Offer Laurent Pic, the new French ambassador to Japan, a role in a traditional noh play and he would likely accept it.
“Why not?” the ambassador said in an interview with The Japan Times.
That’s how much he loves the traditional theater arts. Having met a noh master after assuming his post in June, Pic took a keen interest in one of the world’s oldest theatrical forms. One of the ways he relaxes is watching noh on TV after a busy day.
Pic’s interest in Japanese art and culture reflects his desire to deepen the bonds between France and Japan. Mostly, he said, he’s motivated by curiosity.
Born into a family of travelers, Pic, who was already familiar with Asian landscapes and cultures, came to Japan for the first time in the mid-1980s in his youth, and has since returned numerous times.
“(But) the perspective is very different when you come for a short visit and when you stay and make a life (for yourself) in a country,” he said. “You try to build something.”
Pic sees his tenure as an opportunity to get an in-depth understanding of Japan.
He wants to travel the length and breadth of the nation, including a visit to Fukushima Prefecture to see the disaster-stricken area still recovering from the March 2011 mega-quake, tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis.
With an academic background in linguistics, Pic hopes to improve his Japanese skills because he believes “it’s important to understand how the language is functioning to better understand the way the country is functioning,” he said.
Before starting his career in diplomacy, Pic graduated from Sciences Po, or the Paris Institute of Political Studies, with a diploma in political science and from the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations, where he majored in Russian.
He said the experiences in his various posts had served as a driving force in shaping his career.
In 1986, when he was working in the Soviet Union, he witnessed the release of Nobel laureate Andrei Sakharov, dubbed the father of the Soviet hydrogen bomb and known as a dissident and human rights activist, from internal exile by President Mikhail Gorbachev.
He said he was moved to see those changes in the country’s political climate and attitudes toward intellectual freedom.
On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Pic saw the World Trade Center buildings in New York right after the terrorist attacks as he flew over the site on his way to Boston.
At the time he was serving as adviser to France’s minister for European affairs. He recalled the anxiety over how the world would be shaped after the attacks.
“There are times you experience historic moments that you will remember forever,” he said.
Pic has handled issues related to Russia and the Caucasus as a member of the French diplomatic missions in Bahrain in the Arabian Gulf, the European Union in Brussels and the United Nations in New York. From 2014 to 2016 he was the French ambassador to the Netherlands.
Pic likens his job to the role of a “chef d’orchestre,” or a conductor who unifies different performers and sets the tempo.
“My approach … as an ambassador is to be a coordinator of all those different instruments,” he said.
When people try to approach ambassadors, hesitation only hinders efforts to create closer bonds.
“I think it’s very important for me to have true contacts with people,” he said. “Ambassadors can be very isolated to some extent and our job is, on the contrary, to create bonds.”
Between Japan and France, Pic wants to deepen his understanding of political interests and strengthen cultural and economic ties.
He also hopes both countries will benefit from the free trade deal between Japan and the EU, which is expected to take effect as early as 2019. The pact will eliminate or reduce tariffs on imported food and industrial goods.
Pic believes that Japan and France can work together and share experiences in addressing global issues such as climate change and aging populations, challenges that he says require greater engagement.
“We are different societies, we have different traditions but … there are a lot of common challenges,” Pic said.
He encourages his fellow French residents in Japan to benefit from their overseas experiences while urging Japanese, especially young people, to look to the world and travel abroad to deepen their understanding of how the planet is changing and draw lessons useful in their lives.
As a representative of France, which has suffered several terrorist attacks since 2015, Pic believes these threats are global and should bring all countries closer. France has remained an open society and resilient to terrorism, he said.
“People keep enjoying their lives. That’s what we should do,” he added. “If we want to live in peace, we should reach a balanced approach in which everybody is bound by the same type of rules.”
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.
Career diplomat brings variety of experience
Laurent Pic assumed the post of ambassador to Tokyo in June. Born in 1964 in Paris, he has a diploma in political studies from the Paris Institute of Political Studies and in Russian linguistics from Inalco, or the National Institute of Oriental Languages and Civilizations in Paris.
Pic joined the French Foreign Affairs Ministry in 1993 and initially worked at the ministry’s headquarters, assigned with affairs related to Russia and the Caucasus. From 2012 to 2014 he served as diplomatic adviser at the Prime Minister’s Office in the Cabinet of Jean-Marc Ayrault. He served as ambassador to the Netherlands from 2014 to 2016. Before his current posting, he briefly held the position of chief of staff at the French Foreign Minister’s office. He was recognized in 2011 for his diplomatic efforts with the title of a Knight of the French National Order of Merit.
Name: Laurent Pic
Title: French Ambassador (since June 2017)
DoB: Aug. 2, 1964
Years in Japan: First year