Miriam Lord’s week: Take a bow Enda – for a job well done

No translation needed as prospect of a return visit to Ireland raises heads

Sat, Dec 7, 2013, 01:00

Sorry to disappoint, but we have nothing but praise for Enda Kenny this week.

On his first evening in Japan last Sunday, the Taoiseach’s bowing technique resembled a tentative stoop.

By Thursday morning, when he left the country, Enda was sweeping from the waist like a Regency dandy and still delighting his hosts through the language of plumes.

Dead on his feet, but not showing it.

In the previous three days, we watched with increasing awe as he undertook a gruelling round of engagements in Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka. From early morning to night, there was no let-up in his programme of meetings, speeches, tours, courtesy calls and receptions.

And throughout, he remained unfailingly enthusiastic and good-humoured, engagingly relentless in his mission to sell Ireland as a business gateway to Europe – a sort of Emerald Arch.

His schedule would have defeated men half his age.

We followed him around in a minibus and the pace nearly killed us.

There is a formality around business meetings and social events in Japan which is quite different to the way we do things in Ireland. It requires a lot of concentration to behave in accordance with local convention.

For example, on Wednesday afternoon, the Taoiseach had a meeting with the governor of Osaka Prefecture and a group of the city’s political and business luminaries.

Bows and business cards were exchanged as he made his way along the receiving line. There was a respectful hush in the conference room.

It was all deeply serious.

Finally, Enda got to the end of the greeters and turned to join the Irish delegation at the table. As he walked, he spotted the Irish contingent among the media at the back of the room. A smile spread across his face and he barrelled over for a bit of banter, only to be swiftly diverted to his chair by an official.

We felt a bit sorry for him.

There then followed, through interpreters, a very lengthy exchange of views.

“I am saying this to you, as Taoiseach – the prime minister of my country, that we are really serious about developing these links with your business in this Osaka/Kansai region” he told the group. “We have something to offer you and you have some to offer us.”

And on it went, meeting after meeting. Doing the right thing, saying the right thing.

During numbing tours of Toyota and Panasonic, he continued to smile and listen intently. In Osaka Castle, at the end of a very long day, he listened in fascination for an hour as a historian told him about ancient Japanese history.

“The groups he met were really honoured to have somebody of his calibre and status visiting them. They were very impressed” said a Tokyo-based official.

Whether this delivers results back home remains to be seen, but it’s 10 out of 10 for effort.

As it neared midnight on Wednesday, Enda collapsed into one of the leather seats in the dark hotel bar and had a glass of beer.

He said his head was melted.

“But it’s my business to get out and there and do the job. You have to do it, and do it well.”

Ambassador John Neary and his staff at the Irish embassy will be happy this weekend with a job well done – by themselves and their distinguished visitor.

So do another bow, Enda.

This time, for yourself . . .

(And let usual hostilities resume. This isn’t normal.)


No translation needed as prospect of a return visit to Ireland raises heads
Enda mentioned in the course of his address to the friendly parliamentarians that there had been “at least 10 visits to Japan from the political sphere in the last 18 months.”

Leo Varadkar was mentioned in dispatches, but the Japanese still seem very well disposed towards the Irish.

Politicians love their trips.

The gathering of the members of the Japan Ireland friendship group resembled your typical Leinster House committee meeting.

There were a few politicians – including Japan’s minister for education – who spoke with enthusiasm on the subject.

Others kept an ear open while studying papers or checking their phones.

Then the Taoiseach said he sincerely hoped some members would come and visit Ireland in the future.

“I think we can work around that,” he added.

Even before the interpreter had time to translate, heads had picked up and there was a lot of enthusiastic nodding. No translation needed there.

Scrumptious Japanese food was just, so, like, ‘amazeyballs’
The food in Japan is wonderful. Doubtless, one of the highlights of the trip for the Taoiseach will be that dinner – fugu fish included – he was served while dining with prime minister Shinzõ Abe in his residence.

But Enda had the benefit of a long menu presented in English for his benefit.

That’s not always the case in restaurants, where the time-honoured tradition of pointing at pictures and hoping for the best adds an extra layer of spice to eating out.

We had been struggling to find a name for many of the scrumptious morsels – steamed and fried – we’ve scoffed in the local eating houses.

Thanks so to Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who supplied us with the perfect name and description of these savoury delights during a Dáil contribution on Thursday.

“Amazeyballs.”


Security beefed up for Coveney’s visit
Security is very tight, as one might imagine, in the offices of the Japanese parliament.

So there we were, in the very roomy foyer, waiting for the nod to go upstairs for a special meeting of the Japan-Ireland Parliamentary Friendship League.

Security staff went calmly about their business, checking people in and out. There were groups of people doing tours with their local politician.

There was a relaxed air. It felt like one of those long, quiet afternoons in Leinster House.

Suddenly, all hell broke loose. Guards came flying from all directions. One uniformed officer went sprinting for the front door, a look of panic on his face.

What was going on? It looked like the building was about to go into lockdown.

Through the floor-to-ceiling windows, we could see a number of vehicles pulling up outside, including a shiny people- carrier with tinted windows.

The guards were in a total flap.

Who could it be?

The door of the people-carrier slid across.

And out stepped Simon Coveney, the cause of all the fuss.

It’s the first time we ever see him get that sort of reaction.

Still, he deserved some attention for the role he played in sealing that vital deal on Irish beef exports to Japan.

Enda having snaffled his limelight on the meat front.


Enda helps his hosts get some shut-eye . . .
No disrespect to the Taoiseach, but a lot of the Japanese men listening to his speeches appeared to be falling asleep.

That must have been a bit off-putting for Enda.

However, we’ve been told that, in Japan, it’s a sign of respect to close your eyes when listening to somebody speak.

It shows you are fully concentrating and absolutely absorbed by what is being said.

How clever and convenient.

Introduce this practice in Ireland immediately.

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