Following months of planning that began in April 2018 with the recruitment of 10 students to the cohort, the European sojourn phase of the 13th Euro-Japan Dialogue commenced on October 27, 2018 at the University of Navarra in Pamplona, Spain, before moving on to the University of Lisbon, Portugal. Led by Alexander McAulay and Keiko Ishiwata from the Department of Economics, this was the first time for the program to visit Spain and Portugal, which means that Euro-Japan Dialogue has, since 2006, visited 25 different university campuses in 17 countries across Europe. Our hosts for Euro-Japan Dialogue were the Faculty of Economics at University of Navarra, and the Faculty of Letters at University of Lisbon.
At University of Navarra, the economics students in both faculties presented on and discussed issues related to labor shortages and immigration. The timing was fortunate, as this coincided with a Japanese government bill to allow many blue-collar workers to obtain work visas for Japan. The YNU cohort described the current challenges Japan faces in terms of declining birthrate, aging population and labor shortages, and assessed the effectiveness of current proposals by the government to resolve these problems. They identified some shortcomings in terms of pay and restrictions imposed on migrant workers, and made proposals for change. A lively Q&A session followed, with the Spanish students curious as to why Japan has been resistant to allowing workers to stay long-term. They also noted that Spain faces similar challenges with regard to birthrate and aging. This led on to discussions of such issues as the increasing number of elderly living alone, and how Spain and Japan compare with regard to child-care facilities for working parents.
On the second day in Pamplona, University of Navarra students and the YNU cohort undertook a company visit to Bodega Otazu, located eight kilometers north of Pamplona. This estate is the northernmost winery producing red wine in Spain. The owners have made it not only a functioning winery, but also a wine museum and art gallery, It is surrounded by the Sierra del Perdón and Sierra del Sarbil, and has the Arga River to provide natural borders. It has obtained the highest certification for the quality of its vineyards: Pago Appellation. On the tour, we were told that Bodega Otazu was the first French style winery built in 1840 in Navarra. The amazing barrels rooms take your breath away. According to their website, they are “composed of nine vaults of cement and designed like a cathedral, in this case, a wine cathedral.”
The business has succeeded not only in producing great wine, but managing to grow a thriving event business on the estate. Only two weddings were held on the estate three years ago, but 40 have been held there already this year. YNU students and their Spanish peers were treated to a tour of the estate, which included explanations of both the wine-making process and the artwork on display. In the evening, discussions continued on the merits of combining art and commerce, and the exact qualities of a good wine!
When the cohort moved to Lisbon, we were immediately reminded of the economic challenges that country faces, by virtue of a train driver strike that meant the journey from the airport to the accommodation, which should have taken 20 minutes, ended up taking 75 minutes.
Our hosts were the Faculty of Letters, University of Lisbon, and the discussion centered on the economics of tourism. The YNU cohort gave a 25-minute presentation on Japan’s recent drive to improve tourism. They outlined the number of tourists that have visited Japan in recent years, showing the rising trend in inbound tourism. They identified various problems with Japan’s target of 40 million visitors by 2020, notably the over-concentration of visitors in certain locations, such as Tokyo, Kyoto and Hokkaido. They put forward proposals to encourage greater dispersal of tourists to provincial areas, citing Kiyosaki in Hyogo as an example of a regional town that has succeeded in driving up inbound tourism numbers.
The discussion that followed was led by two Portuguese student facilitators. The talk between the two groups was wide-ranging, and stressed the importance of tourism to both economies. The Portuguese asked about any tensions that arise from such a sudden and massive influx of tourists to Japan. Various episodes were brought up and discussed, including the shaking of cherry blossom trees by tourists for photo ops, and the announcement by an Osaka train driver apologizing for ‘too many foreigners’ in 2016.
Some of the Portuguese students had been to Japan, and were surprised by the relatively low English proficiency of the Japanese they encountered. This echoed a point made at University of Athens on Euro-Japan Dialogue 2016. It would seem that if Japan wants to see repeat visits from tourists, this lack of English proficiency in the general population is a serious problem that needs addressing.
In Pamplona and Lisbon the European students accompanied the YNU cohort on cultural and historical tours. They also enjoyed relaxed cross-cultural exchanges over coffee in the street cafes and restaurants around both towns. The 13th Euro-Japan Dialogue was an educational, informative and stimulating experience for the YNU cohort thanks to the long-term planning, organization and kind hospitality of our European partners at University of Navarra and University of Lisbon. We deeply appreciate their efforts, and hope we can reciprocate in Yokohama at some point in the near future.
The 14th Euro-Japan Dialogue is in the planning stage, and will visit University of Ljubljana, Slovenia and Juraj Dobrila University of Pula, Croatia, Applications will be accepted from April 2019.