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Friday 30 April 2021

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (39)

Japan Society Chairman's Blog (39)

Dear Japan Society members and friends

One effect of the pandemic which I’m sure we won’t miss, whenever it turns out to be over, is the way in which holidays have become difficult to distinguish from other days, although turning off emails and social media no doubt helps. Japan’s better management of the coronavirus made that less true there last year than in Britain, but with Golden Week upon us amid newly declared states of emergency in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto and Hyogo our experiences have, in that sense, converged or, perhaps, given the gradual relaxation of restrictions in the UK, begun to change places. All of us, I am sure, are familiar with how crammed Shinkansen and airports normally become during this rather wonderful period of four public holidays between 29 April and 5 May, which won’t be the case this year. Personally, I am satisfying some of my Japan travel bug by following the tweets posted by our former ambassador and president, Koji Tsuruoka, of his enjoyable and evidently careful journeying, the latest of which was to Gotemba to a splendid looking restaurant with a great view of Mount Fuji. With envy, I am beginning to wonder whether our good friend and so far two-times panelist on Japan Society webinars might be building a modern equivalent of Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji.
 
We in the UK have also had four bank holidays within a short space, with the two Easter ones in April and now two in May, but not of course as closely packed as Golden Week. The final public holiday of Japan’s four is Children’s Day, on 5 May for which the Japan Society team has put together a lovely educational video that anyone wishing to celebrate (or just learn about) the day might like to watch. There is also a new activity pack showing children how to design their own koi nobori flag or make an origami koi, along with other craft videos on how to make an origami kabuto helmet or the koi nobori. The Japan Society would also like to encourage you to share your and your families’ crafts and creations with us if possible, by tagging us on any of our social media channels. While on this theme I am just finally going to mention an item I spotted on the NHK World website about a small museum in Okayama prefecture dedicated to Japanese folk toys. As someone with a penchant for tracking down small, unusual (and hence often uncrowded) museums I am putting it on my list of One Hundred Places to Visit, when travel to Japan at last becomes possible again.
 
Mind you, one lesson of this whole pandemic seems to be how hard it is for our bureaucracies to catch up and keep up with the ever-changing and complex realities of the virus and its spread. I am reminded of this, and deterred from digging out my passport quite yet, by news of queues at Heathrow airport for arriving passengers of two-to-six hours to get through border controls thanks to the increased covid-related paperwork, despite the fact that passenger numbers are a fraction of normal flows or of what they will be once international travel for tourism is permitted again. It shows, I fear, that our two countries share the problem of tatewari gyosei, silo-mentalities, that Yoshihide Suga promised to confront when he became prime minister last September. Japan’s extraordinarily late and slow vaccination programme, shown here by the wonderful Our World In Data service, has confirmed what an uphill battle this is. It has also been interesting, it is fair to say, to see how both our countries have been struggling of late with issues of political financing and movement between the public and private sectors. Time soon, methinks, for a webinar comparing Japan’s regulation of Amakudari (descent from heaven) with Britain’s debate over Greensill Capital and our own “revolving doors”. Suggestions for appropriate speakers in both our countries would be welcome.
 
Meanwhile, however, our next webinar will focus on a very constructive and well-established area of UK-Japan collaboration, namely joint medical research. The Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation has for almost two decades had the Butterfield Awards to encourage such collaboration by researchers and professionals. On 11 May at 12.00 BST we will be hearing from Professors Paul Riley and Georg Holländer at Oxford about a new Institute of Developmental and Regenerative Medicine opening there later this year, and Professor Shin’ichi Takeda of the Translational Medical Center in the National Center of Neurology and Psychiatry in Tokyo, about the potential for collaboration in this field, which naturally given our ageing demographics is of growing importance. 
 
Those in or around the UK who are interested in the elections we will be holding on the day after Children’s Day, and wondering about what impact the result in Scotland might have for the future of the United Kingdom in coming years, might like to watch the video of what I found a very illuminating discussion on 15 April between Sir John Curtice, Iain Martin and Andrew Wilson about that British nation’s future. For those who missed it, I also commend the video of the discussion on US-Japan relations we held on 20 April, with two former senior diplomats, Jim Zumwalt and Kuni Miyake. A little further ahead, and perhaps again serving as a proxy for my Japan travel bug, I am looking forward to the talk on 17 May about the Japanese Maps Collection of the University of Manchester Library, about which I knew nothing but would love to know more. Happy Golden Week and May Bank Holiday to you all.
 
Bill

* Image © r18 INO (PACHIMO)

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