January 14th, 2018 was a historic Sunday for Kaunas. Shinzo Abe, the Japanese Prime Minister, visited Lithuania for the first time over the weekend, and Kaunas was a very special stop in his route. The politician and his entourage paid a visit to the Sugihara House.
Today, the Sugihara House is a small yet very important museum frequented by tourists from all around the world, Japan and Israel in particular. In the wake of WW2, the two-story building housed the Japanese consulate where Chiune Sugihara was appointed vice consul in October 1939. In the following summer, refugees fled occupied Poland, Lithuania’s neighbor, and were seeking for help in Lithuania. Encouraged by Dutch diplomat Jan Zwartendijk, Sugihara helped thousands of Jewish refugees to escape the Holocaust by issuing them Japanese visas. He worked long hours and ignored instructions by Japanese government; even after the consulate was closed down he continued issuing visas in his hotel room and then Kaunas railway station. More on the Sugihara House can be read here; we’ve issued a special map of the Sugihara route in Kaunas which is available in Japanese, English and Lithuanian and can be downloaded here or picked up all around Kaunas.
On Sunday morning, Shinzo Abe spent about half an hour in the Sugihara House, where he listened to a short lecture and, sitting at the original desk of Chiune Sugihara, left a historic entry in the museum’s guestbook. He was first met by children waving Japanese flags and wearing scarves painted in the Lithuanian tricolour. A few dozen of prominent politicians, businessmen, scientists, the organisers of the Sugihara Week, members of Jewish community etc. also didn’t miss the chance to greet the important guest.
While our countries are and will forever be connected with the inspiring story of Sugihara, Shinzo Abe is the first Japanese PM to ever visit Lithuania. Emperor Akihito visited Lithuania almost 11 years ago.
Abe arrived in Lithuania on January 13th. He spent the first day of his visit in Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, and met our President Dalia Grybauskaitė and PM Saulius Skvernelis, with whom he discussed the hot topics of international politics and the relationship between Japan and the Baltic countries. The Japanese politician also participated in a business forum held at the Lithuanian Government, which was also attended by heads of Japan’s 13 biggest corporations. Abe and his delegation will also visit Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Romania during the current trip.
All pictures by Mantas Zinkevičius / Kaunas city municipality