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FROM SUSHI TO 'SOBA'

Unaware Japan digging into Canadian produce

by Ryan Nakashima

Want a taste of Canada while in Japan? According to Ambassador Leonard Edwards, all you have to do is dig into a plate of pasta, bite into a sandwich or use canola oil in your cooking.

Canadian Ambassador Leonard Edwards

Canada provides 100 percent of the durum wheat that goes into almost all Japanese-made pasta, 50 percent of the wheat that goes into local white bread and about 80 percent of the canola seeds that go into Japanese canola oil.

“The identity of Canada is kind of buried in the products which are served as Japanese products in many places,” Edwards said, noting that Canada also contributes significantly to such Japanese dishes as sushi and “soba” buckwheat noodles. Canada has a 24 percent share of the local market for sushi-topping surf clam, 0.7 percent of tuna and accounts for about 5 percent of the market for buckwheat.

While many Japanese probably do not know their diet was so Canadian, most view Canada positively, he said. But he complained that the majority do not get beyond the notion that the country is blessed with great scenery and a whole lot of land and natural resources.

In an effort to change this view and bring more “Canadian-ness” to the surface, the embassy has embarked on a series of events, exhibits and fairs nationwide called “Think Canada 2001,” running through July.

“What are the gaps (in Japan’s view of Canada)?” asked Edwards. “Great cities, a sophisticated economy, high-technology companies that lead the world, and great science.

“If there’s one word I’d like to use, it’s innovation.”

Edwards’ push for this image of a “modern Canada” has an economic underpinning. A stagnant domestic economy has forced raw goods prices down, hitting traditional Canadian exports like coal and wood.

While growth in raw materials has been “flat,” Canadian high-tech firms have been rapidly entering Japan — 24 have established partnerships or branch offices in the last two years.

To keep that growth going, Canada has lined up with other countries encouraging structural reform in Japan, especially in the telecommunications sector. It’s a market so tight, the Canadian firm Teleglobe recently withdrew from the race to provide Myline phone services, citing high fees to NTT and too few subscribers.

Edwards likened Japan’s situation to Canada’s in the 1990s, when the country struggled out of a recession to balance its budget, cope with its free-trade deal with the United States and post positive growth.

“The Canadian experience tells me, and it might tell others looking at our case, that the only way, the real way, is to deal with the fundamentals. And that’s to restructure. Rationalize. And, of course, to open up.

“The Japanese people know what’s happening and they know what they need to do. It’s up to them to deal with these issues. Certainly if reform is going to proceed at the pace that’s required, the kind of government that we’re seeing now that Mr. (Junichiro) Koizumi is putting together, certainly on the face of it, seems well-designed for that.”

But the ambassador is not all business and politics.

Edwards said he would also like to emphasize Canada’s complex multicultural identity, which was expressed in a “Think Canada” cultural performance recently — featuring Canadian “taiko” drummers.

“In Canada, as you know, every nationality in the world is represented somewhere,” Edwards said. “It has increased the richness of society by all of the many talents and views that have come to make up the Canadian identity and mosaic.”

On a personal level, Edwards, who is married with two children, says he likes to break free from his “heavily programmed” schedule, hop on the subway with his wife, Margaret, and wander through Tokyo, a metropolis he’s “grown to love.”

The ambassador, who has worked for the foreign service in Vietnam, Turkey and Switzerland and was ambassador to South Korea from 1991 to 1994, said he has enjoyed traveling from one end of Japan to the other as part of his duties here, which began in November 1997. He said that while his term in Japan is rumored to be coming to a close, he’s enjoyed his posting.

“What excites me, ever since I came, is the change going on here in Japan,” Edwards said. “It’s bringing a whole new Japan to the surface. So I find it’s an exciting time to be ambassador here and have a role in finding those opportunities, communicating them back to Canada and then actually seeing Canadians coming and developing.”