities, villages, mountains, beaches, and archaeological sites, and experiencing the beauty of this country for a full year. One thing I particularly love about Cyprus is the abundance of sunny days. Even if I have some worries or problems, the clear and sunny weather brightens up my mood. The consistent sunshine in Cyprus contributes to the smooth progress of my work. I also enjoy Cypriot cuisine. Cooking souvlaki or souvla at a barbecue party and sharing the meal with everyone is a delightful experience. On the other hand, I was a little surprised that the variety of fish was less than I had expected but even more surprised by the abundance of sushi restaurants. I hope that the number of restaurants with Japanese chefs will increase in the future. Visiting various parts of Cyprus brings me a lot of joy: the small villages, with their cobblestones, stone-walled houses and old bridges, while the mediaeval churches stand out against the blue sky. I can feel the history and life of Cyprus. I share my experiences in Cyprus and thoughts about Japan on Instagram and Facebook, so please take a moment to have a look!