Interview with Ambassador to Japan Bucher
Japan and Switzerland far but close, with similar national characters
Japan and Switzerland marked the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries on Feb. 6, 2014. Switzerland, located around the center of Europe, is home to many international organizations, boasts global industries in fields such as finance and watches, and possesses tourism resources including the Alps. The country's GDP per capita is among the tops in the world. For Japanese people, Switzerland is a country they adore. The national characters of the two countries are also similar, so they are close although physically distant. On this occasion, we held an exclusive interview with Swiss Ambassador to Japan Urs Bucher and asked him about unknown charms of Switzerland.
International Status: Success based on political stability
Switzerland's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita ranks fourth in the world. With a population of 8 million, its land area is about the size of Japan's Kyushu Island and it has very little natural resources. But Switzerland can nevertheless maintain this ranking perhaps because of its openness. First of all, the 500 million people in EU nations can freely travel between their own countries and Switzerland. It also has a very open national character in the areas of science and entrepreneurship as well. And its political stability can be said to be behind all of the country's success.
In addition, Switzerland is home to the World Health Organization (WHO) and many other international organizations as well as FIFA, the international governing body for soccer. The other day, the Davos forum which gathers the world's political, business and bureaucratic leaders was held. Switzerland is also a permanent neutral state. More than anything else, being fair and neutral are key to become a platform for the world stage.
Finance Industry: High confidence in finance industry such as UBS
When one thinks of the Swiss economy, the finance industry is the first thing that comes to mind. There are many companies in the field with a history of more than 100 years, including UBS and Credit Suisse. The financial sector is said to account for 10% of GDP, and looking at the trend of the past five or six years, it holds an important position in the world as well. The industry has been assessed for its high-quality service and strong reliability, but its asset comes on the background of political and economic stability.
The watch industry, including the world's top three luxury watch manufacturers, is also well known. The Swiss watch industry has a history of two to three centuries and this is likely the key to its success. However, it was once exposed to a critical situation in the 1970s, triggered by the advent of leading Japanese watch makers that came out with battery-powered watches. But Switzerland saw this as an opportunity for growth. The Swiss watch industry produced low-priced watches like the "Swatch" as well as products that combine good design with low prices, and they became widespread. Meanwhile, it also focused its energy on making luxury watches and continues to provide the world's most valuable products.
Respect for Japanese: Japanese people, world's best tourists
The Swiss respect Japanese people. In a survey conducted by the hotel industry, Japanese people were chosen as the most welcome tourists. The Swiss think of Japanese people as tourists who can be proudly presented to the world. After the Great East Japan Earthquake, a tremendous amount of donations was sent to Japan. The 3/11 disaster was carved more deeply in the minds of Swiss people than any other natural disasters. Swiss people were deeply impressed when they watched TV footage of survivors in the Tohoku region living at evacuation facilities in order. The feeling we felt for the Japanese on this occasion was nothing other than respect.
Emphasis on harmony
Japanese and Swiss people are often said to have similar national characters. They both are hardworking, know how to enjoy the four seasons and love nature. But I consider the point of placing emphasis on harmony to be the most important. The point that both seek perfection in making things, ranging from homemade cakes to precision machinery like watches, is also a common element.
Some also point out that our voting behavior at the United Nations is similar. Switzerland joined the United Nations in 2002 and 10 years later conducted a survey on its actions at the United Nations. The results showed that in 95% of agenda items, Switzerland took the same voting action as Japan. In other words, it was proven that the two countries have similar thoughts on global issues. Also, Switzerland is the only European country that has concluded a free trade agreement (FTA) with Japan.
Tourism: Traditional cheese dishes are exquisite
The Alps may come to mind when one thinks of Switzerland, but there are many other notable spots. Take for example my hometown Solothurn. This is a Baroque-style town where the French ambassador lived during the 18th century. It is a very small town, but very lively when it comes to culture. Events like film festivals, book fairs and jazz and classical music festivals are held frequently, and there is always some kind of festival held on the streets on the weekends. I hope you will visit.
Swiss food also has a lot of charm. Take dishes that use traditional cheese, for example. The quality of milk is high, so you can enjoy a simple but high-quality meal. Also, as you may know, Switzerland is geographically located in an area where diverse cultures intersect, and this is reflected in the food culture as well. We have incorporated the food of France, Italy, Germany and Austria to create something that is perfectly Swiss.
There are also countless world-class events. The "Montreux Jazz Festival" is well-known, but we also have many classical music festivals that are very popular. We hope everyone will discover many other kinds of events.
Thoughts Toward Kagawa: Family becomes fan of coexisting modernity, tradition
I visited Kagawa with my family in April 2012. Wherever we go in Japan, we receive good hospitality, but the hospitality we received in Kagawa at that time was a very warm welcome that surpasses all of our past experiences. We were also deeply impressed in terms of art and culture. While there is modern art, as seen in Naoshima, there are also traditional buildings. This kind of coexistence of modernity and tradition has remained in our memory, and my wife and daughter also became fans of Kagawa.
A new page of friendly relations between Japan and Switzerland and between Kagawa and Switzerland is about to start. On the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations, I hope that Kagawa and Switzerland will become even closer and that it will serve as an opportunity for the two sides to learn from each other. I want Swiss people to visit Kagawa and for the people of Kagawa, even if it may be difficult for them to come to Switzerland, I hope they will take part in many of the anniversary events and feel closer to Switzerland.
Swiss watches are microcosm, bring owners happiness and joy
In addition to the historic brand power, Swiss watches have upscale designs and minute internal structures. They are not just something that tells the time, but also considered to be a work of art or microcosm and are loved by people around the world for various reasons, such as adoration, decoration and status.
According to JETRO, three Swiss brands – Rolex, Cartier and Omega – occupy the top spots in the sales ranking of the world's watch brands.
Yasuyuki Iima, president of Eye Eye Isuzu, a Takamatsu-based company that handles many watch brands, said, "It brings the owner happiness and joy. I hope people will see and feel the charm of Swiss-made watches during this milestone year."