Kenny overshadowed in land of the rising sun

Big in Japan — but for one night only: It wasn’t long before the Taoiseach became yesterday’s news in Tokyo as Joe Biden rolled into town.

His government might have been taking the regular political flak back home, but Enda Kenny was appearing in an interview with national Japanese television, having made an appearance in some newspapers, as part of his drive to promote Ireland and its products.

His moment of fame was soon over, with the arrival of the US vice president who has begun a delicate diplomacy mission in Japan and China, to calm heightening tensions surrounding the designation of air space and a disputed group of uninhabited islands.

Like ships passing in the night, Mr Kenny and Mr Biden had an almost chance meeting yesterday morning, after the Taoiseach spotted the opportunity to kill two world economy stones when Mr Biden was staying in the same hotel.

The vice president had arrived close to midnight, to find a note from the Taoiseach in his bedroom. The two met early the next morning, in Mr Biden’s hotel suite. An opportune dawn chat with the US vice president, in the land of the rising sun.

“This was a meeting at very short notice,” Mr Kenny explained later.

“I left a note for the vice president last evening and he responded immediately.”

Afterwards, Mr Kenny said they discussed the Japanese-European free trade agreement; immigration reform in the US; developments in the EU; and, of course, the decision by Japan to lift a ban on Irish beef.

If Mr Biden was not too overcome with excitement about this topic, he might have invited one of the hotel’s other guests — Yoko Ono — to join their early morning party.

There were some discussions around golf, of course — a regular topic when both men meet — with the Taoiseach pointing out that they had a long-standing “date” to play a round in the West of Ireland.

Mr Kenny dropped the names of all those who were also due to attend his golf super-date — one might be wondering who would be left running the world. The Japanese prime minister is the latest; Bill Clinton is a given; Rahm Emmanuel is on board; as is secretary of state, John Kerry. And also thrown into the mix is the Scottish first minister, Alex Salmond.

He has an independence referendum coming up, the Taoiseach reminded the vice president.

But Mr Biden had far more imminent territorial disputes on his mind. Though he still listened as the Taoiseach “gave him a brief run-down on where Ireland is situated now”, — as Mr Kenny revealed afterwards.

Mr Biden was not just interested in geography, and caused quite a stir when he asked — in a visit to a company to promote its embracing of women — “do your husbands mind you working full time?”

Japan has lagged behind other countries in integrating more women into the workforce, and this fact was stark during most of the Irish trade meeting which was male only in composition.

The Taoiseach addressed a room full of Japanese businessmen, with just one woman, as part of his efforts to promote Irish food. He welcomed Japan’s hosting of the 2020 Olympics and said that “the young girls and boys who want to win medals for Japan will be fed Irish beef”.

In an effort to demonstrate Ireland’s relative influence on the world stage, he told the Japanese businessmen and woman about the Irish diaspora abroad. “So while we are small at home, we are extensive around the world,” he said.

Not to worry then. If not big in Japan, then hopefully extensive in the rest of the world.

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