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Paul Madden

British Ambassador to Japan

4th December 2020 Tokyo, Japan

Okinawa – Japan’s sub-tropical island chain

The Japanese archipelago stretches around 2,000 miles from north to south. The Ryukyu chain in the far southwest, which includes the Okinawa group of islands, is almost tropical. It used to be a separate kingdom, a key part of the trading routes with East and South East Asia. Many ancient fortified palaces from that period remain.  But it has been effectively controlled by Japan since the early 17th century.

For many in the West, Okinawa is best known as the site of the bloody three month Battle of Okinawa fought in the closing stages of the second world war, at enormous cost.  Around 20,000 US marines and soldiers perished, and some 110,000 Japanese military, including 40,000 conscripted Okinawan civilians. The effect on the local civilian population was a particularly huge tragedy, with perhaps a quarter of the 300,000 population losing their lives, many by suicide, including coerced suicides.

I visited the sobering Peace Memorial Park , which tells the story of the battle and Okinawa’s subsequent history. The fallen soldiers of all different nationalities are honoured, with their names engraved on a memorial in the beautiful grounds. I paid my respects at a memorial to the small number of British troops who also lost their lives in the battle. Not far away is another museum about the Himeyuri students, a nursing corps comprised of local high school girls, most of whom lost their lives. It gives the tragedy a very personal feel.

Although the post War US Occupation of Japan ended in 1952, Okinawa only reverted to Japanese control in 1972. And to this day it remains a vital part of the US contribution to regional peace and security, as home to some 30,000 of the 40,000 US troops permanently based in Japan. Together with my Defence Advisor, Capt Simon Staley RN, I called on the heads of the US Marine Corps, Airforce and Navy on their impressive bases to discuss regional security. They welcomed growing British engagement in Indo Pacific.  Not surprisingly, having such a large concentration of foreign military housed adjacent to civilian populations can give rise to some tensions. I had the opportunity to hear about this from Prefectural Governor Denny Tamaki.

Of course, Okinawa is not just about the military. It is also a very popular tourist destination for many Japanese and foreign visitors, with beautiful beaches and a sunny climate. Even in late November it was warm.  It was sad to hear about the impact of the COVID crisis on the islands’ economy this year. With my visit to Okinawa I have now visited all 47 of Japan’s prefectures over the last four years. I have come to treasure Japan’s profoundly rich and varied geography.

About Paul Madden

Paul Madden has been the British Ambassador to Japan from January 2017. He was Additional Director for Asia Pacific at the FCO in 2015.He was British High Commissioner to Australia…

Paul Madden has been the British Ambassador to Japan from January 2017.

He was Additional Director for Asia Pacific at the FCO in 2015.He was British High Commissioner to Australia until February 2015. Prior to this he was British High Commissioner in Singapore from 2007-2011.

A career diplomat, he was previously Managing Director at UK Trade and Investment (2004-2006), responsible for co-ordinating and
implementing international trade development strategies to support
companies across a wide range of business sectors.

As Assistant Director of Information at the Foreign and Commonwealth
Office (2003-2004) he was responsible for public diplomacy policy,
including managing the FCO funding of the BBC World Service, the British
Council and the Chevening Scholarships programme. He led the team
responsible for the award-winning UK pavilion at the Aichi Expo in Japan

He was Deputy High Commissioner in Singapore from 2000-2003 and has
also served in Washington (1996-2000) and Tokyo (1988-92). Between
1992-96 he worked on EU enlargement and Environmental issues at the FCO
in London.

Before joining FCO he worked at the Department of Trade and Industry
(1980-87) on a range of industrial sectors and trade policy, including
two years as a minister’s Private Secretary.

He has an MA in Economic Geography from Cambridge University, an MBA
from Durham University, studied Japanese at London University’s School
of Oriental and African Studies, and is a Fellow of the Royal
Geographical Society. His first book, Raffles: Lessons in Business
Leadership, was published in 2003.

Married to Sarah, with three children, he was born in 1959, in Devon.