September 7th, 2023
His Excellency Dr. Aurelijus ZYKAS
Karen, Hina, Mito, Yuna
Karen: Thank you for the interview opportunity today. I read online that on March 11th, the independence day in Lithuania, as well as the day the Great Tohoku Earthquake struck Japan, the national anthems of both nations are sung in your hometown Kaunas to commemorate these events. I would like to say thank you for such a thoughtful gesture. Furthermore, I would like to thank you for all the support, messages, and donations that the people of Lithuania offered when Japan faced the Tohoku earthquake.
What is a unique aspect of education in your country?
In Lithuania, the population is less than 3 million, and with not
so much natural resources, first secretary Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė
stated that the people play a vital role in shaping Lithuania.
As an example, one unique aspect of the Lithuanian education
system mentioned was the emphasis on foreign languages.
According to Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė, 80% of the secondary
students are said to have acquired 2 and/or more languages.
Additionally, the percentage of students continuing to pursue
university degrees is high. Furthermore, with Lithuania being
a part of the EU, many families study or work in neighboring
countries. Therefore, systems for returnees to smoothly
reintegrate into schools in Lithuania becomes key as well.
In Japan, Chiune Sugihara is not included in Japanese history
textbooks. However, what is his evaluation in Lithuania?
According to first secretary Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė, and H.E. Dr. Aurelijus agrees that 90% of the people of Lithuania know Chiune Sugihara. His name is mentioned in textbook chapters written about WW2, which all students study. Additionally, there are events related to Chiune Sugihara held in Lithuania. H.E. Dr. Aurelijus is proud to say that when traveling around Japan and internationally, and introduces himself as Lithuanian, he is able to meet many who mention Chiune Sugihara.
What are some qualities of your country that you would like to bring awareness to people in Japan?
There were two things H.E. mentioned that he was proud of Lithuania, the first being nature. Specifically, H.E. mentioned the beautiful forest and fields, and stated that he misses them living in central Tokyo. The second quality being their long history. With Lithuania being established for around 700 years, there are historical heritages with some being listed on UNESCO.
As a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?
H.E. Dr. Aurelijus wanted to become a medical doctor in his youth with the goal of healing people, but he eventually pursued his career as a diplomat.
First Secretary Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė dreamt of becoming a ballerina when she was young because she was fascinated with the beautiful dresses. Her dreams later shifted to becoming a book writer and then a biologist. Today, as one quote from one of her favorite books, she has pursued her career as a diplomat.
What do you believe unites the nation, and what cultures do the people of your country value?
Three factors unite the nation of Lithuania: language, religion and basketball. The Lithuanian language is unique, with almost no relatives, and an important part of their identity. However, their language faced prohibitions at various times in their history including during the Soviet era. Thus, they take pride in successfully protecting and preserving their language and remaining determined to continue doing so. Additionally, religious beliefs were also persecuted during the Soviet era. People were prohibited from celebrating Christmas and Easter. Furthermore, basketball is considered the national sport of Lithuania. In fact, H.E. referred to basketball as their “second religion”. H.E. added on that the people of Lithuania are proud of winning over the USA.
Overall, H.E. Dr. Aurelijus and First Secretary Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė explained that they are proud of Lithuania’s spirit of fighting and succeeding for what is important to their country countless of times throughout their history.
What are your views on globalization (positive/negative effects culture)?
H.E. pointed out that globalization is currently underway and is an inevitable and unavoidable phenomenon. H.E. highlighted several positive aspects of globalization including the increasing ease of global traveling, ease of adjusting to another country through international corporations such as Coca Cola and McDonalds having stores around the globe, and the opportunities of corporations to make exchanges happen on a significantly wider scale. However, H.E. also acknowledged the negative aspects of globalization such as the decreasing and loss of cultural diversity including languages. The ambassador expressed his concerns with his children forgetting the Lithuanian language. Therefore, H.E. emphasized the importance of maintaining the unique identity, language, and culture of each country in a globalizing world.
