Interview Series

Beyond coronavirus and the pandemic's impact on Japan

8 February 2022
HamburgAmbassador Nikolaus Boltze outlines latest developments and Japan’s hydrogen strategy

A series of interviews by Hamburg News with HamburgAmbassadors all over the world outlines the possible aftermath of coronavirus. In this issue, Hamburg News talks to Nikolaus Boltze, long-term HamburgAmbassador to Tokyo, who alongside HamburgAmbassador Setsuo Kosaka to Kobe, represents Hamburg’s interests in Japan. Boltze and Kosaka are among 31 HamburgAmbassadors, who promote the interests of the Hanseatic City in 30 nations worldwide. 

German-Japanese relations have regained momentum in recent years on the heels of the EU-Japan Free Trade Agreement adopted in 2019. For Hamburg, co-operation in the field of renewable energies in particular has gained steam, as Japan is aggressively pushing hydrogen. The 2021 Olympic Games in Tokyo, for instance, were a symbol of the national hydrogen strategy. Naomi Osaka, Japan's rising tennis star, lit the Olympic flame with hydrogen rather than natural gas during the opening ceremony,


Hamburg News: Lieber Herr Boltze, das Coronavirus hält die Welt nach wie vor in Atem, wie beurteilen Sie die aktuelle Stimmung in Japan?

Nikolaus Boltze: Als Insel hat Japan schon sehr früh (vor Omikron) seine Grenzen geschlossen und eigentlich nur wegen den Olympischen Spielen im Sommer 2021 wenige Ausnahmen gemacht. Das tägliche Leben geht hier relativ normal weiter – Mit Ausnahme der Reisebeschränkungen gab es nur wenige Einschränkungen, die wirklich scharf umgesetzt wurden. Mit großer Disziplin werden die Maßnahmen befolgt und nur selten öffentlich hinterfragt oder gar kritisiert. Es geht jetzt darum auch die 6. Welle abzuwettern, die sich seit dem Jahreswechsel täglich höher auftürmt.

Hamburg News: Die Regierung hat Ende 2021 ein enormes Hilfsprogramm auf die Beine gestellt, 430 Milliarden Euro, zehn Prozent der Wirtschaftsleistungen. Welche Branchen profitieren besonders davon?

Boltze: Zu den wichtigsten Maßnahmen, die durch das Programm finanziert werden sollen, gehören Geldgeschenke (ca. 750 Euro) an Kinder und Jugendliche, eine Lohnerhöhung für Erzieher*innen und Pflegepersonal sowieso Finanzhilfen für kleinere Unternehmen, die unter der Pandemie leiden. Dringend erwartet wird von der Tourismusbranche die Wiederaufnahme des „Go-To-Travel“ Subventionsprogramms für inländische Ausflüge, um die Bevölkerung zum Reisen im eigenen Land zu animieren (Unterstützung bei Fahrkarten und Übernachtung).


Nikolaus Boltze

Japan's draft budget for 2022 foresees a record EUR 835 billion. Costs are being driven by rising spending on social benefits and defence. Prime Minister Kishida is concerned about national security, given China's growing military dominance in the region and the daily threat posed by North Korea.

Hamburg News: Have any novel and notable business models emerged from the pandemic?

Boltze: New would be too much, but many old customs have been severed quickly. A large part of everyday, very cash-heavy payments in the past are now contactless given the entire backdrop of infrastructure for safer processing. Digital solutions have largely replaced the formerly popular red stamps (unlike the common signature in Germany). Remote working is now part of the Japanese mindset and was previously an impossibility. Many companies are now allowing flexible, remote working models away from desks in offices. The beleaguered hotel sector is offering rooms for working during the day rather than overnight stays. The grounded aviation industry has come up with the offbeat idea of weddings aboard a B 777. The aircraft does not take off, but the guests do enjoy the quirky atmosphere of the wedding ceremony.

Hamburg News: Japan hosted the 2021 Olympic Games and the Olympic flame was lit with hydrogen for the first time. Is that more than a small gesture?

Boltze: Yes, the use of hydrogen in many areas tops the agenda here. However, Japan will not become a key producer of (green) hydrogen (H2) and there is not enough renewable energy as it is too expensive. But Japan is promoting numerous applications for transporting, storing and using hydrogen. They range from mobility to stationary fuel cells, to research projects and operating small ships with H2.

Hamburg News: What about public acceptance of hydrogen technology?

Japan is creating a „Hydrogen Society“

Boltze: The term "hydrogen society" has been around for a long time and refers to the use of hydrogen as an energy carrier. It is firmly and positively anchored in the public perception here. Hydrogen is seen as a mediator between renewable energies and energy storage options and is considered absolutely necessary to achieving climate targets.

Hamburg News: How do you rate Japan's chances of achieving climate neutrality by 2050?

Boltze: The former prime minister, Suga, surprisingly called for climate neutrality by 2050 in autumn 2020. A plan that foresees measures in 14 sectors and funding was adopted shortly afterwards. Japan has the resources to develop and industrialize new and innovative research approaches. Germany has a reputation in Japan as a "pioneer of climate protection" with many envirionment-friendly ideas. At the moment, Japanese businesses and politics are showing keen interest in solutions such as wind energy, Carbon2Chem sector coupling e.g., Westküste 100 in Schleswig-Holstein, and the expansion of smart grids, which have become more established in Germany. 

Hamburg News: What is the current status of the "Hamburg and Tokyo: Cities on the Waterfront - What Can We Learn from and with Each Other?' project?  It is being carried out as part of the HamburgAmbassador scheme for Japanese students at the Centre for German and European Studies at the University of Tokyo. 

Boltze: Thirteen students in disciplines such as medicine, law, political and natural science have been working in  four teams since last November. The groups have chosen their own topics under the overarching theme and will present their results in video clips and short summaries by the deadline in February. A jury will select the most original presentation. But we plan to publish all the presentations. I hope you are excited. Keep your fingers crossed that young people can go ahead with an excursion to Hamburg next summer.

Hamburg News: Mr. Boltze, thank you for the talk. 

Interview by Ingrid Meyer-Bosse


Sources and further information

HamburgAmbassador scheme

The current 31 honorary HamburgAmbassadors from 24 countries are appointed by the Mayor of the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg. The Hamburg Ambassador scheme, the structure of which is unique in Germany, was initiated by the Senate Chancellery, the Chamber of Commerce Hamburg and institutions involved in Hamburg Marketing. It is co-ordinated by Hamburg Marketing GmbH. The HamburgAmbassadors function as pillars of support, networkers and initiators for the political sphere, business, science and culture and aim to raise Hamburg’s international standing and enhance its image abroad.

HamburgAmbassador Nikolaus Boltze

Nikolaus Boltze, an expert on Japan, was appointed honorary Hamburg Ambassador in 2007 by Ole vom Beust, who was Mayor of Hamburg at the time. Boltze went to Japan as a schoolboy and graduated from the German School Tokyo in 1983. After training as an officer, Boltze studied engineering in Hamburg, among other places, and began working as a sales engineer for a Japanese company. He later set up the Japanese branch of a Stuttgart-based automotive supplier. Since 2005, he has represented various business sectors in Japan for Thyssenkrupp - currently as Group Representative and Country Representative. Boltze has a vast, excellent network through his role as past President of the German Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Japan, from which he pivots his many activities as HamburgAmbassador.

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