Name: Mikhail Y. Galuzin
Title: Ambassador of Russia
DoB: June 14, 1960
Years in Japan: 8.5
There’s an episode from Mikhail Galuzin’s childhood that he believes likely influenced his chosen career path.
It was 1966 and Galuzin, then just five years old, was taken to the Chiba seaside by his mother and father, who was on diplomatic duty at the Russian Embassy in Tokyo at the time. The Pacific Ocean captivated him and without too much thought, he plunged into the cool waters, thrilled by the waves.
It’s one of many warm memories he has of Japan, a country he has become inextricably linked to since first getting his feet wet here over 50 years ago.
“My late father was a Japanologist and a diplomat, so I spent some of my childhood overseas, including Japan,” said Galuzin, 58, who became Russian ambassador in March. “I have had a long association with Japan ever since and consider it to be my second home.”
It’s easy to see why. During his five years studying Japanese in Moscow and Japan, Galuzin made many Japanese friends and was immediately assigned to Tokyo as a junior diplomat after graduating. This marked the first of four spells in Tokyo to date.
His fluency in both English and Japanese soon made him an invaluable asset in bilateral diplomatic talks, earning him positions as interpreter for former presidents, Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin.
“I’d always dreamed of a life in the diplomatic services, and maybe because I was brought up in this environment it seemed a natural step to take,” said Galuzin. “My father tried to point me in many directions — sports, books and so on, but ultimately it was my decision to study Japanese. That first visit to Japan must have left a great impression.”
Despite other domestic and foreign postings, Galuzin shared that the love affair has continued, even though Japan has changed somewhat over the years.
“Japan has progressed rapidly in many spheres, including the economy, science and technology, health care and more. But what I especially value here is that while Japan has developed, it also preserves its very particular traditions. On the same day, you can touch the greatest achievements in technology and very old ways of life,” he said.
An example of this was provided during a recent morning visit to Tokyo’s Hamarikyu Gardens, where Galuzin observed a traditional tea ceremony, followed by an afternoon tour of the cutting-edge stadium in Kumagaya — one of the venues for the 2019 Rugby World Cup, in which Russia will compete.
“I believe this ability to adopt the new while preserving the traditional, and the ability to maintain a proper balance between them, has been one of the most effective drivers of Japanese development since 1945,” he said.
Galuzin also stressed the progress in Russia-Japan relations, especially in areas such as trade, regional security and cultural exchanges.
According to the ambassador, in addition to 10 mostly business-to-business bilateral deals announced in Vladivostok in September, hundreds of other business and cultural programs have been agreed to, or carried out in both Russia and Japan in recent years, including the Days of Moscow Culture in Tokyo, which took place in October.
He added that, despite these healthy developments, there remains a tendency, especially in the media, for those successes to be overshadowed by “less positive” issues.
Most topical among them is the ongoing territorial dispute over the Russian-held Kuril Islands, as they’re known in Russia, and the Northern Territories in Japan; the sovereignty of which Russia believes was confirmed in post-World War II agreements.
“Many readers of The Japan Times probably think Russia-Japan relations equals the Peace Treaty and Kuril Islands disputes,” said Galuzin. “That’s simply not true.”
Galuzin said that when President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met in Vladivostok, they opened a new Mazda plant and both countries have worked with the United Nations on training to assist anti-drug trafficking in Afghanistan — just two examples of many areas of joint cooperation.
“As Japan and Russia now head into a new era of multipolarity, there are many other opportunities for us to work together for our mutual benefit,” he said, adding that Putin and Abe have supported these opportunities through launching a Russia-Japan cross-year program in May.
Commenting on Putin’s attempt in September to seal a peace treaty with Abe to “resolve all issues,” Galuzin said moving forward with the treaty would be another show of intent toward breaking the deadlock on the Kurils.
“In order to move forward, I think we need to create a brand new atmosphere and show respect to one another’s feelings on this sensitive issue.”
Galuzin asserts Russia has made efforts to show respect for Japan — including making it easier for Japanese who have relatives buried in the Kurils to visit and opening the waters to Japanese fishermen.
“We hope Japan will also respect our feelings with regard to the islands,” he said. “We have shown what we can do when we cooperate.
“But, I believe we can do much more. … The more we cooperate now, the more trust we can build, which will enable us to settle even the most difficult issues we have unfortunately inherited from World War II.”
Japanese skills launch career in diplomacy
Mikhail Galuzin studied Japanese at Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African Studies and Soka University in Hachioji. After graduating in 1983, he joined the diplomatic services and was immediately assigned to the then-Embassy of the USSR in Tokyo, where he served as a junior diplomat for three years. He served a further five-year stint in Tokyo as a councilor at the Russian Embassy from 1992 and returned to Japan in 2001, spending seven years as deputy head of mission. He has held a variety of positions, both domestically and abroad. Prior to his current assignment as ambassador here, he also served as ambassador in Indonesia. The recipient of Russia’s prestigious Order of Friendship has one son with his wife Marina. He enjoys exercising, reading, following soccer and visiting temple gardens and beaches on his rare days off.
This interview was conducted in October, before events such as the Singapore meeting between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Vladimir Putin in November. The Big Questions is a Monday interview series showcasing prominent figures who have a strong connection to Japan.