Japan on Tuesday lost a dedicated friend with the passing of former British Ambassador to Japan and longtime Japan Times opinion columnist Sir Hugh Cortazzi, 94.

Born on May 2, 1924, Cortazzi joined the Royal Air Force in 1943, a step that began an active relationship with Japan that would last the rest of his life. He enrolled in a crash course in Japanese and went on to serve as an interpreter and was posted in Japan from 1946 to 1947.

In 1949, Cortazzi joined the British Foreign Office, serving several long stints in Tokyo over the years before being appointed ambassador in 1980, a post that he held for four years.

Retiring from public service in 1984, Cortazzi continued to dedicate his life to promoting stronger relations between Britain and Japan, acting as chairman of the Japan Society (1985-1995) and writing, editing, translating or contributing to numerous books on the history of Anglo-Japanese relations as well as Japanese culture and history. Prominent among these was his 1998 autobiography, “Japan and Back, and Places Elsewhere.”

But perhaps it was through his opinion column in The Japan Times, which began in 1997 and lasted for 20 years, that readers in Japan knew him best. Cortazzi viewed himself as a “critical friend” of Japan who cared deeply about the nation and gave readers a frank and insightful perspective on topical political issues. He will be greatly missed.

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