SINGAPORE - In 2009, then-President S R Nathan became Singapore's first head of state to visit Japan, three years after Japanese Emperor Akihito and Empress Michiko visited Singapore for the first time.
The historic exchange of visits was made possible through the tireless efforts of Mr Tan Chin Tiong, who was Singapore's ambassador to Japan from 2004 to 2012.
For his work in deepening ties between Singapore and Japan, the veteran diplomat, now 73, was conferred a prestigious award by the Japanese government in a ceremony on Thursday (March 8).
The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star is given to foreign nationals who have made outstanding contributions towards Japan in various areas, including diplomacy.
Japanese ambassador Kenji Shinoda told a ceremony at the Four Seasons Hotel: "Our two countries have enjoyed superb bilateral relations and partnership for decades and a lot of the credit goes to people like Ambassador Tan, who sets high value on our ties and worked constantly to nourish the relations even further."
He conveyed Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono's congratulations and good wishes to Mr Tan, who was Permanent Secretary for Foreign Affairs from 1997 to 2004.
Minister of State for Manpower and the Prime Minister's Office Sam Tan, who attended on behalf of Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan, highlighted the diplomat's work in bringing Singaporean and Japanese politicians, businesses and people closer together.
Said the junior minister: "I understand that it meant a lot to our Japanese friends that the late Mr Nathan was the first foreign head of state to meet atomic bomb victims in Hiroshima."
Mr Tan also helped Singapore businesses enter the Japanese market and vice versa and helped conclude the Japan-Singapore Partnership Programme for the 21st Century, under which Singapore and Japan jointly train officials from developing countries.
When a 9.1 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, Singapore donated $40 million towards relief efforts, one of its largest such donations to a foreign country to date.
With these funds, the ambassador and his team embarked on four major reconstruction projects and other rehabilitation efforts.
"This really brought our people closer together, and contributed to the strength of the bond... that our two countries share," said Mr Sam Tan.