Japanese diplomat honoured to become a member of the York community

Retired Japanese diplomat Peter Sato was honoured by York University on Tuesday, June 12, with a doctor of laws honoris causa. The honorary degree was presented to Sato in recognition of his strong role in advancing Canada’s relationship with Japan.

With quiet dignity, Sato spoke to graduands of the Faculty of Arts and expressed his deep gratitude for the honour. "I thank York University for offering the most prestigious award to me, who is only a retired diplomat of Japan. I have received the honour with my deepest gratitude."

Left: Peter Sato (left) is congratulated by York Chancellor Peter Cory and Lorna R. Marsden, York president & vice-chancellor. Photo by CSi/photograds.com.

Sato has served Canada and Japan with distinction. As a distinguished Japanese diplomat, he is the former ambassador to the People’s Republic of China and to the Organization for Economic Co-operation & Development, senior member of the Japanese Embassy in Washington, and a true friend of Canada. A respected individual within business and diplomatic circles in Japan, Sato has been instrumental in making recommendations to nurture and encourage interchange in all sectors between Canada and Japan. For the past three years he has been the Japanese co-chair of the Canada-Japan Forum, which is examining the bilateral Canada/Japan relationship in all of its elements – cultural, academic, economic and political – and the two countries’ roles in the world.

In his convocation address, Sato spoke of the many attributes Canada shares with Japan. "Japan and Canada share the rule of law, freedom, democracy, the respect for human rights, promotion of open market economies, concern for the environment, nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. There are also many other aspects that our countries share, such as the fight against terrorism and narcotics, cooperation in the multilateral forum including the United Nations, helping the poor nations, international peacekeeping and many others," said Sato. "These are important common values that Canada and Japan share."

Sato further elaborated on the unique attributes that Canadian and Japanese people share as citizens of the world.  "Canadians and Japanese are less self-assertive, shy, not all together self-confident, happy being number two, and uncomfortable in being positioned as number one. Americans are self-assertive, confident and always trying to be number one," said Sato. "When we look at the American constitution, it clearly endorses these American characteristics. It says that an American has the right to enjoy ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’. Now these are all personal – my life, my liberty, my pursuit of happiness. Personal welfare is guaranteed in the American constitution.

"On the other hand, when we read the Canadian constitution it states that the basic values of Canadians are ‘peace, order and good government’. These values are all collective, not at all individualistic. I find the differences between Canadians and Americans are clearly shown in these documents. What kind of people are the Japanese? In the Japanese constitution, there are provisions that talk about importance of the public welfare. There are many reasons why Canadians and Japanese have become less assertive, the biggest though is our co-existence with neighbouring super powers," said Sato.

He highlighted the challenges faced by Canada as it shares the longest border in the world with the United States. In the case of Japan, Sato spoke of Japan’s delicate adjustments so that it can exist in harmony with China. Sato said that the Japanese are flexible, humble and open-minded. Something which he said Canadians too have developed so that they can co-exist with the United States.

"If nations have open minds to listen to the positions and opinions of others, it will facilitate arriving at international accord. In this context, countries like Canada and Japan will have important roles to play serving for the force of international community," said Sato.

Through his work with the Canada-Japan forum, Sato said his conviction had been strengthened and that promoting relations between Canada and Japan not only makes good economic sense but is also critical to the strengthening of the international community.

"In 2008, Canada and Japan will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries," said Sato. "We cannot discuss Japan’s diplomatic history with Canada, without remembering then Canadian prime minister Mackenzie King’s commitment to peace, order and good governance."

"This is the most memorable day of my life. I am deeply touched by my Canadian friends. I shall remember this day and will treasure the honour for the days and years to come in my life. Today is an eternal now," said Sato. "Now, recognizing myself as a member of this great University, I will continue to work on behalf of Canada and Japan."

In tribute to Canada’s role as a bilingual nation, Sato closed his remarks in French.

Convocation ceremonies take place this week, daily through Saturday. You can watch live Webcasts of the ceremonies while they are on. Archived versions will also be available.