News Lise Hand

Tuesday 23 September 2014

Lise Hand: Killer fish, Sake a la Fukushima and a major beef between China and Japan – by golly, Enda's got a lot on his plate

Published 03/12/2013 | 02:30

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THE Taoiseach dined for Ireland yesterday – but by golly, if the Japanese chef had been a bit forgetful, Enda could've subsequently died for Ireland in short order.

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For one course, in what could only be described as a sumptuous 11-course feast served at dinner at the residence of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last night, was 'Thinly-sliced Globefish with Condiments and Ponzu Sauce'.

Now this might sound innocuous enough, but the lungs of the globefish – or pufferfish – are very fishy indeed, containing a potentially fatal poison which could do for the unlucky diner if not removed beforehand.

And if the thought of the dangers lurking on the plate before him was enough to worry him, Enda could always have washed the fish down with a cup of sake on offer, which was produced in Fukushima, the scene of an unfortunate incident involving a nuclear reactor.

Ah well, at least the Taoiseach wouldn't have to bother with the notion of donning a metaphorical green jersey any more – he'd have a literal green glow about him permanently.

Although death-by-globefish doesn't quite have the same heroic ring for a political leader as being sniped off the roof of the GPO in 1916, heading up a trade mission can be an unpredictable affair. Tokyo being a small place (its population is a mere 20 million souls), Enda almost bumped into Yoko Ono yesterday. Literally seconds before the Taoiseach strolled down the corridor of the Okura Hotel en route to a meeting with Japan's Crown Prince Naruhito, a small figure clad in black from trousers to wide-brimmed leather cowboy hat entered the hotel and slipped into a lift.

But Enda was unruffled by the fact that he had missed the most famous Beatle wife by a hat's breadth. There was a Mayo connection, of course, as he pointed out that John Lennon was once the proud owner of Dorinish Island in Clew Bay which he bought in 1967 for £1,700.

However, he was far more interested in bumping into another of the hotel's guests. For US Vice-President Joe Biden was due to check into the hotel late last night, prior to a meeting with the Japanese prime minister.

But Joe hadn't flown more than halfway around the globe to dine on scary fish. He was in town on a delicate mission to calm down the escalating tension between China and Japan over a disputed set of small, uninhabited islands in the East China Sea. The growing row has already led to frequent tense encounters and a spot of ominous sabre-rattling between the two sides' ships and planes over the past year.

And what's more, Joe was billeted in the same hotel as Enda, and the Taoiseach's diplomatic entourage spent much of the time determinedly trying to figure out if a meeting could be chucked together at short notice.

It looked unlikely that Joe could have time for coffee and a chinwag – nonetheless, Enda had a thing or two to say. After his own meeting with Shinzo Abe yesterday afternoon, the Taoiseach said that he had discussed with the prime minister how Ireland and England had endured what he politely called "a fraught relationship" and that he could offer some pointers about how to deal with troublesome neighbours.

"Ireland learned from experience that the only way to sort out situations like this is through negotiation and discussion and dialogue and we offer that lesson from our perspective to Japan."

Having seen off one superpower this year – the troika – was Enda really offering to be the negotiator between two countries who appear to be gumming for a scrap?

Not really, as it turned out, as Ireland has no dog in this particular fight. "Ireland is non-aligned and is not a member of Nato," he stressed. "This is a very serious matter and one doesn't want to contemplate unintended consequences," he warned.

Well. Between negotiating globefish and beef deals and peace in our time, Enda was having a busy day. He spent the morning at trade and business meetings in the hotel, before heading out in the afternoon to meet the Crown Prince – whom he invited to Ireland in 2017 to mark 60 years of diplomatic relations between Ireland and Japan.

Nor did he turn up empty-handed, bearing gifts of his and hers Golf Ireland jackets for the royal golfing enthusiasts. But sometimes trade opportunities pop up in the strangest places.

During an afternoon meeting with members of a parliamentary group, Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura had an original proposition. He explained how Valentine's Day is only huge in Japan, and that the first of the three kanji characters which spell the word 'Ireland' means 'love' in Japanese.

"Ireland is a country of love. That's why we plan to make an initiative to designate Valentine's Day as the Day of Ireland and to encourage more people to visit Ireland in a group," he told Enda.

And what's more, the minister explained that in Japan there is a custom that on Valentine's Day women give chocolates to men. "Irish chocolate was all sold out on Valentine's Day," he explained. "I think we need to contemplate the implications for the chocolate industry," Enda mused later, Yen-signs dancing in his eyes.

Land of the Rising Rum and Raisin Fudge, here we come.

Irish Independent

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