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Japan and CARICOM Friendship: Ties Going Strong in the Caribbean

The CARICOM countries and Japan are collaborating on energy and fisheries while sharing a strong message on disaster resilience with the world.



A fish management program in Antigua and Barbuda done jointly between the locals and Japan. (©JICA by Kosuke Okahara)

Japan is celebrating "Japan-CARICOM Friendship Year 2024" with the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries. Together, they are shining a light on the value of bringing all voices to the table to foster international cooperation.

Ties between Japan and CARICOM's 14 countries and one region date back decades. The year 2024 marks the 30th anniversary of the first Japan-CARICOM Consultation. At the same time, it coincides with the 60th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago, respectively.

As small countries prone to hurricanes and natural disasters, the experiences of CARICOM members are coming to the fore when tackling disaster management and global warming.

How is Japan engaging with the CARICOM countries? And what lessons can be learned from this relationship?

JAPAN Forward spoke to two experts in the field to find out.

SUZUKI Mika (left) from Fukuoka University, and MORITA Tatsuya (second from the right) when he visited CARICOM in February 2023. (© SUZUKI Mika and MORITA Tatsuya, respectively)

A Key Moment in 2014

Although there have been decades of diplomatic relations, the interaction between Japan and CARICOM changed significantly in 2014. SUZUKI Mika is a Foreign Language Lecturer at Fukuoka University familiar with Japan-Caribbean relations, among other themes. Her relationship with CARICOM countries deepened thanks to her job experience as a political advisor and researcher at the Japanese Embassy in Trinidad and Tobago between October 2010 and December 2016.

She was there to witness the pivotal event: The official visit by then-Japanese Prime Minister ABE Shinzo and his wife Akie in July 2014.

ABE Shinzo (left) and ABE Akie (right) during their Caribbean trip in July 2014. (© Cabinet Public Relations Office and Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

"It was the first time that a Japanese prime minister had made an official visit to the Caribbean, so it was a very important occasion," she recalls. PM Abe had multilateral and bilateral meetings and announced that Japan would be providing support to 14 countries in the CARICOM.

Specifically, the Japanese government pledged grant aid support in the field of climate change management policies in coordination with the United Nations.


The following year Abe visited Jamaica. He announced the J-J Partnership, an agreement between Japan and Jamaica to enhance the relationship between the two countries. Suzuki witnessed this event as a staff person dispatched to the country to help.

Caribbean countries at the time were experiencing a foreign visitor rush. America's then-Vice President Joe Biden visited Trinidad and Tobago in late May 2013. Days later, armed with competing investment and infrastructure proposals, China's Xi Jinping met with leaders in the region on June 1 and 2.

MORITA Tatsuya was also in the region at the time. Working for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), he was first assigned to the Commonwealth of Dominica in 2011. He also highlights the significance of the moment. "Japan's pledges of aid stressed that countries in the [Caribbean] region had 'vulnerabilities particular to small islands' and that Japan would continue to assist on the themes," Morita explains.

The Fukuoka lecturer recalls vividly how First Lady ABE Akie was key to stealing the hearts of local citizens.

"High-level visitors don't normally go to the poorest neighborhoods. But Akie-san met with the locals and visited a poor area in South Trinidad. Local residents were really moved, and we received positive reactions" Suzuki recalls.

A fish management program in Antigua and Barbuda in St John's, done jointly between the locals and Japan. (©JICA by Kosuke Okahara)

Exchanging Know-How in Fisheries and Energy

Since increasing closeness in relations, JICA has been sharing knowledge with CARICOM on a variety of topics.

It invites local experts in energy, waste management, and disaster resilience to Japan. These specialists receive training and then take back that knowledge to their home country.

Morita explains that JICA also conducts studies on the ground to pinpoint possible areas of cooperation. This information can eventually help guide local decision-makers.

"There are many areas with volcanoes, meaning a potential for geothermal electric power generation. We conduct studies and recommend solutions," says Morita. Japan shared ideas on how to implement projects in limited land size, with realistic waste management to not deter the influx of tourists.


JICA also supported the setting up of solar panels at the CARICOM Secretariat in Guyana, facilitating the introduction of renewable energy in this region. According to the project site, the initiative is valued at $7 million USD. The project is scheduled to finish in 2024, says Morita.

A Japanese specialist Mitsuhiro Ishida works with a local fisherman in Dominica to implement a fishing device. (© JICA by Kosuke Okahara)

In the field of fisheries, JICA supported resource management initiatives to encourage sustainable development. The agency helped introduce devices that attract fish, simplifying the catch process. "This led to the result that the tuna catch could be exported to the United States," explains Morita.

