Sage Advice

After over four decades as a prominent member of Japan’s foreign service, former Ambassador to Canada Sadaaki Numata came home to retire. Fortunately for the CCCJ, he found another outlet for his energies.

A career diplomat who read philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford’s University College, Sadaaki Numata has been the head of the CCCJ’s Honorary Board of Advisors (HBA) since its launch over a decade ago. 

Numata’s curriculum vitae has included serving as Japan’s ambassador to Pakistan and Canada as well as deputy head of mission in Australia and minister plenipotentiary at the Japanese Embassy in London. Prior to that, he was the interpreter for five of Japan’s prime ministers, a disarmament negotiator in Geneva, took on roles in North America related to economic affairs and military security, and served for years as the press secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 

After retiring from the foreign service in 2007, Numata became an advisor to construction giant Kajima Corporation. Continuing his role as a communicator and facilitator, he has also since 2011 been the director of the English-Speaking Union of Japan, a nonprofit voluntary organization dedicated to familiarizing the Japanese people with English as a tool for international communication and fostering global communicators.

Affable, approachable and knowledgeable, Numata was clearly a high-level resource with a lot of connections and insights to offer. 

Still on Task

“When I left my ambassadorial post in Canada in February 2007 after more than two years there, I felt there was enough common ground to enable Japan and Canada to become truly global partners, not just bilateral partners,” Numata says. “I believed I had done the first sketch on the canvas, charting the future of our partnership, but obviously more needed to be done.”

Wilf Wakely, one of the CCCJ’s most dedicated chairs and passionate advocates, got Numata involved in the Chamber. “We started talking after Wilf took me to task for a statement I made during a CBC interview about child abductions in Japan,” Numata says with a chuckle. “We eventually became very good friends, though.”

After the Great East Japan Earthquake in 2011, Wilf approached the former ambassador to discuss the best way to rejuvenate the CCCJ. “Compared to other chambers of commerce in Japan, I made the point that the CCCJ was less visible in terms of advocacy to the people that matter most here—the big businesses and the bureaucracy,” Numata says. “We came up with the idea of an honorary board of advisors consisting of retired government officials and business executives. We started up the HBA in February 2012, with me as the chair.”


Well-Seasoned Insights

The original HBA had six members but was later expanded to twelve. These other advisors have equally extensive connections in industry, government and even academia. They include retired government officials, legal experts and C-level executives from major manufacturers, tech companies and trading firms. 

“They offer their opinions on behalf of the CCCJ to business organizations as appropriate,” Numata says. “The major advantage of our advisors is that they are retired, so they are not directly bound and have no conflicts of interest. 

“I myself have easy access to the Foreign Ministry, for obvious reasons,” Numata adds. “I know quite a lot of people, and most of the people who are actually working on Canada used to work for me and so forth, so it’s very easy to canvass their views and try to have them reflected in the CCCJ when we had the opportunity to do that.”

Numata stresses what he sees as the clear brief he and the other advisors follow. “We’re not a decision-making body, so the HBA’s focus is on policy rather than the nitty-gritty. We offer advice when asked, and when we feel we have something to say.”


Pandemic Disruptions and More

Like it has in so many ways, Numata relates, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it problematic for the HBA to gather and confer. 

In previous years, however, the board would meet with Ambassador Mackenzie Clugston from time to time, including socially. “We also met with Ian Burney before he became ambassador, when he was the negotiator for the Japan-Canada Economic Partnership Agreement,” Numata recalls. “And we had a briefing session with Ambassador Burney when the Trans-Pacific Partnership was very actively discussed.”

Another factor affecting the activity level within the HBA is that while the members of the board have served faithfully, many of them are getting on in years. “We are thinking about reviving the board,” Numata says. “I hope that featuring the HBA in The Canadian can be a meaningful step in that direction.”


Going with the Shift

Numata stresses that the context has changed between Japan and Canada “in the sense that our relationship has become both regional and global rather than just being bilateral. We do have common interests in issues such as the resilience of supply chains, technology, and so forth. And I think those are the areas in which we can work together. We need a platform, a forum to do that.” 

He recalls inviting a close friend of his, Prof. Yorizumi Watanabe, who was then at Keio University, to discuss the link between the EPA and TPP. A scholar and diplomat who specializes in international trade issues, Watanabe was one of Japan’s EPA negotiators. 

“We asked him to give a briefing on the subject and then have a discussion. Now, perhaps we could have something like that again. I think it would be wonderful to hold a closed-door roundtable so that we can try to understand the macro context and agree on a position for us.”

When the nexus between the TPA and TPP was an issue, the Chamber did issue a statement. “I had quite a lot of a lot to do with it, in terms of giving advice, and that’s where I think the expertise that resides in the HPA can be useful,” Numata says. “It’s not just a question of how much steel we’re going to import from China or from Canada and so forth. What is the current context, and what is happening with the TPP? The Americans are not coming on board. As a former diplomat those are areas that interest me. Perhaps so we can share these interests with the members of the CCCJ.”

He agrees that the CCCJ should issue more policy documents as some other chambers do, especially to address key pain points in the Japan-Canada relationship. He mentions that the CCCJ has been joining other chambers in issuing statements about what’s referred to as Japan’s “virtual sakoku,” meaning closing the nation’s borders to foreigners—even those living and working here—during the COVID pandemic. That policy has caused massive disruptions in the lives of non-Japanese with businesses, homes and families in Japan.

The one thing the Chamber cannot afford to do, Numata believes, is stand still. Back in May 2013, Numata spoke to a group of McGill MBA students here in Tokyo. “I was told that the Japan-Canada relationship is sound and problem-free,” he remembers. “But I felt and still feel that we cannot take our partnership for granted. There is always a risk of slipping into complacency, and certainly we may be punching below our weight, meaning Japan and Canada combined.”

In one of his final speeches before leaving Canada, he also stressed that Japan is the partner Canada can count on most. Working alongside the rest of the HBA advisors and the leadership of the CCCJ, Numata is determined to ensure that that bond gets even stronger.