Staff writer What a difference a decade makes. In 1990, BBC television aired a documentary series that chronicled Japan’s economic miracle. In January, it will air a followup series examining the nation’s economic demise, titled “Bubble Trouble.” A contrasting, yet perhaps an even more insightful British “before and after” view is provided by Stephen Gomersall, the recently appointed British ambassador whose association with Japan stretches back over 20 years. “There has been a perception, particularly in Britain, that Japan’s economy has been in a trough, which has slightly discouraged people from looking at Japan,” said Gomersall, whose second posting at the British Embassy in Tokyo was as economic counselor between 1986 and 1990. “But I think if you take the medium-term view, now is exactly the right time to be increasing your stake (in Japan),” said the ambassador, who took up his post in July. “It’s a very exciting time. There are many more opportunities now than in the past.” Now, Gomersall said, “traditional patterns of economic activity and behaviors are changing,” as opposed to a time when barriers made even the trade of Scotch whisky a painstaking process. “One message we’re trying to get back to Britain is in terms of official barriers to business. There are virtually none now — in fact, there are many incentives for foreign companies investing in Japan’s markets,” he said. British telecommunications company Cable & Wireless and health and beauty flag-bearer Boots are two of the more visible examples of increased British presence in Japan, Gomersall said. Like the foundation of any good relationship, the process works both ways, he added, noting that in Britain, there are currently 270 Japanese manufacturing companies and about 100 research and development operations belonging to Japanese companies. “Japan has contributed tremendously to the rejuvenation of the British economy,” he said, adding that about 40 percent of Japanese investments in Europe are in Britain. British companies in Japan not only represent improved bilateral trade relations, but also represent a feather in the U.K. culture-spreading cap, he said. “(Now) you have British high street cosmetic stores selling cosmetics in Tokyo. You have Virgin cinemas in the suburbs — there are many opportunities for Japanese to experience Britain,” Gomersall said. These opportunities are made more accessible by the embassy’s Web site (http://www.uknow.or.jp/ ), which was official ly opened by British Foreign Minister Robin Cook during his visit to Japan in September. “We are trying to reach out, to make closer contact with people farther away from Tokyo and the traditional centers,” Gomersall said. Part of the aim of the site, he said, is to promote the message sent out during Festival UK98 — a series of events held last year throughout Japan to promote British culture. “I think what UK98 showed the Japanese public is that Britain is a very changed country. “It’s partly a result of the new government, which has brought a new wind, and partly due to a much stronger economy and a confidence that’s there,” he said. Another subject at the top of the ambassador’s agenda is the promotion of people-to-people exchanges. Beyond the visits to Japan by Cook and Prince Andrew, the Duke of York, the ambassador wants to extend the trend to the young. “We want to encourage exchanges of young people. Some 40,000 Japanese go to study in the U.K. every year, and we have 1,200 JETs (Japan Exchange and Teaching Program participants) in Japan,” he said. “Ten years ago, that didn’t exist.” These exchanges and an increase in “nongovernment activity” since his last posting here are making the embassy’s task easier, he added. “In the past, we would be aware of 80 percent of everything that’s going on, whereas today it’s maybe 40 percent. … There are all sorts of groups coming and going. I think that’s a trend between Europe and Japan as a whole, not exclusively the U.K.”

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