Tue, Aug 13, 2019

Thai Amb. Bunnag: “Royal ties are the main pillar of Thailand-Japan relations”

Interview with Thai Ambassador Bansarn Bunnag

The Thai Residence in Tokyo (Photo by Miku Sawano)

TSUMUGU Project

Thai Ambassador Bansarn Bunnag is one of several representatives of foreign governments to have attended the opening ceremony for the two Tsumugu Project special exhibitions “Cultural Exchanges of the Emperor and Empress” and “Masterpieces of Japanese Art” in March 2019. The Tsumugu Project later interviewed the ambassador at his official residence in Tokyo to hear his thoughts on the idea of Japan’s public and private sectors coming together to promote, restore/repair and preserve the nation’s cultural properties, and also on current royal ties between Japan and Thailand.

TSUMUGU Project: The Tsumugu Project officially kicked off with the grand opening of the special exhibitions in early March. Give us your thoughts on the project and the “Cultural Exchanges of the Emperor and Empress” (March 5 – April 29) exhibit you viewed on the day of the opening ceremony.

Ambassador Bansarn Bunnag: I was deeply impressed with the initiative of the Tsumugu Project, which aims to promote the beauty of Japan. I admire its efforts in restoring and preserving Japan’s national treasures. At the exhibition, I was very much impressed with the small Imperial costumes and kimonos which were worn by the Joko Emperor Emeritus (Emperor of the Heisei era) himself, as well as the golden boxes and other valuable ornaments on display. Some of these items are similar to traditional Thai handicraft, which reflects the commonality of art in Thailand and Japan. I was also impressed with the traditional Japanese paintings which awesomely depict the beauty of nature.

Thai Ambassador Bansarn Bunnag talks about the Tsumugu exhibition. (Photo by Miku Sawano)

Japan’s delicate art, as reflected in the displays of this exhibition, clearly demonstrates the unique and skillful techniques passed on from generation to generation. It is both exceptional and invaluable. I was truly honored to have the opportunity to view the special exhibition.

Q. The wonderful Thai Residence in Tokyo here is also filled with magnificent Japanese artwork. What can you tell us about its history and fine collection?

A. I am honored to be living in this residence which the Thai government acquired in 1943. It is not only an architectural art in itself, but is also home to a number of art pieces as its former owner, Kichiemon Hamaguchi the 10th, was a well-known  connoisseur of arts. One example is a famous painting by Kanji Maeta (1896-1930) which depicts a turbulent ocean in the midst of a storm in Chiba Prefecture. This painting won the best-painting award at an annual contest in 1929, and has been displayed at various grand exhibitions in Japan over the years. Moreover, there are three marble sculptures each of a woman by Masanobu Kitamura (1889-1980). There is also a pair of Koimari ceramics of splendid style.

Q. Tell us about efforts in Thailand to preserve cultural properties.

A. In Thailand, the Fine Arts Department of the Ministry of Culture is the major national organization responsible for the preservation and promotion of the country’s cultural legacies and art. Since its foundation in 1911, the department has been in charge of administering the national records office, promoting archaeological sites and preserving ancient monuments and objects of antiquity, both in its tangible and intangible forms. Its works also include stimulating and providing other government agencies, private sectors and the general public with the understanding of Thailand’s deep-rooted culture and traditions.

The Queen Sirikit Department of Sericulture established in 2009 has played a big part in preserving Thailand’s silk culture, including techniques involved in dyeing, weaving and embroideries. The royal project aims to conserve local wisdom and further develop Thai silk so as to meet international standards.

Q. What do you think of current relations between Japan and Thailand?

A. Today, relations between Thailand and Japan are very close at all levels, be they between royal families, governments or people-to-people. I think our relations go beyond partnership. We have a long-standing friendship and we will always lend a helping hand to each other when the other is in difficulty or facing challenging times.

The Koimari on display at the Thai Residence (Photo by Miku Sawano)

On the occasion of the 130th anniversary of the establishment of Japan-Thailand diplomatic relations in 2017, the Japanese and Thai governments jointly organized many events and activities to commemorate the milestone: a concert was held at the Suntory Hall in Tokyo by the Royal Bangkok Symphony Orchestra, which was attended by both the Japanese and Thai foreign ministers; more than 600 businesspersons led by Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Hiroshige Seko visited Thailand; and “Thailand: Brilliant Land of the Buddha,” a special exhibition, was held at national museums in Kyushu and Tokyo to put 130 national artifacts from Thailand on display. These artifacts are rarely exhibited outside Thailand.

With the Rugby World Cup this year, and Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics in 2020, I am certain we will see an increase in the number of Thai tourists coming to Japan during that period. In fact, the number of Thai tourists coming to Japan has been increasing every year since the Japanese Government took the step to exempt visas for Thai tourists. Last year, more than one million Thai tourists visited Japan. We expect that this trend will continue in the years to come. In turn, as many as 1.6 million Japanese tourists went to Thailand last year. I am pleased that the bond between Thai and Japanese people is growing stronger.

Q. The Imperial Household and the Royal Family of Thailand are known to be very close. How do you think royal ties will roll into the future?

A. Ties between the Imperial Family and the Royal Family of Thailand are not only close, but constitute the main pillar of relations between Thailand and Japan.

Ambassador Bansarn talks in front of a huge painting (Photo by Miku Sawano)

His Majesty the Joko had close ties with His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. Their friendship spanned more than half a century since 1963 when the late King visited Japan. In the following year, Their Majesties the Joko and Jokogo Empress Emerita (Empress of the Heisei era), who were the Crown Prince and Crown Princess at that time, also visited Thailand on behalf of Emperor Showa. After the Emperor of Heisei’s enthronement in 1991, the Joko and Jokogo chose Thailand as their first overseas destination. And in the year 2006, they visited Thailand for the second time to attend the royal ceremony in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the late King’s accession to the throne.

On the occasion of the demise of the His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej in October 2016, kind gestures and condolences of the Joko and Jokogo as well as the kind gestures expressed by other members of the Imperial Family deeply touched the people of Thailand. Their decision to visit Thailand in March 2017 to pay their respects to the late King was an occasion that will be in my memory and the memory of many Thais forever.

This year is auspicious for both Thailand and Japan as we enter a new era. Reiwa opened in Japan upon the coronation of the new Emperor. Thailand is also celebrating the official coronation of our King. I am certain the cordial ties between Thailand’s Royal Family and the Imperial Household will continue to lay a strong foundation for our friendship. It is my great honor and privilege to have an opportunity to contribute my own part as ambassador of Thailand to Japan during this auspicious occasion.

 (The interview was conducted by Tsumugu Project’s Kazuki Matsuura)

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