In the wake of Sri Lanka’s independence in 1948, a few societies began to spring up in order to build bonds of friendship and goodwill between countries which were well disposed towards us. They were confined primarily to those regions which were in the forefront of international affairs at that time. The Ceylon – Japan Friendship Society (as it was originally called) is believed to have been inaugurated around February 1956 when Japan was emerging as an industrial nation to be reckoned with in international circles. It was our Ambassador in Japan, Sir Susantha de Fonseka who promoted the idea of establishment of this institution, which is now the oldest friendship society in this country. His counterpart serving in Sri Lanka was Mr. Akira Matsui..

The activities of the Society in the early days were confined to irregular meetings of fellowship held in the Embassy of Japan in Colombo, where the idea of friendly relationship was conceived by a member of the staff Mr. C.S.P. Jayawardena. It is known that Sir Wilfred de Soysa, an outstanding philanthropist, was designated first President. Sir Herbert Tennekoon and Sir Sangarapillai Pararajasingham followed and an orderly program of activities took shape. But in the main, the focus of attention was the mutual friendship and co-operation of its members. The idea of business promotion and trade affiliation was also there, although not to a pronounced degree.

It is interesting to note that over a hundred years earlier in 1866, a Sri Lankan small time industrialist, George Jayasinghe, set up a trade combine with a Japanese businessman, Beng Tek, and together they founded the Beng Tek Jayasinghe Safety Match Company in Kobe, Japan. This business firm issued a souvenir box of matches showing the Kadugannawa Rock incline to celebrate the first anniversary of the inauguration of the Ceylon Railway.

Affairs of the Lanka – Japan Friendship Society from 1970 onwards include friendly interchange of personnel in a tourist as well as business capacity and special events like the Emperor’s Birthday and Freedom Day were celebrated in the most fitting manner.

Eminent persons like Sir Herbert Tennekoon, Mr. William Tennekoon, Sir Razik Fareed, Mr. Gamini Jayasuriya, Mr. Thomas Amarasuriya and Mr. C.X. Martyn very willingly involved themselves in matters concerning the Society. In recognition of his valuable services, Mr. M.D.H. Jayawardena, a Cabinet Minister, was decorated with the Order of the Sacred Lotus by the Emperor of Japan soon after he relinquished office as President of the Society.

The Constitution of the Society was formulated, on request by Mr. J.R. Jayawardena (Later President of Sri Lanka). In the course of many years a few non – statutory amendments (mainly relating to membership dues caused by inflation) were made by Sir Herbert Tennekoon, Mr. Rohan Hapugalle and Mr. Frederick Medis, but the basic Constitution was found to be adequate and remains the same for 50 years.

It was during the presidency of Mr. Ivor Pasternott that, after much persuasion by members of the Executive Board, prime land in Colombo 3 was allocated by the Government for the construction of the Society’s permanent headquarters. This was made possible through the generous financial support of Mr. Ryogi Sasakawa, a millionaire Japanese business magnate.

Mr. Hiroshi Ohtaka who was the Japanese Ambassador at the time was instrumental in offering accommodation to two other eminent associations, JASTECA and JICA AA. These associations have contributed immensely to the national development program of this country.

President Ivor Paternott subsequently received the award of the Sacred Lotus; and Mr. Rohan Hapugalle, another President whose assistance was always available and forthcoming in the cause of the Society also received a similar decoration. Mr. Francis Wanigasekera, Past President who was a recipient of the award of the Sacred Treasure, was responsible for the renewal of interest in the Society by revitalizing the connections with its counterpart in Japan, the Japan – Sri Lanka Society. Cultural exchanges took place during this period when the Society celebrated thirty five years of existence. In collaboration with the Japanese Embassy, fashion shows of Japanese and Sri Lankan traditional outfits as well as cultural demonstrations of Japanese floral art Ikebana, Origami paper art and Bonsai miniature tree cultures were organized. There was also an exhibition of Japanese Satsuma and Imari porcelain (arranged by Mr. Medis).

Past Presidents Mr. Tilak de Zoysa and Mr. Daya Weththasinghe also received decorations of the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Ray with neck ribbons” from his Imperial Majesty the Emperor of Japan.

During the last 12 years excursions to more than 200 places of cultural, historical, religious and scenic interest were organized for members their families and guests by Vice President Mr. Frederick Medis. Last year a trip to Japan for 40 members and guests was organized by the President Mrs. Lalitha Rajapakse.

In 2003, a woman was elected as President for the first time and after Mrs. Lalitha Rajapaksa took office, a Fund Raiser “Ongaku No Yube” a Musical Evening was held and enabled the Society to donate generously towards charity projects i.e. IOL’s for the needy patients at the Dr. Ashika de Soysa Memorial Hospital in Nugegoda. Eye Camps were organized where spectacles were distributed from time to time in Ambanpitiya, Ratnapura, Nattandiya, Udupilla etc. Projects during this time also included the donation of Braille computers for blind students to the Colombo University.

Annual events such as the Cultural Exhibition (Bonsai, Ikebana, Origami etc,) the Japanese Emperors Birthday and Sri Lanka’s Independence Day celebrations were organized. Members also got together at Picnics, Members Nights etc.

The Society has not been unmindful of its obligations to members of the community who were in need of assistance and concern. With the help and involvement of Past President Mr. Daya Weththasinghe, generous donations in cash and kind have been made by the membership for the relief of suffering. Japanese Yen 7.5 million donated by the Japan – Sri Lanka Association was utilized for construction of Tsunami relief houses by the President Mrs. Rajapakse.

Among the many projects envisaged, the naming of the Lanka – Japan Friendship Mawatha was another step forward to underscore the basic promotion of friendly relations as we look forward to a future of beneficial cultural and aesthetic exchanges between our two countries. Mr. Francis Wanigasekera and Mr. Frederick Medis are two founder members who remain with the Society in its 50th year.