Enda’s trip to Japan takes him to White House heaven
The Taoiseach clearly relished his meeting with US vice president Joe Biden and ambassador Caroline Kennedy in Tokyo
Enda Kenny meets US vice-president Joe Biden and US Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy
A beautiful Japanese garden on a sunny December day in Tokyo. The maples glow, still in their autumn finery, throwing shapes in dramatic shades of red and brown. There are fat fish in the carp pond and stone lanterns and gnarled bonsai pines in pots. Peaceful, with the soothing sounds of birdsong and gently moving water.
A little bit of heaven, tucked away from the noise of the city and Enda Kenny’s one-size-fits- all speech that has been revolving around the Okura Hotel since Sunday like stale sushi on a conveyor.
This is not a criticism. The Taoiseach gives his Ireland is Great spiel to a different audience each time and they really seem to like it, although the Japanese are very polite.
We may be little, but we pack a big punch, he tells them.
“While we are small at home, we are extensive people all over the world,” he told a roomful of Japanese meat merchants yesterday, sounding like Fr Ted explaining the concept of distance to Fr Dougal.
“Northern Ireland is in the north of the country,” he told another gathering.
Open for business
Yes, we are open for business. Our young people are fantastic. We love Japan. We strive for perfection. We’ve called upon the Crown Prince and hope to get him over for a visit. His mammy and daddy were here before. They’re lovely people. Herself is a great fan of WB Yeats and Seamus Heaney.
Wasn’t it only the prime minister himself who invited us over. We won’t let you down. And sure, we can talk about the tax. Our beef is brilliant. So are our racehorses. (Not together in a burger, obviously.)
Taste that cheese. Feel our hand of friendship while we fight our economic crisis and apparently win. We are about to bin the bailout. The Taoiseach announces all this with unconcealed pride.
At one point he is introduced as the politician who has led Ireland through one of its worst calamities since the Famine.
And then Enda knocks ‘em dead with a line in Japanese.
He’s good, in fairness. Doing a great sales job.
It can be very wearing though. The marketing drive, with the Taoiseach as the main attraction, is relentless. Meeting after meeting. From early morning and into the night. How he manages to remain chipper is a miracle. But he does.
We were promised the Orient only to be locked up in the basement conference centre of an international hotel. So yesterday’s little mosey around the beautiful garden of the Japanese Institute for International Affairs was a godsend. The Taoiseach made a rare foray from the Okura to deliver a speech about “Ireland and Japan: a partnership for prosperity and growth in a globalised world.”
But that was inside.
Outside, the air was fresh among the evergreen shrubs and the stone and the water, the clipped order and deciduous disorder.
When suddenly there came a whooshing sound. We turned to see Enda Kenny belting out through large glass sliding doors from a private meeting room. Grey in the face.
“Gorgeous garden. It was started by the the founder of Mitsubishi, who used to own it,” he says, beetling down towards the Japanese maples and the pond.
“I feel like I’m in Japan now. After visiting the shrine on Sunday, I’ve haven’t been outdoors since I got here. It’s great to get a bit of fresh air.”
Then the minders came for him. He made his speech, returned to the hotel and made another one before leaving Tokyo to catch the bullet train to Nagoya.
It was like a scene from Downton Abbey as he left the Okura: a selection of staff, from senior to junior level, stood in a line across the forecourt and wished him goodbye as he walked to his car.
So it’s a visit to the Toyota car plant today then on to Osaka for final engagements.
But it hasn’t all been a hard slog for the Taoiseach. Yesterday morning he had a meeting with United States vice-president Joe Biden. Enda and his entourage couldn’t have been happier. For some of them it seemed to be the highlight of their Tokyo trade campaign.
Enda goes weak at the knees in the proximity of anyone or anything to do with American presidents. He looked so happy at his 9am photocall with Biden, who was in a suite which looked the size of a family home. His entourage had taken over three floors of the south wing.
Caroline Kennedy, the new US ambassador to Japan, was also there. Enda was in White House heaven. The men, Joe and Enda, talked about golf.
“See, we have a date, the vice-president and myself, to play one of the outstanding links courses on the west coast,” said Enda to Caroline, who tried to look interested but couldn’t manage it.
“I tell you, he needs one,” said Joe, sitting on the fence.
They held a cringy conversation about golf until the cameras left.
But Enda’s handlers were happy. They got their shot with the VP. One for the political album. Almost as valuable as the deal on the beef.
Or pork. The marketing drive moved on to pork products as well yesterday. And with the ban on beef exports from Ireland now lifted by Japan, Enda and the team are now targeting China.
Economic sluts, the lot of them, thank God.
Then the journalists ruined it all – the beef deal and VP moment – by asking him a question about Colm Keaveney’s move to Fianna Fáil.
“I have no control over Deputy Keaveney,” replied Enda.
But then, who does?