What do you believe is the first step towards world peace?
H.E. pointed out that for Lithuanians, a sense of safety and protection is equal to true peace. This perspective comes from the history of Lithuania of having neighbors that have not always been peaceful. Therefore, being a member of both the EU and NATO is one aspect that allows Lithuania to feel secure. Furthermore, H.E. emphasized the importance of mutual understanding, recognizing and appreciating different values, cultures and identities as a goal in achieving world peace. Mutual understanding can bring countries closer together and reduce conflict. In fact, H.E. explained that the embassy’s role is to foster mutual understanding between Japan and Lithuania.
What are your goals as an ambassador?
H.E. answered that an ambassador covers a wide range of jobs. This includes meeting topics ranging from economics, politics, defense, education, space, biology, museums, and etc. Therefore, with so many topics to cover, H.E. holds meetings 5-6 times a week on average.
In the first year of being an ambassador in Japan, H.E.especially put effort into making plenty of friends to communicate about Lithuania. He believes as an ambassador, having many friends equals to a country having many friends, which ultimately leads to keeping peace.
How does gender equality play a role in your country?
Lithuania is ranked 11th in the Global Gender Gap Report, whereas Japan is ranked 125th, and Iceland holds the top position. However, First Secretary Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė points out that even Iceland, which is ranked first in the report, has not yet achieved true gender equality. Thus, she emphasized that gender equality remains a topic that should be discussed worldwide regardless of ranking to truly achieve gender equality.
Additionally, Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė explains that Lithuania has established a legal base that provides opportunities for women. For instance, Lithuania has had a female president who served for two terms and a female prime minister. However, she notes that she has not yet seen a female diplomat and looks forward to one.
Furthermore, Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė emphasized the importance of gender equality, highlighting that half of the world’s population are women. She mentioned that more women are starting to pursue their university degrees, although they are not yet to equal the number of men in this regard. Therefore, society must especially change given the women’s burden on household chores. However, Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė also points out that some women lack the courage and she stresses the importance of believing in yourself.
What surprised you when you came to Japan?
In 1998, Ambassador H.E. Dr. Aurelijus first arrived
in Japan and was surprised by the Japanese food culture,
finding it “amazing!”. H.E. particularly loves Japanese ramen.
Moreover, H.E. mentioned that Lithuanian people are often
surprised by the politeness of the Japanese people, such as
the culture of bowing and speaking good things about others.
In 2010, was the first time First Secretary Ms. Aiste
Šaduikienė stepped foot in Japan. Since she already had
substantial knowledge about Japan before arriving, for her,
there were few surprises and most aspects were as she had
expected. Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė emphasized that Japan is a
wonderful country with friendly people, rich culture, and
good food. Her favorites include sushi and matcha latte.
Do you see that tradition is well preserved in your country, especially with globalization progressing?
H.E. points out that tradition is changing everyday as globalization is progressing. For instance, traditional costumes are no longer worn in everyday life. However, in Lithuania, these traditions are being preserved through special events such as the Lithuanian dance festival, which takes place once every four years. In this festival, people come together to sing and play traditional songs, and the next one is scheduled to be held in the upcoming year, expecting tens and thousands of participants. Moreover, H.E. mentioned that national costumes and folk culture are also being preserved.
Traditional games played as a child
When The First Secretary Ms. Aiste Šaduikienė was a child, she enjoyed playing jump rope and rice grain passing games which starts by singing “little mouse, little mouse,...”
As a child, the Ambassador Dr. Aurelijus ZYKAS played street basketball. H.E. explained that it was every child’s dream to become a basketball player.
People who they respected as a child
One of the people the First Secretary respected as a child was Vytautas Landsbergis, who was a professor who significantly contributed to Lithuania gaining independence. The professor came to her school when she was in 11th grade and made a speech mentioning the importance of “having someone to look up to and having a personal hero”. She specifically looked up to him because he was brave, and knew what he was fighting for. At the age of 6, she realized through this professor that for a country, independence and freedom is what's most important. Additionally, the First Secretary respected Athos from the Three Musketeers since they also fought for justice.
