Remarks by Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs Osamu Uno at the Sixth Seminar on Dialogue among Civilizations between Japan and the Islamic World,
Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on March 23, 2008

Your Excellency, Dr. Nizar Bin Obaid Madani, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs,
Esteemed participants,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me offer my heartfelt congratulations on the opening of the Sixth Seminar on Dialogue among Civilizations between Japan and the Islamic World today upon the gracious invitation of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud.

It deserves high praise that this forum of intellectual dialogue has continued up to this sixth seminar in a rapidly changing world today. I would like to express my profound respect to the great minds who have spent much efforts on continuing and developing this forum.

May I also take this opportunity to express my sincere appreciation to the Kingdom of Bahrain. Bahrain had first responded to Japan's call during the founding of this dialogue and hosted the first symposium. Further, the Kingdom has been heading the participating Muslim countries here in offering constant cooperation on this dialogue ever since.

"Dialogue among civilizations" has long been called for. The Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations, adopted in 2001 by the United Nations, has prompted UNESCO to start various activities. The UN-sponsored Alliance among Civilizations Initiative is another move. Japan has also been involved in increasing the opportunities for dialogue, including this very forum along with the Japan-Arab Dialogue Forum. Have these dialogues, however, fully accomplished the aims of building mutual understanding and mutual trust? We are not yet convinced that the answer is "yes". Amid the on-going globalization and changing social and economic structures people are losing their tolerance towards the others who have different values from their own. Some are even behaving in a way to deepen mutual distrust. It is exactly because we are facing such a situation that we must advance our efforts to achieve our goal. Keeping on these efforts ceaselessly is our only source of hope.

The overarching theme of this seminar is Culture and Respect of Religions. I understand that this theme was chosen based on the idea that dialogue cannot take place unless there are, on one hand, respect for the ethnic culture which is central to the Muslim minds, and the faith that submits the people to the absolute existence of Allah. And on the other, understanding of the Japanese culture, history and social circumstances, which encompasses unique diversity different from the Western world. In Japan, the number of Muslims is growing and is estimated to be over 200,000, already in 2002. The first mosque was built in Kobe in 1935 and the number now stands at almost 40. With such an increase of Muslims, the Japanese society is now in need to respond in a balanced manner to a variety of issues that have already emerged in the Western societies, such as the use of Halal foods at schools, prayers and the use of hijab. For this reason, "Culture and Respect of Religion" of Islam is becoming a theme that the Japanese people must consider in their daily lives.

Based on the proposal from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, two workshops will be held at this seminar. I highly welcome these workshops which provide fora for discussion on promoting mutual understanding and partnership among students as well as on the institutionalization of this dialogue. The interaction between youth from different cultural backgrounds and intergenerational interaction between youth and intellectuals will, I hope, add new perspectives to the discussions of intellectuals and spark creative and innovative ideas.

This seminar has provided a platform for face-to-face interaction and mutual understanding among intellectuals through dialogue. This seminar has developed through such interactions. What is required now to the distinguished participants who are leading the societies to spread the rich fruits of these interactions to each society with a spirit of noblesse oblige. It is my fervent hope that the sessions of this seminar and the workshop on "institutionalization" will provide an opportunity to promote further exchanges at all levels between Japan and the Islamic world, building on the results we have achieved to date.

Finally, allow me to conclude with a heartfelt wish that this three-day seminar will be a resounding success. Thank you very much.

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