Relations between Hong Kong and Japan should improve as cultural exchanges continue to grow, Japan's consul-general said. Shigekazu Sato, who hosted a dinner party at his home last night to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Hong Kong-based group Nihongo o Hanasu Kai, said the group's aim was more than simply promoting the Japanese language and culture. 'Who would have imagined that a gathering of a small group of friends 30 years ago, to share their passion for the Japanese culture and language, could become the nurturing ground for such a long-lasting friendship?' Mr Sato said. 'Time and distance have failed to weaken our friendship and our eagerness to promote exchanges between Hong Kong and Japan.' The group was formed in 1976 to facilitate the learning of the Japanese language and promote cultural exchanges between Hong Kong and Japan. The founders were leading social and political figures. Members today include Betty Tung Chiu Hung-ping, wife of former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa; Judy Li, wife of Chief Justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang; Elizabeth Bradley, wife of British consul-general Stephen Bradley; and Barbara Chan, wife of tycoon Ronnie Chan Chi-chung. One founding member said that the group's original aim of promoting language had changed and it was now a friendship group between leading figures in Hong Kong, Japan and other countries, with chapters in Britain and Europe. 'Improving relations between Hong Kong and Japan is most important, and our international group, with more than 100 members, has become the nurturing group for friendship. 'Cultural exchange can help us to achieve a harmonious society,' she said. Despite the ups and downs of Sino-Japanese affairs since the countries normalised diplomatic relations in 1972, Hong Kong remains a city where Japanese and Chinese work closely in cultural and economic partnerships.