Czech music strikes chord in Japan during prime minister’s business-oriented visit

Bohuslav Sobotka and Shinzo Abe, photo: ČTK

Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka is on a four day visit to Japan, focussed primarily on tapping new opportunities in the field of business and defence cooperation. On Wednesday he was received by Japan’s crown prince Naruhito for a meeting that was far from formal.

Slav epic in Japan,  photo: Archives of the Czech Ministry of Culture
Despite the distance separating the two countries, general knowledge about the Czech Republic is unexpectedly high in Japan. Not only is Japan the second biggest investor in the Czech Republic after Germany, but Prague has become an increasingly popular destination with Japanese tourists who admire particularly the country’s composers and architecture. Bedřich Smetana’s symphonic poem Vltava has made its way into Japanese school textbooks and a recent exhibition of Art Nouveau painter Alphons Mucha’s Slav epic saw record attendance. The interest in things Czech stretches from the man in the street to Japan’s heir apparent, crown prince Naruhito who visited Czechoslovakia in 1985, shortly before the fall of communism. Himself a violin player, he is familiar with the works of Dvořák, Smetana and Janáček and during his meeting with the Czech prime minister recalled having played with the Talich Quartet in Prague and gone to a hockey match. Prime Minister Sobotka said the prince showed a keen interest in how the country had changed since his visit.

Bohuslav Sobotka and Shinzo Abe,  photo: ČTK
“The future Japanese emperor is someone who knows a great deal about the Czech Republic and who is particularly appreciative of the contribution Czechs have made to world culture.”

The Czech prime minister also met with his Japanese counterpart, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with whom he discussed opportunities to broaden cooperation in the fields of technology and defence. The Czech Republic is particularly interested in cooperation in engineering, aviation, communication technologies and robotics. The fact that Japan has lifted restrictions on deploying its troops abroad and trade in weapons and military technologies opens up new opportunities for Czech firms.

The two prime ministers agreed to begin talks on establishing direct flights between their countries this year to mark the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations and signed a deal on a working holiday visa programme. Under the agreement, the two states’ citizens aged 18 to 30 can work in the other country for one year without a permit. At a joint news conference after the meeting, Prime Minister Abe said Japan intends to cooperate with the Czech Republic in paving the way to a broad deal on an economic partnership agreement with the European Union.

At the end of his stay Prime Minister Sobotka will visit Kyoto and lay a wreath at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.