Meet Masashi Mitani

We had the pleasure of welcoming Mr Masashi Mitani to Albi from Japan with his wife, from 28 to 31 October 2023. Mr Mitani is particularly interested in the humanist work of Lapérouse.

Jean-Marie Pestel took him on a tour of Albi and the Musée de la Marine in Paris, following in the footsteps of the famous navigator.

Sakhalin, circled in red, between Russia and Japan

Mitani is currently working on a thesis on Jean-François de Galaup, Comte de Lapérouse.

Masashi Mitani is a former representative of the municipality of Wakkanai Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, Sakhalin and is involved in supporting exchanges between Japan and Sakhalin (Russia) as a private company.

He sent us an article about his work from a local Japanese newspaper.

Here is the translation:

Mitani says: “I want to be the initiator of private sector exchanges and return the favour I have received from the people of Sakhalin.” The name of his project is “Le Détroit”, a French word for the Soya Strait. Its aim is to stimulate cultural and commercial exchanges and to act as a bridge between the public and private sectors. During his time as a municipal employee until August 2023, he has been involved in friendly exchanges between different towns and the city of Sakhalin for around 10 years. He believes that the city of Sakhalin benefits from special conditions that bring people from all over the world together and where everyone can understand each other and the world today.

As soon as he arrived as head of office in 2019, a coronavirus epidemic broke out and Russia invaded Ukraine. “Every time I encountered difficulties, I felt the kindness of my Sakhalin friends. This reinforced my desire not to be swayed by political expediency, but to cherish our ties as neighbours,” says Mr Mitani.

Last autumn, he moved to the town of Eniwa and set up a website, which has promoted exchanges with the people of Sakhalin by disseminating information on tourist visits and souvenirs, and making presentations to Sakhalin businesses. As a visiting researcher at Chuo Gakuin University, he is also involved in disseminating information on current problems and analyses of border regions. He is also interested in the French navigator Lapérouse, who crossed the Soya Strait in the eighteenth century. Over the past 15 years, he has acted as English interpreter at an event organised in Wakkanai in honour of Lapérouse, deepening his knowledge of the man and forging friendships with his descendants and researchers. Last year, he visited France, hosted by the navigator’s descendants. In Lapérouse’s writings, we learn that he was particularly impressed by the intelligence and kindness of the inhabitants of Sakhalin, which he had come to appreciate during his voyage.

Mitani is 50 years old and is enthusiastic: “I want to follow Lapérouse’s example by establishing relationships of trust with people without any prejudice“.

Portrait of Jean-François Galaup de Lapérouse, painted by Geneviève Brossard de Beaulieu – ©Public domain
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