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Highlights from the British Business Awards 2023
Written by Sterling Content
November 10, 2023
British Business Awards
The 75th anniversary of the British Chamber of Commerce in Japan (BCCJ) was marked in style on November 2 as the organisation held its annual black tie gala, the British Business Awards (BBA).
Some 330 members and guests filled Hilton Tokyo’s ballroom, which was decked out with stylish red, white and blue flourishes, to celebrate the very best of UK–Japan relations under the occasion’s theme: “Challenge the Ordinary, Achieve the Extraordinary”.
This year’s BBA saw 45 nominees compete for a coveted trophy—carved by award-winning British sculptor Kate Thomson of Ukushima Sculpture Studio—in one of six award categories: Diversity, Equity & Inclusion; Responsible Business; Digi-Tech Innovation; Entrepreneur of the Year; UK–Japan Partnership of the Year and Company of the Year.
Members and guests, clad in tuxedos, ballgowns, kilts and kimono, were welcomed with a flute of Louis Pommery English sparkling wine while nominees had their photos taken by representatives of visual production company Life.14 at a BBA-themed photo booth.
Soon after, the ballroom doors were opened and the BCCJ bar began serving British favourites including Silent Pool Gin from Whisk-e, Bushmills from Proximo Spirits and Pale and IPA beers from Wimbledon Brewery.
As everyone took their seats, the atmosphere was jubilant as members reconnected and networked with one another, reflecting on another year of BCCJ operations and of doing business in Japan. Some attendees met for the first time while others reconnected as colleagues, business connections and friends.
With lights brought down low, the unmistakable chimes of Big Ben stirred attendees to silence as White Out Tokyo took to the stage to provide the opening entertainment. The World of Dance Championship Winners gave a dynamic and energetic performance that encompassed old and new Japan, powered by visuals created by Nihon 3D Design.
Master of Ceremonies Guy Perryman MBE and Madoka Kato then guided attendees through the evening celebrations with pizzazz.
First up was a video welcome from Stuart Gibson, co-founder and co-CEO of BBA headline sponsor BBA ESR Group, APAC’s largest real asset manager powered by the New Economy and the third-largest listed real estate investment manager globally. Gibson shared his thanks for ESR being named Company of the Year at the 2022 BBA and congratulated the BCCJ and the nominees for their achievements in the past 12 months.
BCCJ President Richard Lyle continued the positive mood in his opening words. “The theme of this year’s BBA, the 16th in the chamber’s history, is ‘Challenge the Ordinary, Achieve the Extraordinary.’ It is especially relevant this year as the chamber celebrates 75 years in existence. During this time, the chamber has gone from strength to strength, and ‘ordinary’ is certainly not in the vocabulary of what we do,” he noted.
Looking ahead, Lyle said the increased economic cooperation this year between the UK and Japan, most notably the UK’s accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, “bodes well for British business to pursue opportunities on multiple fronts.”
In closing, Lyle invited HM Ambassador to Japan Julia Longbottom CMG and representatives from this year’s key sponsors to the stage. As the special sake barrel—created for the BBA for the first time—was brought to the stage, the group donned traditional happi coats and took up wooden hammers. In unison, they carried out the kagami biraki (opening lid) ceremony, a practice that represents the beginning of harmony and good fortune, while attendees joined in by saying “kampai” (cheers).
Attendees were treated to a Great British Menu featuring premium produce from across the UK. Each of the five courses, one representing each of the four nations plus one uniquely British dish, was accompanied by wines from Berry Bros. & Rudd.
Scotland was first to be showcased; its traditional sliced smoked salmon was served with vegetable accompaniments and saffron mayonnaise. The creamy soup was English green pea with herb croutons, which was followed by Northern Irish Foyle beef, roasted wedged potatoes, broccoli with walnuts and a red wine jus. Dessert was a firm British favourite: sticky toffee pudding with a sesame twirl. Rounding off the meal was the cheese plate from Wales, featuring extra mature cheddar alongside fig chutney, nuts and crisp bread.
