Vietnam My Tales of the Past and Present


Vietnam is a vibrant country with one of the highest economic growth rates among ASEAN countries (8% in 2022, IMF figure) and a population of 99.46 million (in 2022), soon to reach 100 million. Some people may think of delicious Vietnamese food. The number of Japanese-affiliated firms operating in Vietnam is approximately 2,300 as of 2021.

Meanwhile, the number of foreign workers in Japan, which is on the increase, was 1.82 million at the end of October 2022, and by country, Vietnam had the highest number at 462 thousand, accounting for a quarter of the total, followed by China (385 thousand), the Philippines (206 thousand) and Brazil (135 thousand). More and more people are becoming familiar with the increase of foreign workers in Japan every year.

I recently had the opportunity to meet new Ambassador Hieu, who was posted from Vietnam as Ambassador to Japan. He has long served as deputy minister for foreign affairs of Vietnam and has visited Japan twice this year.

The Vietnamese Prime Minister has been invited to the G7 Summit in Hiroshima, so the new Ambassador told me that he was very happy that he is going to be busy taking care of his prime minister while serving in Japan.

As Vietnam’s relations with Japan have become closer and closer in recent years and are drawing more and more attention, the new Ambassador is expected to play a very active role. The Ambassador studied at the Nagoya University Graduate School of Law until 2005, where he obtained a Master’s degree.

Encounters with Vietnam

I visited Vietnam twice in the 1990s, once in the mid-1990s when I traveled to the capital, Hanoi, for consultations on Japanese grant aid projects. The second was at the end of the 1990s when a trade promotion seminar and workshop organized by the UN ESCAP (headquartered in Bangkok, Thailand) was held in Ho Chi Minh City and I participated in the seminar/workshop as the representative of Japan, that sponsored the event.

What struck me most in Hanoi at the time was the fact that the streets were full of motorcycles , far more in number than cars, and that the whole city was bustling with activity. Motorcycles were roaring thunderously. I remember watching in amazement at one of the roundabouts in the town, as parents and their children shared a motorcycle, riding around in the light of the streetlamps, making a booming noise as they sought to cool off in the midsummer heat that lasted well into the night.

Ho Chi Minh City, which was known as ‘Saigon’ until the Vietnam War and was renamed after the end of the war. When traveling from the hotel to the seminar venue on the city’s main street, I saw the road was lined with stores on both sides with poorly maintained pavements and was filled to its full width with groups of cyclists. Cars were slowly moving between the cyclists.

I am sure this nostalgic sight is no longer to be seen. For readers of this article, the following photos from the 2012 BBC travel news article “Hanoi by motorcycle” (Note 1) will give you a taste of the atmosphere of the city as it was in the 1990s.

(Note 1: )

When I first met in Hanoi with the top Vietnamese government official during the discussions on grant aid projects, I was under the impression that he was a cautious, stiff-spoken person, as is typical of an official from a socialist country. But when I invited him to join us for dinner after the meeting, he seemed to have relaxed from his nervousness.

In response to my unexpected question, “What do you fear most in your daily life?”, he replied, “My wife”, and we had an unexpectedly lively and enjoyable talk on a very familiar common topic.

The Consulate-General of Vietnam in Osaka is in Sakai

The location of the Consulate-General of Vietnam in Osaka was moved from its original location in Osaka City to the neighboring city of Sakai in 2009. I heard about a reason for this from the Deputy Chief of Mission of the Vietnamese Embassy in Tokyo, who had worked at the Consulate-General in Osaka in the past.

He said that long before the move, they had been looking for a new office location in Osaka City, but the only available properties were those with high rents, and finally they found a suitable property in the neighboring Sakai City. The current location is in a building (Note 2) right in front of Oshoji Station on the Hankai Electric Railway’s Hankai Line, a street tram car that still runs today, the locals used to call the “chin-chin” train. Incidentally, I recall using this train to go to school as a high school student

(Note 2: )

A special concert to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Vietnam in Sakai City

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Vietnam. Commemorative events are being held throughout Vietnam and Japan, including a special concert in Sakai City at the beginning of April this year. The special concert was conducted by Japanese conductor Tetsuji Honna, who is the Principal Conductor of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra. The Osaka Symphony Orchestra, of which Mr. Honna used to be the Permanent Conductor from 1994 to 2001, has performed Beethoven’s Violin Concerto and Symphony “Fate” with Vietnamese violists (Note 3).

(Note3: )

Honna is a native of Fukushima Prefecture, and on his first visit to Hanoi in October 2000, he fell in love with the nostalgic atmosphere of the city. Since 2009, he has been the Music Director and Permanent Conductor of the Vietnam National Symphony Orchestra and has moved with his family to Hanoi to train Vietnamese musicians.

For his contribution to musical activities in Vietnam, Honna was awarded the Order of Cultural Merit (2012) by the Vietnamese Government, as well as the Watanabe Akio Music Fund Special Award (2019) and Japan’s Foreign Minister’s Award.

The concert was attended by the state minister for Foreign Affairs Honorable Takei, Ambassador Hieu (then Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs of Vietnam), and the Consul-General of Vietnam in Osaka, who were also present and must have enjoyed the concert immensely.

A calendar of events in various parts of Japan, which are recognized officially as events commemorating the 50th anniversary, can be found on the following website (see Note 4).

(Note 4: )

During the consecutive holidays in early May, Honorable Nikai, former Chief Cabinet Secretary, and the President of the Japan-Vietnam Parliamentary Friendship Association in Japan, visited Hanoi with members of the National Assembly, local governments, and business officials from prefectures. Hon. Nikai met the Vietnamese Prime Minister, the Speaker of the National Assembly, and other dignitaries, and attended trade promotion meetings. Nikai Sensei is reported to have said that he wanted to “blossom a big flower of friendship” and that “each prefecture would like to promote cooperation with Vietnam in the economic and labor fields.”

(Note 5: )

Nikai Sensei was born in Gobo City, Wakayama Prefecture, and led another large mission to Vietnam in January 2021. Since then, Wakayama-grown Onshu mandarins were exported to Vietnam. During his recent visit to Vietnam, Nikai Sensei also talked about charter flights between Nanki-Shirahama and Hanoi and Da Nang, as well as exchanges between high school students from the two countries.

Events to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Vietnam will continue to unfold throughout this year in the two countries. It is expected that exchanges between local authorities and private companies in both countries will become more and more active.

KAWAHARA Eiichi is the Former Ambassador of Japan to Guatemala.