Another JICA project was aimed at areas in the Eastern Caribbean. There, Japan has been providing assistance through the construction of fisheries facilities and technical support to fisheries stakeholders. ABE Akie visited one of these facilities where local fishermen receive training. "People greeted the new facility very happily," recalls Morita.

Women in the fish market are shown. The market was built thanks to Japanese support. (©JICA by Kosuke Okahara)

Resilience Against Natural Disasters

Morita also points to the know-how that JICA shared thanks to Japan's experience with disaster resilience. "Japan has experience in disaster management and preparedness, so there is a lot of knowledge that can be shared to prevent the same misfortunes from being repeated elsewhere," he says.

Morita explains that locals were encouraged to compile hazard maps, assign evacuation centers, and create alarm systems. JICA also conducted drills and set up standards for disaster management. "We led the drafting of parameters: if the rainfall was above a certain level, it was advisable to take refuge," elaborates Morita. As the collaboration continues, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency requested visiting experts from Japan, with the most recent mission ending in 2023.

Cultural Exchanges with CARICOM

Suzuki points out that many in Japan know about Jamaica and reggae music. But she says, it is also important to understand the culture and history of other countries in the region. 

These interactions are key to building lasting relations between countries. She recalls when PM Abe visited Trinidad and Tobago, the government gifted him with the local traditional instrument: a steelpan. "Everyone was very happy that [Abe] seemed to appreciate the present."

The Fukuoka University lecturer summarized her experience living six years in Trinidad and Tobago in a book she published in 2018. She explains that it's the first Japanese book about the region aimed at a lay audience. Her inspiration came from her everyday interactions with local people, she added. She hopes that more people will be motivated to travel to the CARICOM countries and learn about the culture by reading about it.

"I received fan letters from people who were moved by the fact that finally there was a book covering Trinidad," says Suzuki. 

She recounts an episode of how a fan letter created an opportunity to connect with the community. "One of the letters came from a music teacher. Since I love singing, I visited her to have a music session with her piano accompaniment. I sang Trinidadian songs too."


"I'm hoping that more people will use the book as an opportunity" to learn about the region, she says happily.

Jamaica Festival will be taking place at various places in Japan. (©Jamaica Festival event website)

Events as Connecting Cultures

In reality, Japan has a history of connection with Caribbean music, for instance with the Yokohama Steelpan Festa, which most recently took place in 2023.

More widely, Suzuki also points to cultural exchanges ranging from the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program to an active Japanese reggae-loving community.

Many events are planned to celebrate links between these two areas of the world in 2024. For example, there are several Jamaica Festivals around Japan from April through June 2024. For those in Tokyo, there will also be the Caribbean/Latin America Street, an event on May 25-6.

In addition, JICA is also holding a CARICOM-centered photo exhibition at its Tokyo Ichigaya headquarters from March 18-31.

Suzuki notes that these events are a great way for people to learn about the Caribbean countries. Already, knowledge of Japanese cars and anime is pervasive. But she says she hopes more events will be held in the Caribbean to familiarize local people with Japanese culture. She recalls a taiko drum concert held while she lived in Trinidad and Tobago. "It was a really impactful performance because it was full of action. It would be great if more such events were held in the future."

A shop front in St John's, Antigua and Barbuda. (© JICA by Kosuke Okahara)

Looking Forward

Both Suzuki and Morita stressed the importance of cherishing the connections Japan has created over 60 years of collaboration with the Caribbean countries.

"Japan has a unique opportunity to take a balanced approach towards these countries," says Suzuki.

In addition, she says it's important to keep Caribbean countries in Japan's consciousness to foster further future cooperation. "As a developed country, Japan's responsibility to these smaller countries is significant."

Morita hopes that more can be done to help CARICOM members with food security. These countries are very reliant on imports for daily survival. Everything is imported, from medicines to foodstuffs. Indeed, CARICOM countries have announced a strategy to decrease their food import bills by 25% by 2025. "From JICA's perspective, we are trying to come up with suggestions that could help on this front."


"There has been the [COVID-19] pandemic and the increase in food prices following Russia's aggression on Ukraine. When things get tough, imports to these island countries stop altogether," Morita adds with concern.

The JICA expert also highlights the importance of maintaining partnerships with the CARICOM member states. 

"Exchanges with countries like CARICOM are a treasure for Japan. It means that the circle of like-minded countries increases, as do chances for collaboration. I don't want people to forget that," concludes Morita.


This article is published in collaboration with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan.

Author: Arielle Busetto