Straddling the equator in South America lies the small country of Ecuador, which celebrates 200 years since its first call for independence with a series of events in Tokyo. Ecuadorian Ambassador Javier Ponce met with Weekender for a talk about his beautiful country and the events planned to celebrate its history.
What is special about this year?
Ecuador celebrates Independence day on August 10. It was the first American country to call for independence from Spain and create a constitution. This year is the two-hundredth anniversary of the first movement of Independence in 1809, which then helped to inspired Bolivia, Venezuela, and many others to also claim their independence.
Please tell us a bit about Ecuador.
Although famed for the beautiful Galapagos islands, my country is the most mega-diverse area on earth. Four distinct ecological systems exist within a very small area; the Galápagos, the coast, the Andes mountains, and the Amazon rain forest. In very few days you can have breakfast watching turtles and sea lions in the Galápagos, a wonderful lunch in a paradisaical beach with delicious fresh sea food and fruits, a hot chocolate in the middle of the mountains, and finally dinner in the jungle, surrounded by colorful and exotic animals and plants.
What is Ecuador famous for?
Ecuador is famous in Japan for three things: the Doctor Hideyo Noguchi (who appears on the ¥1,000 note) researched yellow fever in Ecuador and was actually awarded the rank of Colonel in the Ecuadorian army for his services. Second is obviously bananas, one of Ecuador’s key exports, with organic types being increasingly popular here; and third is the Galápagos, with over 8,000 Japanese people visiting there and the mainland each year.
What is happening here in Tokyo to celebrate this occasion?
A host of cultural activities are taking place here in Tokyo, including a film festival showing Ecuadorian films and the recent BBC documentary about the Galápagos islands.A gastronomic festival is taking place at the Four Seasons Hotel from August 6–14, featuring an Ecuadorian chef who will showcase delicious indigenous foods. Japanese and foreign food lovers are sure to appreciate the wide variety of unique foods on offer.
What kind of celebrations take place in Ecuador?
A wide variety of street festivals and parties, with wonderful food, music, and dance take place each year. We have a type firework celebration called castillo, in which huge bamboo structures covered in fireworks are ignited. Various types of balloons are also set on fire, illuminating the night sky.
As ambassador, how are you increasing relations with Japan?
Politically, Ecuador has become more and more stable recently, and more companies are looking to invest in the country. Several Japanese companies already operate there, and as an OPEC country we are actively increasing investment. This year we opened the Commercial Office of Ecuador in Japan. The Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa is due to visit Tokyo early next year to help deepen ties between the two countries.
What does Ecuador offer for tourists?
The WTO has said that Ecuador is one of the top destinations for return visitors, with tourists sometimes returning three or four times. Japanese tourists often visit the Galápagos for hobbies such as bird watching, but more and more people are interested in seeing the wonders of mainland Ecuador too, including a high number of UNESCO World Heritage sights and outstanding colonial architecture. Adventure tourism is also a big hit because of the unique nature of the country and the incredible diversity there, with everything from surfing, climbing and scuba diving on offer.
Events in Tokyo:
August 6 Symposium and round table discussion on contemporary Ecuador, plus live traditional music by Joaquin de la Torre.
August 7 Ecuador film festival, including short and long films on various topics, in Spanish with subtitles in English.
August 8 Showing of the BBC documentary on the Galápagos
August 6–14 Ecuadorian food festival, Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo Javier Ponce