1. Tokyo meets the world Malaysia
    Photo: Kisa ToyoshimaAmbassador of Malaysia to Japan Dato' Kennedy Jawan
  2. Tokyo meets the world Malaysia
    Photo: Kisa Toyoshima(L-R) Original Inc senior consultant Masashi Takahashi; Ambassador of Malaysia to Japan Dato' Kennedy Jawan

Tokyo meets the world: Malaysia

Ambassador Dato’ J. Kennedy on where to get the best Malaysian food in Tokyo, why having more halal-certified restaurants is a plus for everyone and why so many Japanese choose to enjoy their golden years in Malaysia

Written by
Ili Saarinen
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Say Malaysia and many a Tokyoite’s mouth waters: the capital has a small but capable contingent of restaurants serving nasi lemak, satay skewers, chicken rice and other punchy delicacies from the country, which boasts one of the most diverse culinary cultures in southeast Asia. The multi-ethnic nation has also long been a favourite destination for Japanese looking to migrate to warmer climes – visual-rock chameleon Gackt obviously the biggest name to make the jump – while before the pandemic, hundreds of Malaysian students and professionals moved in the other direction every year.

Overseeing this vigorous exchange of people, ideas and flavours – as well as a community of about 5,000 Malaysians in Japan – from his brilliant-white Daikanyama embassy is ambassador Dato’ J. Kennedy, who witnessed Tokyo’s tumultuous 1990s as a junior diplomat during his previous posting in the city. For this instalment of Tokyo meets the World, our ongoing series of interviews with Tokyo-based ambassadors, Kennedy took the time to share his thoughts on everything from Malaysia-Japan relations and sustainable development to the proliferation of halal-certified restaurants in the capital with Masashi Takahashi, senior consultant at Original Inc (publisher of Time Out Tokyo) and a former diplomat with extensive experience of sustainability issues.

You’ve been stationed in Tokyo since April 2019. How has your impression of the city and Japan changed since then?
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

You’ve been stationed in Tokyo since April 2019. How has your impression of the city and Japan changed since then?

This is my second stint in Japan, which was the first place I was assigned to as a junior diplomat. Coming back to Japan has been like a homecoming, but I’ve noticed a lot of changes too. Japan was already highly developed when I was here [for the first time], but there’s been so much progress since then.

As for Tokyo, during my first assignment they were just filling in the land in Odaiba, and now when you cross the Rainbow Bridge you get this fantastic view. As for social change, more Japanese people are now comfortable engaging with foreigners and society has become very friendly towards foreigners as well.

What are some of your favourite places in Tokyo?

Tokyo is a very big city and I haven’t been able to cover even half of it in my time here. But what I used to do before the pandemic is drive out of the city, to the suburbs or rural areas in Chiba or Saitama, driving on small roads and just taking in the lifestyle. That’s something I really enjoy.

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What Malaysian restaurants in Tokyo do you recommend?
Photo: Malay Asian Cuisine

What Malaysian restaurants in Tokyo do you recommend?

Malay Asian Cuisine in Shibuya and Yokohama provide great home cooking, and you can also get a similar sort of homey cuisine at Rasa Malaysia in Ginza. Other good options include Penang Restaurant (in Shibakoen) and Malay Kampung (Hatchobori). But Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country, with the Malay majority as well as large Chinese and Indian populations. So Malaysian cuisine also encompasses Chinese and Indian cuisine, which are readily available in Tokyo.

We know some of the restaurants you highlighted are halal certified. Japan has been working on having more halal options in terms of restaurants and foodstuffs, and Malaysia has one of the most widely recognised certification systems. Why is that?

The halal body responsible for the Malaysian certification programme operates a process that’s recognised worldwide, unlike those of some other countries that have similar programmes but are not acknowledged internationally. This has opened up a lot of opportunities for Malaysia in the halal market, and a Malaysian company was even contracted to provide halal meals for the athletes during the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics.

Receiving halal recognition simply opens up a bigger market, since everyone can enjoy halal food. That’s as opposed to non-halal, which excludes Muslims. On that note, [the Malaysian embassy is] currently doing a food promotion programme at the Don Quijote in Yaesu, where Malaysian products are being sold. Those products include durian, which is a bit of an acquired taste – you either like it or you don’t [laughs].

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Malaysia is one of the top retirement destinations for Japanese people. Why do you think that is?
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Malaysia is one of the top retirement destinations for Japanese people. Why do you think that is?

One obvious factor is that our peoples are very friendly towards each other – you don’t want to retire somewhere where you face hostility [laughs]. That said, our facilities are quite advanced too, and the cost of living for retirees is significantly cheaper than in Japan. We have a programme called Malaysia My Second Home that helps foreigners migrate, and this applies not only to retirees but also to people who keep working in Japan at least partially while their family moves to Malaysia.

Another factor is that education in English is readily available and we have many international schools that are easily accessible for Japanese people. But it really comes down to the cost of living: in the 1990s, before the Malaysia My Second Home programme was launched [in 2002], some Japanese would travel to Malaysia over the weekend just to play golf, since the cost of doing so – including flights and accommodation – was cheaper than playing a round of golf in Japan!

What’s your view of Malaysia-Japan relations in general, and what could Japan do to further improve the relationship?

We already have an excellent relationship. Back in the ’80s, Malaysia looked at Japan as a model country in matters such as economic development and human resources. In 1982, our prime minister at the time initiated the Look East policy, which involved sending our people here to learn from the Japanese, study their work culture and ethics, to help Malaysia develop.

As for what Japan can do for Malaysia and other countries in the region, it really comes down to Japan being the only Asian member of the G7 [group of wealthy democracies]. That’s a platform where Japan can champion the rights of Asian countries and other developing countries.

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Lastly, there’s growing interest in sustainable development in Japan, with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) getting a lot of attention. How is Malaysia approaching sustainability?
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

Lastly, there’s growing interest in sustainable development in Japan, with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) getting a lot of attention. How is Malaysia approaching sustainability?

Well, the SDGs were endorsed at the United Nations in 2015, but sustainable development itself is something that Malaysia has been addressing for decades, in fields such as the eradication of poverty and sustainable education. And when it comes to renewable energy, the availability of it in Malaysia has allowed Japanese companies including (electronic components manufacturer) Taiyo Yuden to expand their production in Sarawak (a state on the island of Borneo). Interview by Masashi Takahashi, coordination by Hiroko M. Ohiwa.

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