Ambassador Singtong Lapisatepun on how Japan has changed from Showa to Reiwa, how to find certifiably authentic Thai food in Tokyo, and why Thailand has developed its own distinct approach to sustainability
As the pandemic recedes and the search for a new, post-Covid style of urban life begins in earnest, many Tokyoites are hungry for the kind of fresh ideas and inspiration needed to plot a new direction for the capital in the years to come. With Tokyo meets the world, our ongoing series of interviews with ambassadors to Japan who call Tokyo home, we’ve sought to highlight a wide range of innovative views on culture, travel and city life, from sustainability and ecological initiatives to diversity and inclusiveness.
For this edition of the series, we chatted with Singtong Lapisatepun, ambassador of Thailand, who received his education in Japan and has lived here for a total of more than two decades. Having studied in Tokyo and Yokohama from the late 1970s through the ’80s and worked in Tokyo as a diplomat twice before assuming the ambassadorship in 2019, he possesses both a rare breadth of perspective and an intimate familiarity with the capital area. During our discussion, Lapisatepun kindly shared his picks of the best Tokyo spots for cherry blossoms and the autumn foliage, let us in on what to look for when hunting for authentic Thai flavours, and gave a few pointers on how to experience Thai culture in Tokyo – from cooking classes to Muay Thai sparring.
Given your long experience in Japan, what’s your current impression of the country and how has it changed during your time here?
I first arrived in Japan in 1978 – year 53 of the Showa era – and studied here for ten years before returning to Thailand. I then came back to work at the Embassy twice during the Heisei era, and now I’m here as ambassador, having assumed my post in the first year of Reiwa. Over those three eras, so many things have of course changed.
One thing that stands out is the increased openness of Japanese society. When I was here for the first time, almost everything, like buying a ticket for a train, was in Japanese only. But now you have more and more English everywhere. When you’re buying a ticket, you can change the language – not only to English but Korean, Chinese, even Thai. Foreign tourism has made a significant difference.
This openness affects not only tourism but work, too. In the past, it wasn’t easy to work in Japan as a foreigner, but many companies now tend to recruit international employees. Take Rakuten, where they even speak English within the company.
Another change concerns the role of women. In the past, the division of labor was that men work outside the home and give their salary to their wife so that she can manage everything in the house, including raising children. Now more and more women have their own [professional] careers, although some say there’s still a long way to go for Japan in this regard.
In any case, you now have many women as executives, including Tokyo Governor Koike, who even used to be defense minister. The former mayor of Yokohama, Fumiko Hayashi, was previously the CEO of BMW in Japan. Rengo, the trade union confederation, now has its first female chairperson, Tomoko Yoshino. Society has become more balanced, including in politics – more and more lawmakers and cabinet ministers are now women.