As the tea and coffee were served, the creativity of the evening continued with the presentation of a poem, “Our Island Lands,” written and narrated by Rachel Ferguson to commemorate 75 years of the BCCJ and the ongoing strengthening relationship between the UK and Japan.
BCCJ Executive Director Sarah Backley reflected on the chamber’s special anniversary, too, in her welcome speech.
“The chamber was set up in 1948 to strengthen business ties between the UK and Japan and serve as a platform for the growing number of British firms operating here,” she said. “The range of this year’s nominees—across industries, company sizes and backgrounds—is a true indicator of how far we’ve come. We now serve over 300 members, with our robust team supported by diverse interns and volunteers and generous executive committee members.
“The purpose of the awards is to acknowledge, celebrate and reward the very best of UK–Japan business,” she added, noting that the 2023 nominees reflect the most impressive and innovative contributions made by organisations and individuals in Japan over the past 12 months.
The BBA judges agreed, commenting by video message that the “inspiring nominations” represented “business excellence” while demonstrating that “the relationship between our two countries is stronger than ever.”
Ambassador Longbottom congratulated the BCCJ for the “important role” it plays in connecting people and supporting business, and the nominees, who are “great examples of the growing partnerships between UK and Japan business,” as well as the “diversity and sustainability” on display.
“My mission as ambassador is to work with our network in Japan to build an ever-closer UK-Japan partnership, to support the success of our businesses,” she said. “The Hiroshima Accord, agreed in the margins of the G7 summit in May by Prime Ministers Sunak and Kishida, signals that our relationship is the closest it has been for decades, and sets out our shared ambition for the future.
“In these uncertain times, we can all be heartened by the increasing and wide-ranging cooperation between UK and Japan in response to current global challenges and opportunities. This is evident in the outstanding company nominations tonight,” she concluded.
Lauding the winners
Before presenting the BBA trophies, Longbottom recognised the efforts of judges from the UK–Japan community. The panel comprised (in alphabetical order)
• Mitsuru Claire Chino, managing executive officer and general manager of the Corporate Communication Division at Itochu Corporation
• Greg Clark, the UK Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy to Japan
• Nick Emmerson & Lubna Suja, president and past president respectively of the Law Society of England and Wales
• Hiroyo Hiramatsu, director at the Numbering Plan Office of Japan’s Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications
• Moriaki (Mori) Kida, chairperson and CEO of EY Japan
• Kazuki Yamada, conductor of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra.
Each judge was assigned specific categories to assess, on criteria founded on the BBA values of success, innovation and ethics, to ensure the process was fair and free of influence.
The winners were:
Company of the Year: EY Japan
UK–Japan Partnership of the Year: Aioi Nissay Dowa Insurance & Mind Foundry
Entrepreneur of the Year: PUSH Japan KK (Mike Sunda)
Digi-Tech Innovation: Colt Technology Services Co., Ltd.
Responsible Business: AstraZeneca K.K.
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion: Guardian Inc.
For more on the winners, click here.
The lively mood continued as the BCCJ’s Backley and Ben Fox of Tokyo Comedy Bar and Stand-Up Tokyo co-hosted the raffle and party games.
The lucky winner of the top prize received a pair of business class tickets to London in British Airways’ new Club Suite. The airline is also celebrating an anniversary this year: 75 years since becoming the first British airline to operate passenger flights between the UK and Japan.
And, most important, 30% of raffle ticket sales were donated to the C.W. Nichol Afan Woodland Trust, a Nagano-based organisation working to revive natural forest ecosystems.
Closing out the main event was Risa Beddie and Band, who performed firm favourites as guests took to the dance floor. Their act was followed by the BBA afterparty at Hilton Tokyo’s bar Zatta.
The BBA was possible due to the support of many BCCJ member companies including headline sponsor ESR Group; gold sponsor Invest Northern Ireland; bronze sponsors Argentum Wealth and Standard Chartered; diversity, equity and inclusion sponsor Robert Walters Japan and headline prize sponsor British Airways. There were also many in-kind, media and prize sponsors.