1. Tokyo meets the world  San Marino
    Photo: Kisa ToyoshimaAmbassador of San Marino to Japan Manlio Cadelo
  2. Tokyo meets the world  San Marino
    Photo: Kisa Toyoshima(L-R) Original Inc senior consultant Masashi Takahashi; Ambassador of San Marino to Japan Manlio Cadelo

Tokyo meets the world: San Marino

Ambassador Manlio Cadelo on why the first Shinto shrine in Europe is in San Marino, where to find wine from the micro-state in Tokyo, and why Japan should look into its own past for hints on how to make society more sustainable

Written by
Ili Saarinen
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With the Olympics and Paralympics now behind us, 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 city life, with a particular focus on sustainability initiatives that could help guide us into a greener, happier and more secure future. 

For this edition of the series, we sat down with Manlio Cadelo, ambassador of San Marino and a resident of Tokyo since 1975, to talk about everything from sustainability in prehistoric Japan to shops selling Sammarinese wine in the capital. In a discussion with Masashi Takahashi, senior consultant at Original Inc (publisher of Time Out Tokyo) and a former diplomat with extensive experience of sustainability issues, Cadelo also touched on why San Marino is the only country in Europe with a Shinto shrine and on how the medical profession might just benefit from an Olympics of its own.

To start off, some of our readers might not be familiar with San Marino. Could you give us a quick introduction to your country?
Guaita, the first fort of San Marino (Photo: ID:22289262/PhotoAC)

To start off, some of our readers might not be familiar with San Marino. Could you give us a quick introduction to your country?

San Marino was founded in the year 301, so it’s an old country but still much younger than Japan. Our founder, Saint Marinus, was a Christian who escaped persecution by the Roman Empire. He gathered people who agreed with his ideas and philosophy to what would become San Marino, and founded a country based on these ideals.

The best thing about San Marino is that our people aren’t greedy; we’re a very small country, high up on a mountain, just large enough so that we can defend our borders ourselves. The people of San Marino have never been expansionist. Napoleon once even offered to expand our territory, but the people turned him down because they were satisfied with what they had.

Apparently, the only Shinto shrine in Europe is located in San Marino. How did that come about?
Inside the Embassy of the Republic of San Marino (Photo: Kisa Toyoshima)

Apparently, the only Shinto shrine in Europe is located in San Marino. How did that come about?

Yes, well there are 991 Catholic and Protestant churches throughout Japan, from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. On the other hand, many Japanese live in Europe, but there had never been a Shinto shrine anywhere in Europe [before the one in San Marino was established]. Buddhist temples, sure, but no shrines.

After the Great East Japan earthquake and tsunami of March 2011, aid poured in from all over the world, but the people of San Marino were looking for a different way to do something for Japan, something that would leave a lasting legacy. They settled on Shinto, one of the core elements of Japanese culture and philosophy, and thought it would be great to build a Shinto shrine in San Marino.

We received permission from the Association of Shinto Shrines, the Imperial Household Agency and the Foreign Ministry, and had an artisan from Ise construct the actual shrine building and its torii gate. We then had all the parts flown in from Japan, and finally there was a shrine in San Marino. Before the pandemic, a festival was held at the shrine every year on the last weekend of June.

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According to official data, there are only seven people from San Marino living in Japan. Is that true?
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

According to official data, there are only seven people from San Marino living in Japan. Is that true?

It’s true. I don’t have that much contact with the community, but I do send everyone a gift every Christmas. Though you can’t really experience San Marino in Japan, there are places that sell Sammarinese wine. One of those is the Muramatsu liquor store in Shinbashi, where you can buy ‘Shrine Wine’. The wine is made at a big vineyard right next to the shrine in San Marino, and the winemakers are all government officials. That’s a system unique to San Marino. Our politicians love their wine, you see [laughs]. The ‘Shrine Wine’ label is changed annually and always depicts that year’s East Asian zodiac animal.

We’ll look for it the next time we’re in Shinbashi. Do you have any other favourite places in Tokyo?
Photo: Kisa Toyoshima

We’ll look for it the next time we’re in Shinbashi. Do you have any other favourite places in Tokyo?

I have a lot, but Odaiba is a particular favourite of mine. Looking at the sea calms me. Odaiba is spacious, not very crowded and there’s plenty of greenery. I like how Tokyo’s 23 wards all have distinct identities: Shibuya and Ginza are completely different from each other, as are Ueno and Asakusa. Even the people are different depending on where you go, so you never get bored of living in Tokyo. Each neighbourhood has its own festivals and local specialities, and there are so many local customs and cultural quirks. Tokyo truly is a 24-hour city.

Outside of Tokyo, I really like the Manazuru peninsula. It’s only an hour’s drive from Tokyo and the sea is beautiful, so you can enjoy swimming and snorkeling. The seafood is delicious, too.

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You’re a long-time resident of Japan and have written several books about the country. How do you think Japan should seek to engage with the rest of the world from here on?

I think Japan should put more emphasis on doing things its own way and take things at its own pace. Rather than taking after other countries, Japan should cherish its own identity and focus on what’s special about itself. Honesty and modesty are some of those valuable traits, as is Japan’s long history, which goes back to the Jomon period (14,000-300 BCE). The Jomon people had a very sustainable lifestyle, by the way.

As you mention, the prehistoric Japanese are thought to have eaten only what they needed and wasted nothing, coexisting peacefully with nature. Do you think that sort of lifestyle could contain lessons for making today’s society more sustainable?

I do. The Jomon people were very healthy, subsisting on fish, vegetables and fruit. They practised what we’d call an ecological way of life up to 18,000 years ago. When you look at skeletons from the Jomon period, you notice how the teeth are very straight and in good shape, which is a sign of health. Jomon pottery is also very impressive. Most of it depicts the female form, showing how women were cherished and even worshiped as givers of new life. I think that way of thinking is also at the root of Shinto, with [the sun goddess] Amaterasu and all.

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Lastly, now that the Olympics and Paralympics are behind us, what are some of the initiatives Japan should seek to advance going forward?
(L-R) Original Inc senior consultant Masashi Takahashi; Ambassador of San Marino to Japan Manlio Cadelo (Photo: Kisa Toyoshima)

Lastly, now that the Olympics and Paralympics are behind us, what are some of the initiatives Japan should seek to advance going forward?

The Olympics proved something of a success, but now I think it’s time to focus on even more important issues. As nothing is more crucial than health, why not propose a ‘medical Olympics’? There are still so many diseases for which a cure is yet to be found, and in many cases developing the cure probably wouldn’t even be that expensive. So why not have doctors from around the world get together once every few years and share their opinions on new treatments and such – I think the benefits of something like that would be immense. Interview by Masashi Takahashi

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