People | The Big Questions

Ambassador shares diverse aspects of Japan and Mexico’s bilateral relations

Cultural inspiration furthers hobbies outside the office

by Louise George Kittaka

Contributing Writer

Name: Carlos Fernando Almada Lopez
Title: Ambassador of Mexico (since May 2015)
URL: https://embamex.sre.gob.mx/japon
DoB: Aug. 26, 1951
Hometown: Culiacan, Mexico
Years in Japan: 3


The Embassy of Mexico occupies a spacious compound in an elegant, tree-lined corner of Chiyoda Ward. The location is somewhat unusual for a foreign embassy in Tokyo, in that it shares a neighborhood with the residences of some of Japan’s top officials, including the prime minister and the leaders of both the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors.

“The site was leased at a very low price from the Japanese government in 1897 as a symbol of warm relationships between the two nations, and the embassy has been here ever since,” said Mexican Ambassador Carlos Fernando Almada Lopez. Contact between Japan and Mexico dates back more than 400 years and this year marks the 130th anniversary of diplomatic relations since a formal treaty was signed in 1888.

Lopez said that the treaty was a significant one for both sides. “It was our first with an Asian nation, and Japan’s first ‘equal treaty’ with a Western one. It recognized Japan as a sovereign nation, and set a useful precedent for helping Japan to renegotiate previously signed treaties that were less favorable to them.”

Lopez arrived in Japan in April 2015 for his current position, but had his eye on an assignment in Japan for a long time. “I had previously been involved in projects related to Japan for a number of years, such as trying to attract investment in Mexico from Japanese automotive companies,” he recalled. “I came here for the first time in 1988 and I liked the country, the people and the way they do things. So, it was always at the back of my mind that one day I would like to live and work here. I seized the opportunity when it arose,” he said with a smile.

Lopez feels thoroughly at home in Japan. “In particular, I like the coexistence of religions in Japan between Shinto and Buddhism. It gives the Japanese a special relationship with nature through Shintoism, coupled with the virtues of Buddhism. Of course, I am no religious expert, but I do like this aspect of peaceful religious relations,” he said.

“My goal for my present position is to look at the long-term perspective — not just what is going on now in terms of trade and investment, but also to train experts in different fields relating to our ongoing relationship with Japan.” One sector that has been expanding in recent years is academic cooperation between Mexican and Japanese universities.

“We have held summits in 2011, 2014 and 2017 so far. University rectors and those involved in overseeing academic affairs meet to discuss such topics as student exchanges, scholarships, research programs and joint degrees. Hiroshima hosted the last summit in 2017, while the next one is scheduled for 2019 at the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico. Some of the leading universities, along with technological institutes, have been participating,” he said.

According to Lopez, despite cultural differences, Mexicans and Japanese work well together. “When a Japanese company comes to Mexico, there may be a sort of cultural clash in the beginning, but very soon, they develop good bonds. Both groups are hard-working,” he said. “The Mexicans can learn the kaizen approach of continual improvement from the Japanese. In return, the Japanese can learn how to rapidly appreciate our spontaneity and flexibility in addressing issues.”

Lopez is also pleased that tourism is growing between the two countries. With two nonstop flights daily between Tokyo and Mexico City, traveling has never been more convenient. “Increasing numbers of our people are finding it easier to visit Japan than they had thought. The number of tourists coming to Japan from Mexico has doubled in the last five years,” he said. On the other side, Mexico is the most popular destination in South America for Japanese travelers. “With 35 World Heritage sites — the highest number on the continent — Mexico is a very attractive destination for Japanese. We can also offer beautiful beaches, architecture, modern cities and a variety of cuisine.”

Food is another source of common bonds, since the traditional national cuisines of both countries have been added to UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list. Something of a foodie, Lopez relishes the subtle flavors and stunning presentation for which Japanese food is famous, but if he had to pick a favorite, it would be sushi.

With Mexico’s Independence Day coming up on Sept. 16, the embassy staff is looking forward to welcoming members of Japan’s Mexican community to their annual celebrations. “This day commemorates the start of the (Mexican) War of Independence, which took place on Sept. 16, 1810. We organize a big party with around 500 to 600 members of the Mexican community to mark the occasion,” said Lopez.

Despite his busy schedule, Lopez manages to carve out time to pursue his hobby of art appreciation, researching and writing. “I used to write books about public administration, but now I am more interested in aspects of the Mexican-Japan relationship. In fact, I just completed a manuscript about Kumaichi Horiguchi, a Japanese diplomat in Mexico. In 1913, he saved the family of Francisco Madero, the democratically elected president at that time,” he explained.

An idealistic leader and one who is regarded as a hero today, Madero came to prominence during the political and military unrest of the Mexican Revolution, and was elected as president in 1911. Although Madero was overthrown and executed in 1913, Horiguchi managed to safeguard the lives of all members of Madero’s family and their staff. In 2015, he was honored by the Mexican Senate — the first time a foreign national had been recognized in this way.

Horiguchi’s son, the poet Daigaku Horiguchi, is a household name and Lopez hopes more Japanese people will come to know about the heroic father — and yet another link in Japan and Mexico’s 400-year-long association.


Interests fostered by global profession

Carlos Fernando Almada Lopez was born in Mexico City and attended university in Mexico, the USA and France. He earned his Ph.D. from the Universite Paris II Pantheon Assas Droit Economie et Sciences Sociales. He began his career as secretary of administration for the government of the state of Mexico in 1981 and went on to hold a variety of positions, including a posting to Belgium as director general of the International Institute of Administrative Sciences in 1988 and a presidential spokesperson in 1996. His first role as an ambassador for his country was to Portugal from 1997 to 1999. Before coming to Japan as ambassador in 2015, he previously held the title of chief of the executive office of the governor of the state of Nuevo Leon in Mexico. His interests include writing, art appreciation, classical music, reading, yoga and traveling around Japan to experience the charms of each region.

The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.