Name: Asad Majeed Khan
Title: Ambassador of Pakistan (since August 2017)
DoB: Aug 17, 1963
Hometown: Lahore, Pakistan
Years in Japan: 8
What the world needs now is less individualism and more Japanese-style consensus-building, said Pakistan’s Ambassador Asad Majeed Khan.
“The virtue of consensus-building, the art of working in a group as opposed to individualism that we are seeing today in the world, the tolerance, and I mean even religious tolerance, the commitment to peace, in my view are the traits that many of us from outside of Japan can learn from in this age and time when we are seeing societies being divided across haves and have-nots,” the career diplomat said in an interview with The Japan Times.
Few are more qualified to place such judgment than Khan, who has served around the world, from the United States to the United Nations, as well as postings in Japan, before becoming an ambassador for the first time this summer.
It has been 17 years since Khan, who has also lived in Saitama and Fukuoka prefectures, last resided in Tokyo.
“For me, Japan is my second home,” said Khan, who is married with two children.
After joining the foreign ministry, he first came to Japan in 1990 “by design,” he said, “because in our foreign service, you get to choose the language that you wish to learn.”
“Particularly in the late ’80s and early ’90s, I think for my generation this was the time of Japan Inc. and Japan was the big, big name,” Khan said.
His language training spanned 10 months at The Japan Foundation Japanese-Language Institute, in Urawa, Saitama Prefecture.
“I had no idea about Japanese language. I knew about Japan, but I had no idea about the kind of food, or the culture. So I tried sushi within 12 hours of my arrival here,” Khan recalled about his first visit.
“I like Japanese food, the whole range — except maybe natto (fermented soybeans),” he said with a hearty laugh.
“I love Japanese curry,” he added. “In fact, this was the first meal that I had when I came back to Japan this time. That flavor is unique to Japan.”
When he first came “there were no Pakistani restaurants,” Khan said. “Food was a difficulty in the beginning, and because of that, I learned to cook for myself. So I started cooking Pakistani food and I think I became a fairly good cook in the process.”
Among his memorable experiences is that of his first taste of sumo.
“I had the pleasure of watching yokozuna Chiyonofuji,” Khan said, remembering with glee the way the relatively svelte Chiyonofuji lifted out the humongous ōzeki Konishiki in one bout. “I don’t think I have seen a more handsome or more accomplished sportsman. He was not the typical sumo image you would have.”
After returning to Islamabad, he waited two-and-a-half years before he was posted to the embassy in Japan from 1993 to 1996.
“To begin with it was by design, but then, fate helps you, and doors kept opening up,” he said.
“At that time there was a discussion in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that we were always sending our foreign service officers to England and the United States for training and we thought about expanding the training to other countries. Japan was one of the countries they considered,” Khan said.
“So at the official level, we asked Japan for a slot as a Monbusho (then Education Ministry of Japan) scholar,” he said. “This is how I got selected as a scholar for studies in Japan.”
He started as a foreign research student at the University of Tokyo, but the staid university did not have a program that allowed English dissertations.
“My area of interest was international law, so I wanted to pursue at least the writing of my dissertation in English,” Khan said. “So they then recommended Kyushu University, which had a master’s program for foreigners in place.”
Then another door opened.
“Once I was close to finishing my master’s, Kyushu University got the green light to start their first Ph.D. program in English,” Khan said. “So I was the first to be offered that program and the first graduate of that program in 2002.”
This eventually led Khan to one of his greatest achievements.
While serving as the charge d’affaires ad interim and deputy head of mission at the Embassy of Pakistan in Washington, D.C., he helped promote education as a pillar of cooperation between the United States and Pakistan.
“You don’t have many Ph.D.s in the diplomatic services around the world and I had this association with the academic world,” he said.
“I would like to ideally see a full educational track established between Japan and Pakistan,” Khan said. “Since I have been a beneficiary of the Japanese educational system, I see great potential in benefiting from the cutting-edge technologies that Japan has, not just in science and technology, but also in other areas such as social values.”
One of his goals as ambassador is to “transform traditional warmth and goodwill between Pakistan and Japan into concrete trade, investment and educational cooperation.”
Citing the improvement in Pakistan’s security environment and economic growth, Khan said, “The timing of my arrival in Japan actually makes such a possibility very promising.”
“I do hope that my presence in Japan,” he said, “would serve as a catalyst to push things in that direction even faster.”
Dedicated life of service around the globe
Asad Majeed Khan became the ambassador to Japan in July. Prior to this assignment, he was the additional foreign secretary for the Americas from August 2016 to July, after serving as director general for the Americas from June to August 2016. Khan served as deputy chief of mission at the embassy in Washington, D.C. from March 2012 to September 2015, during which time he was also the charge d’affaires ad interim from May 2013 to January 2014. As minister counselor to Pakistan’s mission to the U.N. from 2004 to 2010, he was also the chef de cabinet to the president of the U.N.’s Economic and Social Council in 2005 and chief coordinator for the Group of 77 at the U.N. in 2007.
He was previously in Japan for language training from 1990 to 1991 and was posted at the embassy from 1993 to 1996. He received his LL.D. from Kyushu University in 2002.
The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.
In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.