Saturday 20 January 2018

The name's Bond, Enda Bond, on a dangerous mission to conquer the aul' chopsticks

Taoiseach Enda Kenny at 'Toyota City' car plant
Taoiseach Enda Kenny at 'Toyota City' car plant
Taoiseach Enda Kenny with Toyota vice-president, Seiichi Sudo
Lise Hand

Lise Hand

IT was clear that the Taoiseach had reached that stage of a hectic foreign visit to a far-flung spot when he found himself projected on to a giant screen in a room called 'Happy', while surrounded by diminutive cartoon soldiers scampering around his feet, and he thought it was a perfectly normal state of affairs altogether.

For whistle-stop trade missions are peculiar events for a head of government, being chock-a-block with a gruelling round of meetings in windowless hotel conference rooms, lots of tours of factories, speeches to academics, bilateral pow-wows with other prime ministers, cultural tours of a world heritage site and the odd guided trek around a vast museum.

Which is how Enda found himself being ushered along a raised walkway inside a cavernous warehouse in a sprawling complex dubbed 'Toyota City' at a very early hour yesterday.

He was taken on a tour of inspection of the intricate workings of the assembly plant in Zgoya to watch how various cars are processed.

Kitted out with an ear-piece for translation, Enda was taken on a guided tour around the bits of the plant which were populated by at least some humans, rather than robotic parts.

Emerging from the building, the eyes of the (largely male) entourage lit up like a roomful of soporific schoolboys. For waiting at the warehouse exit were a couple of eye-catching cars, one a lurid Barbie pink, which Toyota hopes to sell to wealthy female entrepreneurs, and the other a sleek blue sports car with Formula One-style steering wheel and all. There's something about a growly engined sports car that brings out the most eager of boys in everyone. Like a shot, Enda hopped into the front seat and pretended he was James Bond for a glorious moment, rather than a sleep-deprived Taoiseach.

And then it was off on a bullet-train to Osaka for a last round of meetings and events on the last day of his four-day trade mission. He had a meeting and a working lunch with the governor of the Osaka Prefecture, Ichiro Matsui, and a group of CEOs about investment opportunities in Ireland.

These meetings are lengthy affairs, with the Taoiseach and governor speaking through translators and observing protocols. There are formal bows and many speeches.

The Taoiseach pointed out to the governor that out of the 1,000 multinational companies in Ireland, only about 50 are Japanese, reminding them that our corporation tax rate of 12.5pc "is enshrined in law".

Enda then raised his glass in a toast. "Kampai," he shouted – the Japanese 'Cheers'.

After lunch, he was taken to the Panasonic HQ in Osaka for a guided tour of their smart technology for homes and the office and was quite intrigued by an oven which can turn itself on and cook dinner remotely by smartphone.

He then found himself surrounded by animated toy soldiers on a big screen in a section called 'Happy'.

They danced around him in a most cute way, but wisely Enda didn't join in. He hadn't put a foot wrong and wasn't about to be tripped up at this stage by any capering cartoon figures other than those he encounters in the Dail.

He then took a tour of Osaka Castle, a picturesque 15th-Century fortress surrounded by vividly coloured autumnal trees, before heading to a reception hosted by the Irish embassy.

As he got ready to head for home the following morning, a slightly weary Taoiseach reckoned it had been a worthwhile trip. The long-standing beef ban had been lifted, following a meeting with prime minister Abe, and he had an unexpected chat with US Vice President Joe Biden.

"I'd say the tangible results will be jobs," he said. "I think the impact of the beef decision will lead on to greater things, it can only benefit Ireland." And he believed a direct flight from Dublin to Japan "would be of great benefit".

But if Enda Kennichiwa is truly going to be Big in Japan, he has to master one important skill – how to eat with chopsticks. He had been finding the going rough on the stick front. "I was going to take the Samurai sword, but I did use the chopsticks at one stage, but I dropped half of what I intended to eat," he confessed.

Oh Noh, that will never do...

Irish Independent

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