Swiss-Japanese polar research collaborations under the spotlight in Hokkaido

Representatives from the Swiss Polar Institute, Hokkaido University, and Nagoya University presented ongoing Swiss-Japanese scientific collaborations in polar research at the Opening Ceremony of the new Honorary Consulate in Higashikawa, Hokkaido.

On Friday, May 10, 2024, the opening ceremony of the new Honorary Consulate of Switzerland took place in Higashikawa, the hometown of Ms. Tomoka Takeuchi, the recently appointed Honorary Consul of Switzerland. Ms. Takeuchi is an Olympic medalist in snowboarding who has trained with the Swiss national team for over 20 years.

The evening of celebration started with a scientific program showcasing a long tradition of collaboration in Arctic and high-alpine research between Switzerland and Japan. The first presentation was given by Prof. Shin Sugiyama, Institute of Low Temperature Science from Hokkaido University, whom we had the pleasure of welcoming on-site. He gave a holistic introduction to glacier research while showing picturesque photos of his many research expeditions in the Swiss glaciers, where he has been taking over 142 of his students for the past 16 years. 

The session went on with a special appearance of the Executive Director of the Swiss Polar Institute (SPI), Dr. Danièle Rod, who joined online from Switzerland. The SPI is a national facility that supports and funds Swiss researchers working in polar science in the Arctic, Antarctica, and remote high-altitude regions. The Institute also enables international collaboration by creating new synergies and supporting innovative partnerships. Dr. Rod gave a general overview of SPI and introduced the PAMIR project, one of their flagship programs. PAMIR aims to characterize the current state of the cryosphere in the Pamir Mountains, one of the most iconic mountain ranges of the Third Pole, and its impacts on ecosystems, hazards, and water resources with an interdisciplinary approach. The Pamir Mountains are a crucial source of water supply for a large population pool and a major irrigation source for the Aral Sea region. Consequently, variations in the water supply generate significant consequences for this vulnerable and arid region. The project is coordinated by Prof. Martin Hölzle (University of Fribourg) and Prof. Francesca Pelliciotti (Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, WSL).

Recently, Japanese experts have joined the vast contingent of prestigious institutions collaborating on the PAMIR project. Joining online from Nagoya, Prof. Koji Fujita, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences from Nagoya University, gave a more detailed explanation about how the Japanese researchers collaborate with their Swiss counterparts on ice core drilling for this project. He gave some fascinating practical insights on the research expeditions and the many challenges polar researchers need to overcome in such remote study locations. The scientific program ended with the presentation of Prof. Yoshinori Iizuka, Institute of Low-Temperature Science from Hokkaido University, giving an on-site presentation explaining the role of Hokkaido University in the PAMIR project, which is to store ice cores drilled in the Pamir region and analyze them to help reconstruct past atmospheric environments.

The ceremony proceeded with a presentation on a new sustainable travel program named “Swisstainable” by Mr. Paulo Lunardi, Director Japan at Switzerland Tourism. Following, Ms. Keiko Ito and Mr. Shunsuke Ohkuchi gave a lively performance of popular Swiss music in all four national languages. Celebratory remarks were then given by the Swiss Ambassador to Japan, Dr. Andreas Baum, and the newly appointed Honorary Consul, Ms. Tomoka Takeuchi. To conclude the ceremony, congratulatory speeches were given by Mr. Kimihito Kudo, Director General for Global Strategy, Department of Policy and Planning of Hokkaido Prefecture, Mr. Hirosuke Imazu, Mayor of Asahikawa, and Mr. Shin Kikuchi, Mayor of Higashikawa. 

Once the ceremony ended, all the guests could enjoy more live music performances and joyful exchanges in the fabulous venue designed by the renowned Japanese architect Kengo Kuma, Kitoushi No Mori Kitoron, nested away in the picturesque landscapes of Hokkaido.

The newly appointed Honorary Consul of Switzerland, Ms. Tomoka Takeuchi, is an important figure in the Japanese snowboarding landscape. She won an Olympic silver medal at the Sochi Games in 2014 and a bronze medal at the World Championship in 2015. Alongside these significant sports achievements, Ms. Takeuchi has contributed immensely to her hometown’s community by facilitating health programs for all generations. For instance, she has organized snowboarding events for children and health training programs in which she personally coaches the elderly in her hometown. Her dedication to projects dear to her heart will be invaluable in connecting Switzerland with the Hokkaido region. Her many years of training alongside the Swiss Alpine Snowboard Team established a very special bond between her and Switzerland. Ms. Takeuchi now wishes to communicate her passion for sport, education, and tourism and accelerate and further strengthen the ties between Switzerland and Hokkaido. She is also an ambassador for Vitality.Swiss, the public diplomacy program of the Embassy of Switzerland in Japan, celebrating 160 years of bilateral relations in 2024.