Iran-Japan Cultural Relations: Opportunities and Challenges

Paper presented at the second round of bilateral cultural discussions, Tokyo, Oct. 26-28, 2011.


Introductory remarks

To start with, I would like to thank Sasakawa Foundation and all the Japanese friends for their hospitality and continued support to this event.

Let me confess that I have enjoyed this hospitality since thirty years ago when I first arrived in your beautiful country.

Last year, in Tehran, I talked about the Present, Past, and Future of our cultural relations and more recently in Tehran, during the Conference of the Role of Cultural & Religious Dialogue in Promoting Cultural Convergence Amongst Asian Nations (Tehran, Sept. 11-12, 2011), I talked about Mutual Cultural Understanding: A Basis for Asian Interaction. During this same conference, I had the opportunity to meet a distinguished Japanese scholar, Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the Religions for Peace International Organization.

In the light of these two contributions, today I would like to talk about the Opportunities and Challenges of Iran-Japan Cultural Relations, which again is based on the same assumption that mutual understanding is prerequisite to any cultural interaction and that, in turn, is prerequisite to any political, economic, international, and other sorts of cooperation.

Since the bitter experience of two world wars in a period of two decades is enough to demonstrate the necessity of dialogue of civilizations rather than Hantingtonian conflict or war of civilizations, thus, instead of elaborating more on the necessity of dialogue, we rather emphasize on the necessity of better mutual understanding, along with the cultural commonalities between Iran and Japan, in order to pave the way for a fair assessment of the existing opportunities and challenges.


Cultural Commonalities of the Asian Countries

A short list of the cultural commonalities of the Asian Countries include:

  1. The historical, geographical, and ethnical proximity of the Asian nations.
  2. Historical cultural connections such as the silk road, etc.
  3. International religions such as Islam, Buddhism, etc.
  4. The Presence of an inclusive (non-exclusive) attitude amongst the great Asian nations such as India, China, Iran, etc.
  5. Playing an effective role at regional and international level in order to make a better world for the whole humanity.
  6. An active presence in all regional and extra-regional pacts and treaties in the Middle East, Central and far East.


Culrural Commonalities between Iran and Japan

A short list of the cultural commonalities between Iran and Japan include:

  1. A long historical link at the two ends of the silk road.
  2. The presence of many historical-cultural Iranian objects at Nara
  3. Endowing the Order of the Rising Sun: Gold and Silver Star, by His Majesty the Emperor to three Iranian scholars including the undersigned.
  4. The presence of about two hundred Mombo-kaga-gusho graduates at different technical/managerial positions of Iran.
  5. Running different cultural, carpet, arts, and industrial exhibitions in the capitals of the two countries.
  6. The existence of many Iranologists, Islamologists, scholars of Persian studies, and Persian libraries all over Japan, amongst which professor Toshihiko Izutsu is one of the most renowned.
  7. The existence of some renowned Japanologists and students of Japanese language, culture and arts in Iran, incliding professor Hashim Rajabzadeh who has compiled about 20 books on Japanese history, culture, and literature.


Existing opportunities in our cultural relations

  1. Better utilization of Iranology and Islamology chairs in Japan, and Japanology and Japanese language chairs in Iran.
  2. Better utilization of the friendship associations and joint chamber of commerces in our respective countries.
  3. Reconstruction and revitalization of our centuries old cultural relations in all fields of music, art, film, Capet, handiciaft, calligraphy, movies, paintings, etc.
  4. Full implementation of the Cultural Memorandum of Understanding signed more than fifty years ago between our two countries.
  5. Joint cooperation with ASEAN, far East, and Industrial countries through Japan, and ECO, Middle East, and Central Asian countries through Iran.
  6. Joint cooperation in the areas of poverty eradication, environmental preservation, promoting ethical and family volues, and other humanitarian issues global level.


Existing Challenges in the way of our bilateral cultural relations.

  1. Not enough endeavour in full utilization of the existing potentials.
  2. Exertion of pressure by non-regional blocks and powers such as some Western countries, America, and Zionist regime.
  3. Having a short-sighted view towards the benefits of our mutal cooperation rather than a long-sighted one.
  4. Unhealthy impact of the day-to-day current problems and events on our long term relations.
  5. Unnecessary involvement of our two countries in issues disturbing our sound bitateral cultural relations.
  6. Ignoring the benefits of continued cultural-religious dialogue in laying the ground for mutually beneficial political/economic relations.
  7. Taking a one-sided and partial position by Japan vis-à-vis our relations which is not benefiting either side.


Summary and Conclussion

  1. In the light of what was said, in our view, the present level of Iran-Japan cultural relations is not ideal or satisfactory, thus requiring our Joint efforts for a better mutual understanding and cooperation.
  2. Our mutual benefits, as two great nations on each end of the Silk Road, deserves an impartial, balanced, and progressive relation, not being affected by short-term transient events or short-sighted nationalistic views on either side. The scope and depth of these relations can be so defined as not to oppose or damage our relations with any other country.
  3. Fortunately, in a recent visit with His Excellency Ambassador Komano and his deputy Takaoka San in Tehran, they informed me of a long list of immediate and short-term actions prepared to promote our cultural relations which seemed quite interesting and promising. In view of such an intensive plan of action, let us hope that our relations in the future will be more expanded and beneficial.

Once again I express my deep satisfaction of visiting your beautiful country, which in many respects deserves to be an Asian model, and appreciate your exemplary hospitality.


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