Japan-Sweden Relations

July 6, 2016

History of the Bilateral Relationship

Japan's contacts with Sweden date back to Japan's period of isolation. Carl Peter Thunberg, the best disciple of botanist Carl von Linné- and one of the Swedes that first visited Japan, came to Japan in 1775 as a doctor for Holland's East India Company. While staying in Japan for about 15 months, he collected plants, and, after returning home, wrote a book titled "Flora Japonica" about the botany of Japan.

The first treaty between Japan and Sweden was signed in 1868 in Yokohama through Dutch legation. In 1880, the Japanese Minister to Russia was concurrently appointed Minister to Sweden. The first Japanese Minister to Sweden assumed his post in Sweden later in 1904, while the first Swedish Minister was officially received in Japan in 1907. Both countries raised their legations to the status of embassies in 1957. Since then, Japan and Sweden have been cementing their friendship, through various activities including exchange of VIP visits, thus accelerating mutual understanding between both countries.

During a period after the WW II, Japan had no legation in Sweden, but in 1952 a Japanese legation opened in Stockholm. Both Japan and Sweden upgraded their legations’ status to embassies in the year 1957. Since then Japan and Sweden have been establishing friendly relations, through mutual visits and exchanges on different levels and within different areas amongst other things, and in doing so they strengthened the mutual understanding between the two nations. The year 2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Japan and Sweden.

Economic Relations

Since 1993, Sweden has had trade surplus over Japan except 2008. In 2015, the main export items from Japan to Sweden are transportation equipment, electric equipment and machinery, while the main import items from Sweden are medicines, machinery, timber and cork.

Cultural Exchanges

In Sweden, people have long since been interested in traditional Japanese culture, such as performing arts, music, calligraphy and tea ceremony. After some time, the interest has also increased when it comes to, for example, ikebana (flower arrangement), Haiku (poetry), design and films. Even Japanese literature has gained more popularity in Sweden, not least in correlation to Kenzaburo Oe’s winning of the Nobel Prize in 1994.

A great investment in order to present Japanese culture in Sweden was made in 1998 when Stockholm was the European Capital of Culture. During that year, Japan was presented through exhibitions, performances, concerts, sporting events, seminars and demonstrations. Amongst others, Kabuki was shown for the first time in Sweden, there was a friendly match between Swedish and Japanese teenagers and masters had been invited to demonstrate Ikebana, showing Bonsai (miniature trees) and there were grand fireworks displayed over Riddarfjärden. Umeå is elected as the European Capital of Culture in 2014, and a series of cultural events, including some representing Japanese culture, have been held in Umeå.

For the past years, the interest for Japanese popular culture has significantly increased in Sweden, particularly amongst children and young people. Aside from the popular video games, Manga (comic books), Anime (cartoons) and Japanese pop music have many dedicated fans. For two months in 2003, the Japanese comic artist Baron Yoshimoto was residing in Sweden, as a cultural envoy from the Cultural Council of the Monbukagakusho (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology).

At the eleventh top meeting between the EU and Japan in 2002, EU and Japan agreed to nominate the year 2005 as the EU-Japan Year of People-to-People Exchanges. The overarching goal with the year was to develop exchanges, contacts and an understanding between the citizens of Japan and the European Union, in order to create a foundation to further develop the good relations between Japan and the EU. A great amount of events were arranged in both Europe and Japan during this year. In Sweden, some of the events that were arranged were Japanese culture days, dance shows, art exhibitions, film screenings and a unique No performance.

The European Institute of Japanese Studies (EIJS) was established at the Stockholm School of Economics in 1992. The Institute contributes to the promotion of various research activities on Japan not only in Sweden, but also all over Europe. The Institute also holds seminars and lectures on Japan-related subjects, thus contributing to the expansion of exchanges between the two countries and between Japan and Europe. The Institute opened a Tokyo Office in October 1997.

In Japan, there has lately been a growing interest in Swedish design and popular music. “Swedish Style in Tokyo” is an event that has taken place six times since 1999, and its purpose is to present Sweden from a modern perspective within areas such as fashion, design, art, music and food. In 2004, a similar event called “Tokyo Style in Stockholm” was hosted in Stockholm.

Academic Exchanges

The Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) opened their office in Stockholm in 2001 and works with promoting international research cooperation with Japan. JSPS grants funding (JSPS fellowships) to researchers, in order for them to make research trips to and from Japan.

The Sweden-Japan Foundation was established in 1971 and works with promoting the exchange between Japan and Sweden by, for example, awarding a number of scholarships annually to young people who aim to study, research or do an internship in Japan, among others. They also spread information about Japan in Sweden in various ways and arrange meetings and seminars, with the purpose of promoting networking between various interest groups that have a connection to Japan.

Several Swedish universities conduct research and provide education on Japan. Many have a well-establish exchange programme with Japanese universities and research institutes. There are courses in the Japanese language at several places, of which the main courses are held at the universities of Stockholm, Gothenburg and Lund. Recently the interest in studying Japanese has increased significantly.

The Centre for Pacific Asia Studies, CPAS, at the Stockholm University was established in 1984 as an interdisciplinary research and information centre within the fields of study such as politics, economics, society and culture. It closed down in 2010.

State Visits and other important visits

His Majesty the Emperor had previously visited Sweden as a Crown Prince, alone in 1953 and along with the then Crown Princess in 1985. In May 2000, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress visited Sweden. In 2007, Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress visited Uppsala, Sweden to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Linnés birth.

His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf has visited Japan sixteen times including official visits in 2007 and 2012 which were made with Her Majesty the Queen Silvia. In February 2016, His Majesty visited Japan leading the 23rd Royal Technology Mission (RTM), a delegation with a focus on technology, science and industry.

Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Victoria visited Japan last in 2005, in connection with the inauguration of the Nordic Pavilion at the world exhibition in Aichi. In June 2010, His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito visited Sweden to attend the wedding of the Swedish Crown Princess couple.

Prime Minister Göran Persson visited Japan in March 2004, and in May 2006 Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi visited Sweden. It was the first time a Japanese prime minister visited Sweden. In 2008 Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt visited Japan.

Foreign Minister Carl Bildt visited Japan in February 2014, and after the change of government in October, Foreign Minister Margot Wallström visited Japan in December 2014.

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