“We are very proud that Prime Minister Abe has chosen Paris as a platform to promote … Japanese culture to the world”

An untraditional career

French Ambassador to Japan Thierry Dana

Text by Andrew Howitt  /  Photo by Kageaki Smith

French Ambassador to Japan Thierry Dana describes his career in the foreign service as being both traditional and untraditional. The traditional part includes diplomatic postings to places such as New York, Algeria and Hong Kong, as well as time spent working on security and strategic issues under President Jacques Chirac in Paris. The untraditional part of his career is that he stepped away from the diplomatic corps for nine years to run an investment and trade business between Asia and France. Now back at his first career, and serving in Japan since 2014, Ambassador Dana spoke with Eurobiz Japan about what he learned from having his own business, about some projects that France and Japan are working on together, and Japan’s touching response to the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015.


How would you describe the relationship between France and Japan?

It’s very good. And it’s getting better. It’s becoming more substantial in different fields. The state visit of President François Hollande in June 2013 was a kind of renewal of our relations. We set up the Partenariat d’exception, which is a nice phrase, but what’s important is what actions we put behind these words. For instance, we have extended our political dialogue to security and defence. Now the foreign affairs and defence ministers of both countries meet together every year. It’s a full cooperation process which allows us to discuss matters including space, cybersecurity, and those new, challenging fields where we believe we have some technology to offer.

What are some other on-going projects between Japan and France?

In science and technology, this year is our joint Year of Innovation, and we are having dozens of different events on research and development in different fields, including culture, economy, and business. We have set up here what we call French Tech Tokyo, which allows start-ups to meet and develop new partnerships to boost support for their projects. We have also launched a project where 100 internships are offered to Japanese students or young professionals at, mostly, large French companies in the innovation sector.

The big event which has just been announced by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is that Japonism 2018 will be held in Paris, where we will be celebrating two anniversaries at the same time: one is the 160th anniversary of our diplomatic relations; and the other is the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the Meiji era, symbolising the opening of Japan to the world. So we are very proud that Prime Minister Abe has chosen Paris as a platform to promote and expose Japanese culture to the world. And I’m sure this will be tremendously successful.

You took part in the Japanese–French symposium on Smart Cities in September of last year, co-hosted by the Science Council of Japan. Could you tell me a little about what was discussed and what will be implemented?

Smart Cities is a very important subject: first of all, as a way to make the day-to-day life of people easier; but also in the framework of the [UN climate change conference] COP21 efforts in Paris, in December 2015, to have better energy efficiency and better protection of the environment. Basically, the cities are concentrating on the challenges we have to face if we want to meet the objectives of COP21.

This symposium was held with the scientific service department of the embassy. They focused on four topics: infrastructure, transportation, buildings, and new services enabled by ICT, Information and Communication Technologies. We already have some concrete initiatives. For instance, in Tsukuba we have launched a special cooperation programme to do some tests on approaches to implementing technologies for Smart Cities. And this is a subject we can discuss on the larger plane, between Tokyo and Paris, for instance. This was also discussed with the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, when she came to Tokyo, so it’s quite a priority in regard to our cooperation.2c


Can you go into a little more detail about a specific goal in one of those areas?

One of the oldest French companies in Japan — I think it has been here for 100 years or more — Air Liquide Japan, is cooperating with Toyota Tsusho to set up hydrogen stations for refuelling hybrid vehicles. It started in the Nagoya area, and we hope to develop this partnership on a larger scale.

How has having the experience of running your own consulting business influenced the assistance you give to French businesses here?

The main lesson I drew from this experience is that SMEs [small and medium–sized enterprises] and other types of companies are expecting some practical help. They have a product and they want to sell the product, so they need some very specific advice on the product they want to sell, adapted to the Japanese market. They want to know who they should see, if their product would be good for a department store or a convenience store, so we try to introduce them to the right people. We cannot make the decision for the company, but we have to provide them with as much information as possible to put them in a better position to make the right decisions.

Can you tell me about the kind of support you received from Japan following the terrorist attacks in Paris last year?

We have received tremendous moral support, first from the authorities — at the government level: ministers, mayors, and so many officials — who showed their compassion and solidarity; but also, which is even more touching, from the public. For weeks, we had tons of flowers at the entrance of the embassy from people who just came to show their solidarity. It was very moving. I tried personally to answer each letter, if there was a mailing address.

I understand that the attacks have had an effect on tourism to France.

To be frank, there was a decrease in tourism from many parts of the world after the attacks. Now it’s, more or less, getting back to the average. For 2015, I think we actually gained one million more tourists to France. I think we had 84 million in 2015, whereas we had 83 million in 2014. So it’s good. We aim to reach 100 million before 2020.

It’s true that Japanese tourists are very cautious, which we can understand. But we like the Japanese tourists in France very much. They are very  welcome.

Unfortunately, attacks have happened all around the world since the Paris attack. So there is no place you can say it will never happen. But having said that, I believe that all measures have been taken to guarantee as much security as possible in France — in Paris and, I would say, even more so in the countryside. 

“We had tons of flowers at the entrance of the embassy from people who just came to show their solidarity”