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Monday 12 April 2021

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (38)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (38)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

Longer life expectancies and changing social mores mean that neither in Britain or Japan are we very accustomed to the deaths of senior members of our royal and imperial families and to what national responses and practices should mark them. Certainly, in Britain’s case all media have had plenty of time to prepare lengthy special reports and tributes for Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, so I hope it doesn’t sound too cynical to say that they will also have had a powerful motive to publish and broadcast as much as possible of what they had been storing up. There was apparently a high volume of complaints from viewers at the way the BBC on Friday cleared its schedules to make way for tributes to Prince Philip, but we should note that for a public broadcaster the right risk to take at such a time is probably to err on the side of too much rather than too little. When Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother died in 2002 at the age of 101 there were complaints that the BBC had done too little, so even two decades later one can imagine the memory of that criticism remained strong. As for every other aspect of life, of course, the pandemic makes this moment especially unusual: more viewers were at home on Friday than would normally have been the case. But, far more seriously, thanks to the pandemic the funeral of this very striking man and public figure, with a fascinating childhood history and a strong, often humorous, personality that made him pretty popular despite his never seeking the limelight, will take place at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle on Saturday, with only 30 mourners allowed. Most likely, it will be a quiet and sombre affair without the large street crowds in Windsor that would normally have been expected, but the ceremony will be televised.
In a more escapist but limelight-snatching way, the past weekend has been a great one for sporting “firsts”, for both our countries. Japan’s female golfers will no doubt have been celebrating the fact that their menfolk finally caught up with the women’s achievements, when Hideki Matsuyama became the first Japanese male to win one of golf’s four “majors”, through his splendid victory at the US Masters at Augusta National in Georgia. This came a mere 44 years after Hisako Higuchi triumphed at the 1977 Women’s PGA tournament in America (then known as LPGA), an equivalent “major” in the women’s sport. One noteworthy point from the TV coverage of the Masters, at least in British eyes, was the number of spectators, which shows the differing attitudes to COVID-risk between the US and Europe and ought perhaps to be an encouraging omen for the Tokyo OIympics. 
Horse-racing’s Grand National steeplechase at Aintree, near Liverpool, was run without spectators, but in this always epic but terrifying race over high fences it is doubtful that either the jockeys or the horses pay all that much attention to the crowd. Here the British “first” was actually an Irish victory, since Rachael Blackmore from Tipperary became the first female jockey to win the Grand National, in her case a mere 77 years since the young Elizabeth Taylor achieved the same result in the 1944 Hollywood movie, National Velvet, itself based on Enid Bagnold’s popular 1935 novel of the same name. It would be surprising if the Queen, who is famously keen and expert on horse-racing, did not watch the race and even amid her grief enjoy this historic moment in what has long been something of a national event.
Our next current affairs webinar, on Thursday 15 April at 12.00 noon, we will be discussing a different sort of national issue, namely the prospects for Scotland. England and Scotland have shared their monarchy since 1603 and had a formal political union since 1707, but the debate about the future of that union is getting more intense. The elections to the Scottish Parliament on 6 May will set the scene for a political tussle over whether there will be a new referendum on Scottish independence in the next few years, even though the last one was held only in 2014. Unusually for our webinars we will have three speakers, none of them Japanese, but the future of the United Kingdom is of great interest to all Japanese-owned businesses operating here. We will hear from Sir John Curtice of Strathclyde University, arguably the UK’s leading expert on opinion polls; Andrew Wilson, an economist and former member of the Scottish Parliament for the Scottish National Party who chaired the “Sustainable Growth Commission” which reported in 2018 to Nicola Sturgeon on the economic circumstances and policies that would await an independent Scotland; and Iain Martin, a former editor of The Scotsman who now writes a column for The Times as well as editing the online publication Reaction, and who is a prominent voice for Scotland remaining in the UK. 
On the day after that event, in Washington, DC, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga will become the first foreign head of government to have a formal meeting with President Joe Biden. US-Japan relations are always crucial but following the turbulence of the past four years of the Trump administration and amid the continued tension between the US and China, the way in which the US and Japan work together and with allies in the region will set an important tone for the rest of the world. The Suga-Biden summit may also be something of a tone-setter for the G7 meeting of rich, advanced countries that the UK will host in Cornwall in June. So we are delighted that on Wednesday 20 April at 1.00pm we will hold a webinar to discuss the course of US-Japan relations following the Suga-Biden summit. Details will be circulated shortly, but the speakers will be Jim Zumwalt, chair of the Japan-America Society of Washington, DC, and a former Deputy Chief of Mission at the US embassy in Tokyo, and Kunihiko Miyake, research director at the Canon Institute for Global Studies, a frequent commentator in the Japan Times, and a former senior diplomat at the Gaimusho.
Much of the context for that webinar and the Suga-Biden summit was foreshadowed in our very wide-ranging discussion on 1 April on the history and contemporary state of US-China relations with Clyde Prestowitz of the Economic Strategy Institute in Washington, DC, and Yuka Koshino of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. For those who missed it, the video can be viewed here.

* Image © JJ Jordan

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