History & Background

Relations between the United Kingdom and Japan date back over four hundred years through the adventures of William Adams of Gillingham, Kent, and the establishment of the English Factory in Hirado. These initial connections, however, were short lived as from 1641 to 1853 Japan was effectively closed to the world. The reopening of Japan in 1853 saw it enthusiastically adopt many Western methods of science, culture, and governance, with many regions throughout the United Kingdom hosting Japanese envoys and individuals keen on learning the secrets of modernisation.

The UK’s market size, position within the European Union, skilled workforce, and encouragement of foreign direct investment led many Japanese companies to invest heavily in the UK manufacturing sector during the peak period of Japan’s ‘economic miracle’ in the 1980s and early 1990s, and by 1996 over 80,000 people in the United Kingdom were employed by Japanese manufacturing establishments. Japan’s rise as a world economic power also saw an increase of interest in Japanese culture and language throughout the United Kingdom, with many schools and universities offering Japanese studies within their core curriculum.

The increasing contacts between the UK and Japan also led to the desire of some local authorities in the two countries to formalise links through city twinning arrangements. Formal links were entered into for various reasons, some to do with historic connections, others between local authorities with similar cultural or economic backgrounds, which have enabled deeper relationships to be fostered through programmes such as school and cultural exchanges, as well as further economic investment. The first official link to be formed was between East Dunbartonshire and Yoichi town in 1988, in celebration of both regions’ association with whisky-making. Following this saw Buckley and Flintshire formalising links with Murata town as a result of Japanese investment in manufacturing through various regions within Wales including the presence of Toyota UK in Northern Wales.

Other successful official links include Gateshead and Komatsu, formed in 1991 following the establishment of Komatsu Corporation in Gateshead, and Derbyshire and Toyota city, formed in 1998 to celebrate the ten year anniversary of the establishment of the Toyota plant in Burnaston.

For more information on these and other official links please see the Official Links page.

Furthermore, the JET Programme, established in 1987 and administered by CLAIR has seen thousands of UK graduates work in schools and local communities in Japan, developing international exchange at the grassroots level. Many former JET participants return to the UK keen to continue their link to Japan and have proven invaluable in the development of many Japan-UK local authority links.

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