Message to Jp Students:
As for Lithuania, they are most proud of being brave throughout their long history. One of the raised examples includes them fighting for their independence not once but twice. H.E. said that being brave is sometimes more important than life. In his view, since Japanese people can sometimes be too modest, his message is to have a brave spirit.
Favorite locations in Jp:
Overall, H.E. likes any place that has historical relationships
with Lithuania, one recent site being Kuji in Iwate Prefecture.
About a Luthuania’s embassy
The embassy is located in Motoazabu, Tokyo. The building is
white and has the national emblem of Lithuania. The room in
the embassy where we had the interview is very charming.
There are many paintings and embroidery pictures which are
very unique. And there are two models which are ethical.
The women’s ethical costume is that the blouse and apron
with red traditional embroidery are impressive. The men’s
ethical costume is made of thick fabric in colors such as gray,
beige, brown, and black. However, there were traditional Japanese decorations as well as Lithuanian decorations.
For example, shoji screens and objects made of bamboo were hung from the ceiling.
The ambassador Dr.Aurelijus Zykas’ impression
I thought an ambassador is aware of building a good relationship with other people. Additionally, an ambassador values Lithuania's culture, language, nature, and history. He is clear about what he should do as an ambassador. I was impressed by his words, “ to be brave”. The word born from his many experiences is weight. The words of the ambassador who spoke from various angles were able to feel a strong will to love Lithuania.
The Ambassador Dr.Aurelijius Zykas had experience studying in Japan and greeted us in fluent Japanese.
During World War Ⅱ, Japanese Chiune Sugihara issued visas in Kaunas, Lithuania. Most people in Lithuania know his name.
He mentioned Lithuanian nature as a quality he
wanted Japanese people to know. Lithuania has
a lot of beautiful nature,many are listed in UNESCO.
One of the Lithuanian traditions,
the festival of traditional songs and dances is also
registered by UNESCO. I want to
know more about that culture.
H.E. Dr.Zykas talked about the importance
of maintaining national identity. It also includes
language, religion and tradition.He said that
understanding such cultures, way of thinking,
and values and coming closer to each other is
one of the first step toward world peace.
Finally, he gave a message to the young
generation of Japanese people to be brave.
On On August 19, 2016,
the International School Network visited the Embassy of Lithuania to Japan to interview the ambassador, H.E. Mr. Egidijus Meilūnas, and his spouse, Mme. Galina Meilūnienė.
Tradition and Tourism (By Madoka)
H.E. Mr. Meilūnas commented that tradition in Lithuania is similar to that in Japan. He commented that Lithuanians are very proud of their traditions. Tradition is respected and very well kept throughout the nation. Various NGOs are exploring history, and young people continue to take interest in traditional activities.
Lithuania is a country with plenty of nature and world heritages. H.E. Mr. Meilūnas recommended to us the Hill of Crosses, located in northern Lithuania. This is a hill that is covered with about two hundred thousand wooden crosses and crucifixes.
Mme Meilūnienė added that there are many interesting festivals celebrated in Lithuania. Lithuanian people are very fond of jazz. Every year from June 2nd to 3rd in the evening, cities in Lithuania celebrate a jazz festival in which people dress up in traditional clothes, and sing and dance traditional charms. Mme Meilūnienė furthermore introduced to us that during this event, couples undergo various activities that test their romance. For example, there is a legend that percepts good omen if a couple manage to hold hands and jump over the bonfire. Similarly, there is an activity of floating flower crowns on water at night in hopes that they will sail away successfully.
Mme Meilūnienė recommends that tourist ride hot air balloons to see the beautiful cityscape of Vilnius. She also recommends various traditional amusements that take place in forests. She commented that there is a Lithuanian “Edo Mura”- a town which contains traditional houses and activities. The Lithuanian traditional village allows for tourists to experience traditions such as baking bread, making chocolate sweets or wax candles, hearing stories, and singing cultural songs. Mme Meilūnienė mentioned that she is amazed by the beauty of the village every time she visits.
