Monday, June 3, 2024

Noriteru Fukushima, Japanese ambassador to Mexico, talks to Mexico News Daily

It’s easy to look at Mexico through the lens of the United States and Canada, and lose sight of many other important relationships. 

Mexico News Daily’s “Global Mexico” series is dedicated to highlighting the political, economic and cultural relationships between Mexico and other countries around the world. 

Tamanna Bembenek, Ambassador Fukushima and Travis Bembenek
Mexico News Daily CEO Travis Bembenek (right) with co-owner Tamanna Bembenek in the interview with Ambassador Fukushima. (Courtesy)

Recently I had the opportunity to sit down for a one-on-one meeting with the Japanese ambassador to Mexico, Noriteru Fukushima as part of our “Japan in focus” week. Below I share some highlights and takeaways from our 90-minute conversation about Mexico and Japan, and the future of their relationship. 

  1. Ambassador Fukushima was born in Mexico City (in Polanco) and has lived in Mexico multiple times throughout his life. However, Fukushima actually had to give up his Mexican citizenship in order to become Japan’s ambassador. 
  2. Mexicans love to travel to Japan. Mexico is the country with the highest percentage increase in tourists to Japan since the pandemic. Currently there are direct flights between Japan and Mexico operated by two airlines, Aeroméxico and All Nippon Airways (ANA).
  3. There are more than 7,000 Japanese restaurants in Mexico, ranking fifth among countries with the most Japanese eateries in the world.    
  4. The beautiful jacaranda trees that we enjoy every spring in many parts of the country were introduced in the 20th century by two Japanese expats — Tatsugoro Matsumoto and his son Sanshiro — who started a gardening business in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City. 
  5. The Japanese are huge fans of Mexican lucha libre wrestling. In fact, there is currently a Japanese luchador wrestling in Mexico named Shigeo Okumura.
  6. Mexicans are some of the biggest fans of Japanese anime anywhere in the world — and have been now for many years. On a very personal note, my first job out of college nearly 30 years ago was creating and selling billions (that number is not a typo!) of Tazos to Mexicans of all ages working with the Sabritas company. At one point we were selling over 100 million Tazos per week in Mexico alone. By far the most popular characters were those of Japanese anime.
  7. There are currently about 1,500 Japanese companies across many industries with operations in Mexico. This number has increased by over 200 companies in just the past few years. Over 50% of the companies are in the manufacturing sector, including the automotive industry.  
  8. There are nearly 10,000 Japanese citizens currently living in Mexico (the 3rd largest population in Latin America after Brazil and Argentina) and around 79,000 Nikkei (people of Japanese descent) who call Mexico home. 
  9. The first people-to-people exchange between Mexico and Japan began over 400 years ago — with the first diplomatic relations dating back over 130 years. The first Japanese to arrive in Mexico came to the southern state of Chiapas over 100 years ago to work in the coffee plantations. The next waves came to the states of Coahuila for mining and Baja California for fishing.
  10. This year Japan and Mexico celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Japan-Mexico Training Program for the Strategic Global Partnership. Over 5,000 students and young engineers from Mexico and Japan have exchanged through and benefited from this unique government-to-government scholarship program. Many business, academic and government leaders furthered their studies through this program.
  11.  Since 1999, Japan has ranked fourth in terms of foreign direct investment in Mexico. Ambassador Fukushima sees huge potential for further investment by Japanese companies in important industries including in the automotive sector. 

Ambassador Fukushima has seen a lot in both countries over the years. He ended our conversation with an optimistic tone and expectations. Optimistic due to the opportunities that lie ahead, the strong historical foundation, and the deep ties of the relationship between the two countries. Mexico has potential and prospects due to its geographic importance in relation to nearshoring.

On a personal level, I have a deep respect for Japanese culture and companies. As a resident of Mexico and a big proponent of a strong Japan-Mexico relationship, I am excited to see what is to come for these two countries. 

Travis Bembenek is the CEO of Mexico News Daily and has been living, working or playing in Mexico for over 27 years.

This article is part of Mexico News Daily’s “Japan in Focus” series. Read the other articles from the series here

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