Sir Hugh Cortazzi – Jason James

Like everybody else, I was shocked to hear of Sir Hugh’s sudden death. It was only a few weeks ago that we had heard him presenting his latest book at the Japan Society Annual General Meeting, and his energy was undimmed at that point, as he outlined other forthcoming book projects. Apart from that, for those of us involved in things Japanese, Hugh felt like somebody who had always been there, and always would be there.

I first met him in my first year studying Japanese at Cambridge, in 1983 or 1984, when he was Ambassador to Japan. His contribution to the department at Cambridge can’t be overstated; all the academics except for Dr. Carmen Blacker had been pushed into early retirement, and the university was considering closing the subject down. Hugh played a crucial role in securing funding (from Keidanren) for a new Chair in Japanese Studies, and persuading the university to rebuild. Further funding was raised by the new Professor (Richard Bowring) and the rest is history.

Though I was in Japan for part of it, I was too junior to have had much to do with Hugh during his Ambassadorship, but it remained legendary in later years. When the Japan-British Society held a welcome dinner for him, he had surprised them by giving his after-dinner speech in Japanese. Not only that, but (so they say) he had written the whole speech out with a brush on a long scroll of calligraphic paper that he unrolled onto the floor as he spoke. They held him in awe ever afterwards, and I hope I am offending nobody by saying that he was considered the most scholarly of our post-War Ambassadors.

Another memory of his Ambassadorship that lives on is the David Hockney work on display as one enters the Ambassador’s Residence in Tokyo. (It is one of those photographic collages that Hockney used to make.) There is Hugh, presiding over a formal lunch in the residence dining room. The staff serving the meal are in traditional Japanese dress, as I suppose was the norm in those times. And right in the forefront of the picture is a massive snifter of brandy. Those were the days!

Hugh’s extraordinary stream of publications over the last few decades has made an invaluable contribution to our understanding of the UK-Japan relationship, and beyond that, it has played a role in building the community with an interest in this topic. One way or another, we have all been roped in, stimulating us to do research we wouldn’t otherwise have done. So it wasn’t just that Hugh did so much himself, but he galvanised everybody else as well.  He is truly irreplaceable and will be very sorely missed.

Jason James, Director-General, The Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation

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