The Mayor of Kaunas City Visvaldas Matijošaitis was presented with the honorable Japanese award

Japanese Embassy held a solemn awards ceremony presenting the Order of the Emperor of Japan to the Mayor of Kaunas City Visvaldas Matijošaitis.

In May, 2019, the Japanese government announced that they award Mr. V. Matijošaitis the Order of the Rising Sun with Golden Rays and Rosette. The Honourable Award is conferred for the merits in strengthening mutual understanding by fostering the memory of Chiune Sugihara and promoting interregional cooperation between Japan and Lithuania.

“As a member of Kaunas City Council, Visvaldas Matijošaitis contributed to the consolidation of friendship between Japan and Lithuania. Since 2015 when he was elected as the Mayor, he supported all initiatives and activities related to the commemoration of Chiune Sugihara, and initiated the Sugihara Week in Kaunas,” said H.E. Shiro Yamasaki, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan, solemnly presenting the Certificate and Order of Honour with Mrs. Yuko Yamasaki.

Accepting the award, V. Matijošaitis thanked his closest associates and members of organizations working in Kaunas – representatives of the “Sugihara Group” for the development of relations between Kaunas and Japan as well as to the Sugihara Foundation “Diplomats for life”.

“It is a great honour to receive this award. I believe that this is not only an evaluation, but also an encouragement to develop and strengthen the relations between Lithuania and Japan. I always appreciate teamwork because this is the only way to achieve the desired results, so a significant part of this award deservedly belongs to the people who contributed to the friendship with the country of the Rising Sun” said Mr. V. Matijošaitis in his thank-you speech.

Partnership in Culture and Education

“Our cultural, educational and economic exchanges allow us to learn a lot from Japan and get to know each other better. Planting Sakura trees has become a beautiful tradition in Kaunas, and not only Japanese, but also Kaunas organizations are actively joining this initiative. Geographical distances cannot be shortened, but I believe that through our thoughts and efforts we will continue to bring our countries closer,” added Mr. V. Matijošaitis.

According to him, Kaunas people can feel the spirit of Japan while admiring the Sakura park growing on the Nemunas Island. Recently the drum group “Soshu Hiratsuka Tanabata Taiko” visited Kaunas and performed free concerts to Kaunas citizens.

The results of partnership with Japan will become more noticeable to the smallest citizens. Kaunas city teachers are constantly participating in internships, gaining experience and knowledge, following the example of Japanese, because the students of this country have the highest education achievements in the world.

For three years, Kaunas has been developing close relationship with the Japanese cities of Yaotsu, Hiratsuka, Tsuruga and Gifu. During the Tokyo Olympics Games in 2020, the Lithuanian athletes will train in Hiratsuka, so the city is already unofficially known as the “most Lithuanian” place in Japan.

Sugihara will be honoured by creating an original sculpture

The year of 2020 is announced as the year of Sugihara in Lithuanian by the Lithuanian Parliament. For the third time, Sugihara Week will take place in Kaunas, and a sculpture will be unveiled in memory of the Righteous among the Nations Chiune Sugihara. It will be constructed in the very heart of Kaunas, on Freedom Avenue, near the fountain, near the Metropolis Hotel, where after leaving the Japanese consulate, Sugihara lived and continued to sign “life visas” before leaving for Japan.

The three-meter-high sculpture is Martin Gaub’s work “In Memory of Chiune Sugihara” and depicts a circle of origami-shaped winches made of light bronze. The sculpture is based on oval black granite. It will have an engraved Sugihara seal, a description of his life and merits will be written in Lithuanian, English, Japanese and Yiddish languages.

“The flow of winches in the sculpture symbolizes escape from war, the clutches of death, and the pursuit of freedom and peace. Our mission is to spread the Sugihara values ​​to the world in these turbulent times”, – Mr. V. Matijošaitis explained the significance of the sculpture that will be opened in Kaunas in October next year.

Chiune Sugihara (1900-1986) was a Japanese diplomat and consular officer, residing in Kaunas in 1939- 1940 as Vice-Consul of the Japanese Empire. During World War II, he helped about 6000 Jews from Lithuania, Poland and Germany to escape from Europe by issuing Japanese transit visas. Doing this he risked his career because he did not have the official approval from the Japanese government.

In 1940 on the 4th of September, when the consulate was closed, Chiune Sugihara continued to sign visas at the Metropolis Hotel. According to witnesses, in the last moments before leaving for Germany, the consul even filled in visas while being on the train Riga-Berlin, which he signed throwing through the train window. The exact number of the issued visas is unknown, it is estimated that it is up to 10000.