National / Politics

New British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, fluent Japanese speaker, drew on years in Japan to become one of U.K.’s richest politicians

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

The wealth and success of Jeremy Hunt — newly appointed to the role of U.K. foreign secretary, and one of the country’s wealthiest politicians — can be traced, at least in part, to his experience of and connection with Japan.

A fluent speaker of Japanese, last year he reportedly pocketed £14.4 million from the sale of a company he got the idea of cofounding after spending two years studying the language while teaching English in Japan in the early 1990s.

The company, Hotcourses, runs websites that list educational courses for students around the world, and was bought for £30.1 million by Australian firm IDP Education when Hunt was health secretary.

His time in Japan left him with a strong and enduring connection to the nation and its culture.

“I… spent just under two years in Japan because I always wanted to learn a non-European language. I loved living abroad and I love Japan,” Hunt wrote on his website on May 14, 2005.

“I taught English out there, but my main purpose was to learn the language. I struggled every day to master the writing system — you need to learn 3,000 characters to read a Japanese newspaper,” he wrote.

After returning to Britain from Japan he tried out several ideas for starting new businesses, including exporting marmalade to Japan and building playgrounds for children, which all failed.

Then he got an idea of publishing guides designed for Japanese students in England, to help them find colleges and universities that suited their requirements. That eventually led to the successful establishment of Hotcourses.

“I backpacked a lot when I was at university and used the Lonely Planet travel guides. But when I later went to Japan to learn Japanese I found it really hard to find a good school,” he said during an interview with The Independent in January 2009.

“So I thought, why not produce a guide to help people who want to study rather than just travel abroad?”

“Japan is one of those countries you catch a bug for and it never really leaves you. I caught my bug for this endlessly fascinating country in the early 1990s,” he also wrote on the website in Sept. 2006.

Hunt, a graduate of Oxford University, replaced Boris Johnson as foreign secretary, who quit in protest against U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s policy of maintaining close trade ties with the European Union after exiting the bloc.

In Britain’s EU membership referendum in 2016, Hunt was a vocal pro-EU campaigner.

Six months after the earthquake and tsunami disaster that devastated coastal areas of the Tohoku region in March 2011, while Hunt was culture secretary, he returned to Japan to visit the city of Sendai, which had been badly affected.

“It’s obviously been an appalling tragedy, but I was very impressed with the determination I saw from the people of Sendai — and the mayor of Sendai, who I had a meeting with — to fight back,” he said in an interview with the Japanese Embassy in London.

“I remember after the Second World War Japan rose from the ashes with astonishing speed and amazed the world with its patience and eloquence, and I felt that there is a little bit of that spirit there now,” he said.