Mme Meilūnienė also introduced to us her experience in visiting the Gero Onsen Gassho-mura in Japan, a recreation of a mountain settlement that contains traditional houses. She explained that she was amazed to see that the tools that were used in traditional Japanese mountain settlements were very similar to those used in Lithuania.
Source of Unity (By Kurumi)
The national motto of Lithuania is "The strength of the nation lies in unity". H.E. Mr. Meilūnas stated that the source of unity of the people of Lithuania was the “history”. There are currently “a lot of Lithuanians living abroad” with a small community of about 180 Lithuanian people living in Japan. Despite how they are dissipated throughout the globe, he feels that their “tragic, dramatic history, especially in the 20th Century” aids in bring them together. “32 years after our independence, our biggest value is freedom and independence,” H.E. Mr. Meilūnas exclaimed.
Mme. Meilūnienė also added that their “language”, ‘Lithuanian’, further contributed to the feeling of unity. “Our language is one of the oldest in the world,” she began, “We were occupied but managed to maintain [our language]”. According to Mme. Meilūnienė, during occupation by the Soviet Union, “written sources were prohibited”; yet, “mothers taught their children” Lithuanian. She believes that the “willingness to maintain the language” truly unified the people of Lithuania.
First Step Towards World Peace (By Kurumi)
H.E. Mr. Meilūnas believes that the step towards world peace is to “first of all, learn from our history and not make the same mistakes”. Furthermore, he mentioned that “making friendship between nations” and “understanding differences” are also ways to create peace within the globe. “People sometimes do not accept [each other],” H.E. Mr. Meilūnas reasoned the element that prevents this from happening.
Additionally, Mme. Meilūnienė commented that “there are still biases” in the world. Therefore, she advises people, especially young people to “just go outside and meet different people and see their cultures. Know that they are the same people as us”. “People are different but we should broaded ur knowledge,” she expressed. She feels that despite our differences on an individual level, we must not make assumptions or intentionally judge others for their differences. By really “knowing” people on a personal level and “travelling a lot”, Mme. Meilūnienė believes that we would become “the best Ambassadors of peace promotion”.
Passion (By Madoka)
When H.E. Mr. Meilūnas was a student in the seventh grade, he first dreamed of becoming a diplomat. He mentioned that this dream had been forgotten for a while but has been implemented. Mme. Meilūnienė introduced to us that when she was a young, she wanted to help children by selling or donating toys. Then when she was in the seventh to ninth grade in school, she wanted to become an astronaut. Ever since she visited a village to stargaze, she became interested in how matter in space interact with each other.
H.E. Mr. Meilūnas’ passion in working as the Ambassador of Lithuania in Japan is that he is very intrigued in the country. He commented that Japan is rich in culture, history, and innovation. So many places. Make friends and learn from japanese people. Mme. Meilūnienė mentioned that her dream ever since university was to come to Japan. She perceived Japan to be a familiar country yet with mysterious aspects that evoked her curiosity. She is very passionate to met people and visit many places in Japan.
Message to the Japanese People (Kurumi)
When asked for a message for the Japanese people and readers, H.E. Mr. Meilūnas expressed that he is “happy” about the “friendly relations [between our nations] based on partnerships”. He is glad that Japanese people and the Lithuanian people “share the same values”. Official diplomatic relations between the two nations commenced in 1922, but even before this, he stated that there was “continuous communication” between Lithuania and Japan. As a message, H.E. Mr. Meilūnas commented, “Let’s work together for the future. The heroic deed of Chiune Sugihara proved to one that even during the most dramatic and tragic time, one person can save the people. He or she saves the world, to save our common world”. “Come to Lithuania!” Mme. Meilūnienė added.
(Reported by Madoka Nishina)
(Reported by Kurumi Onishi)