15 November 2022

The National Library unveiled an exhibition dedicated to the centenary of friendship between Lithuania and Japan – “Bonds / Kizuna”

On the 14th of November 2022, the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania celebrated the centenary of the friendship between Lithuania and Japan. The official diplomatic relations between the two countries began on 20 December 1922, when the Government of Japan signed the Act of Recognition of the Republic of Lithuania, symbolically marking the beginning of diplomatic ties. In 2022, at a meeting of the Lithuanian and Japanese Prime Ministers in Japan, it was agreed to raise bilateral relations between Lithuania and Japan to the level of a strategic partnership. On this occasion, the National Library has launched a series of events aimed at getting to know the history and culture of Japan better, discovering unexpected episodes of the century-long friendship between the two countries, and discovering the personalities who have linked the two countries: diplomats, historians and artists. On November 15th, the series of events officially opened with an exhibition of books and other documents linking Lithuania and Japan through cultural and diplomatic ties, entitled “Bonds / Kizuna”. It was organised by the Embassy of Japan and the National Library. The guests were greeted by the national anthems of Lithuania and Japan and, after the opening speeches, were entertained by the Vilnius City Choir “Jauna muzika” (Young Music), which had just returned from a tour of Japan.

The speech of the President of the Republic of Lithuania, Gitanas Nausėda, was read out to the guests by Dalia Tamošiūnienė, Adviser to the President. “Japan is Lithuania's most important political and economic partner in Asia. Together we seek to address the global challenges of security, climate change and pandemics and to defend international order and democratic values,” G. Nausėda’s address read. The President welcomed the opening of the exhibition as an opportunity to turn a new page in our common history and stressed the importance of a common political stance to stop Russian aggression against Ukraine: “Today, it is the duty of all of us to strive for peace and harmony.”

The Foreign Ministers of both countries shared their greetings with the guests. Welcoming the growing ties between the two countries, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa referred to Prime Minister Ingrida Šimonytė’s visit to Japan in October this year. “In addition to political and economic cooperation, I would like to underline the importance of promoting in-person exchanges and deepening mutual understanding between Japan and Lithuania,” said Mr Yoshimasa, paying tribute to the memory of the Japanese diplomat Chiune Sugihara, who was honoured at the meeting between the two Prime Ministers. Thousands of persecuted Jews fled Lithuania in 1939-1940 to escape persecution thanks to unofficial visas issued by Ch. Sugihara, considered Righteous Among the Nations. Mr Yoshimasa said that Sugihara’s legacy is a symbol of the historical ties between Japan and Lithuania.

In his greetings, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis stressed that Lithuania and Japan share common values and rules in the promotion of international order: “Together we face common challenges and together we are seeking winning solutions to build prosperity and security from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean”. Mr Landsbergis hoped that as relations between the two countries grow stronger, we will see success and prosperity in cultural, educational, economic exchanges and personal connections.

The Minister of Culture of the Republic of Lithuania, Simonas Kairys, discussing the unexpected friendship between the distant countries and the contemporary cultural exchanges between Lithuania and Japan, mentioned that the first and newly appointed Cultural Attaché in Japan, Gabija Čepulionytė, is also one of the organisers of the “Ryšiai / Kizuna” exhibition. S. Kairys wished that the next centenary of friendship between the two countries would be no less intense, and that future meetings between Lithuania and Japan would deepen cultural and personal ties, without being overshadowed by the backdrop of war.

Arūnas Valinskas, Chairman of the Interparliamentary Relations with Japan Group of the Seimas of the Republic of Lithuania, spoke about the relationship between Lithuania and Japan, which are very different countries, likening it to the harmony created by two different Japanese instruments. “One hundred years later, despite all that our countries have had to endure, today they look at each other <...> from the same position as they did exactly one hundred years ago – as two true democracies. And today, we can safely add: as true allies and true friends,” said A. Valinskas.

Hirofumi Nakasone, Chairman of the Lithuanian-Japanese Parliamentary League of Friendship, conveyed his greetings to the guests: “As the forces trying to destroy the stability of the international community by force grow stronger, it is important to deepen our mutual understanding and to reduce the emotional distance between us more than ever before. I also sincerely hope that through business, tourism and youth exchanges, we will open new pages between our countries.”

Ozaki Tetsu, the Japanese Ambassador to Lithuania, revealed the meaning of the title “Kizuna”: “The hieroglyph of the word kizuna <...> is made up of the symbols for string and half. In other words, it means that Japan and Lithuania's equal relationship is linked by a single string of friendship.” The Ambassador said he believes that the exhibition symbolises the commitment of Japan and Lithuania to help safeguard world peace for the next century.

The Director General of the National Library, Prof. Dr. Renaldas Gudauskas, expressed his gratitude to the Embassy of Japan for the cooperation in organising the series, to the initiator of the exhibition, G. Čepulionyte, to the representative of the team of the organisers of the exhibition, the specialist in Japanese literature, Jurgita Ignotiene, and to everyone who contributed. R. Gudauskas promised that the National Library would publish a printed and electronic catalogue and archive of the exhibition. “The events dedicated to the anniversary of bilateral relations between Lithuania and Japan are just beginning at the National Library. We will have many more opportunities to meet, learn, experience and get to know Japanese culture, literature and cinema better,” emphasised R. Gudauskas.

In her closing remarks, J. Ignotienė emphasised the contribution of personalities important for the relations between Lithuania and Japan, and the special significance of the seemingly modest initial gestures that underpinned these relations. “Diplomatic relations, inter-state relations would be nothing without the people who create these relations, without the people who work to knit, expand and develop these relations. I would very much like to invite you to explore and discover those links,” said Mrs Ignotienė.